roa: endemic

Oct 9 - Nov 21, 2021
KETELEER GALLERY is very pleased to present ENDEMIC, a new solo exhibition by ROA. The exhibition is unique in the sense that this time, the artist chose to exclusively show new drawings on paper.
Press release
ROA, born in Ghent, Belgium, is considered to be one of the most influential contemporary mural artists of our times and his public works n buildings across the world were photographed countless times. His characteristic style – black and white paintings of endangered or extinct animals, sometimes including its skeleton or colourful internal organs ) immediately catches the eye of the passer-by and can be recognised from afar. The meticulously detailed paintings and their enormous scale, sometimes up to 50 metres high, are a testament to ROA’s immeasurable love and respect for the animal world and aid in the artist’s ambition: to remind modern people in their day-to-day lives of the nature from which they originated and which continues to sustain them.
When he’s not working a new project on a building (such as his most recent project for GUM, Ghent), ROA is always busy looking for materials with a history to reappropriate as canvases. Old church floorboards (Cataclysm, 2017) old metal cupboards (La Bête Humaine, 2019), abandoned cars,… whichever surface ROA uses to paint his animals on, they always carry a strong symbolic charge? In addition to his great love for history and archaeology, ROA is also enormously fascinated by the tradition an design of old encyclopaedias – of which he already built and enormous international collection -, natural history indexes and codices (to which the title of his CODEX, 2019, Lannoo monograph also refers) but also architectural plans and therefore chose to draw on sorting folders and blueprints this time.
ROA drew a selection of native animal species and in doing so, poses the question what the category ‘native’ still means in these times. The European Collared Dove (2021) for instance, arrived here in the 1950s, managed to adapt to the new biotope and never left. It is now really at home here, although not really native according to the rules, and with this ROA also refers to that modern human tendency to classify everything into neatly delineated boxes that are defined by strict rules, a pigeonholing mentality that often does more harm than good.
In epidemiology, endemic refers to a local infectious disease that does not spread to other regions and remains stable in terms of infection rates. The title of the exhibition is therefore also a nod to how COVID-19 could not be contained within the tightened national borders, became a pandemic and will eventually become native all over the world.
In our hyper-globalized world, any form of migration is becoming more and more inevitable. Groups of animals and people are displaced or move in all directions and back again due to climatic, personal or socio-political changes, making it increasingly difficult, but above all absurd, to continue to neatly classify every species into increasingly specific subgroups. ROA’s fragmented, glued-together sorting folders are a beautiful illustration of this. His animals are sometimes piled up, clinging to each other and pushed into the same box or stretched across different folders.
What ROA seems to want to make clear is that an animal does not care about classifications, it adapts and eventually makes a home of its new situation, just like humans actually do. Home is simply where you are thrown* and you assimilate with the elements around you, whether that be by birth or by (forced) displacement. Despite his great fascination for the history of cataloguing our world, ROA’s philosophy is above all one of inclusion, after all, every living thing is native to our planet!
Lauren Wiggers, 2021.
* M. Heidegger.
Installation Views