Iwan Bala - ‘Ethnograff(r)ica


For several decades. Iwan Bala’s raw, unflinching work has shone a light on issues of culture,
national identity, history and politics. One of its hallmarks, of course, is the integration of text – as
slogan, poetry or comment – in strong black lettering, in paintings where landscape and figure
merge in powerful, urgent messages.
In his recent exhibition ‘Ethnograff(r)ica’, we come face to face with his familiar style, but this
collection has a different aura. Here, suspended on the walls, carved African masks from his
collection stare out in a gallery of portraits. They are graphically dramatic in their pattern and colour,
and yet are rather alien objects carrying mythologies and ritual meanings from other cultures
unknown to us. Without an understanding of that significance, our appreciation of them can only be
reflected in our amazement at their striking visual impact. They are sophisticated, beautifully tonal
artworks; they are also clearly traditional cultural artefacts. Beneath each mask is a painting of it,
often accompanied by a joyous bunch of flowers or a small object set on a table. What text there is,
is minimal; effectively a title or label – a name, location. And so, we feel ourselves suspended
between two worlds – partly appreciating art in a gallery, partly studying an object in an
ethnographic museum.
Despite their abstracted quality, this collection of stylized faces vividly captures expressions of
sadness, fear, anger, lethargy. The vibrant flowers, delicate and fresh in a familiar vessel, offer a
contrast of form and colour to the solidity of the masks with which they share their framed space.
They bring visual contrast to the painting – and a jarring sense of cultural tension. Juxtaposing these
African masks with the familiar northern flowers suggests appropriation; the theft of cultural objects
from distant lands, to be brought back by travellers to adorn the walls of the curious, or to fill the
cases of dusty museums.
Iwan Bala’s work has always been characterised by a preoccupation with dualities. Here too, we are
invited to consider contrasts. There is the portrait of ‘Ianws Affrica’ – Janus, the two headed god,
looking both to yesterday and tomorrow, depicted as both male and female. Or the Shaman of
Burkina Fasa, with his one-eyed head bearing two crocodile jaws pointing in opposite directions.
Then there is also the juxtaposition of subject matter – the organic flowers next to the still carving;
delicate colour and solid monochrome; short-lived flowers and age-old artefacts. Things which
represent what we have cultivated, also things which we have plundered. (But also, in both cases,
things which we have uprooted and chosen to present in an unnatural way to appreciate them as we
wish.) The more one questions these seemingly straightforward paintings, the more they yield
further interpretations.
But there is humour here too; ‘Mwgwd ‘Eket’ from Nigeria’ stares out over ‘merch Gymraeg’ – an
image of a Welsh woman in full costume, knitting socks. The discrepancy raises a smile. The mask is
indeed strange – yet, objectively, so too is this woman hidden underneath a tall black hat. We realise
that strangeness is borne out of ignorance of context. And the identification of Welsh culture with a
little woman dressed in costume is not so far from the reduction of African culture to the wearing of
dramatic masks.

Yet in his words of introduction to the exhibition, Iwan Bala does not invite us to dwell too much on
such matters and the way in which these masks became available because missionaries persuaded
African people to reject their ‘idols’. Rather, his stated purpose in presenting the masks with Karin’s
bunches of flowers in these works was to allow them the chance to be seen by a wider public. For
him, they are connections with a country where he spent formative time as an artist; works which
connect with his abiding interest in cultural narratives. He acknowledges that they present a less ‘in
your face’ treatment of cultural/ identity issues, less of a ‘direct challenge’ than his other work.
Nonetheless, they inevitably invite rewarding reflection.
Such works of African art played a significant role in the development of Western art in the 20th
century, bringing new inspiration and impetus to a tradition which had become stale.
‘Ethnograff(r)ica’ is surely a nod to that role. In a collection conveying a sense of the conventional
still-life on the one hand – the tablecloth, the ornament, the vase of flowers – his presentation of the
abstracted African mask conveys the strange, exciting influence that was to come. In this way, these
paintings can be seen as having a definite Janus-like quality of their own.

Craft Festival Wales 2024 Call for Entries 

Applications are invited from makers working to the highest standards.⁠ ⁠You make ceramics, glass, textiles, jewellery, metal, wood, plastics, mixed media, leather, recycled materials, printmaking and paper.⁠ ⁠ Your work shows a dedication to quality of making, presentation and originality.⁠ ⁠You live anywhere in the world. ⁠

Craft Festival Wales / Gŵyl Grefft Cymru –

Cardigan. Craft Festival Wales will be held over three days at Cardigan Castle from 6 – 8 September 2024.

Embracing A Wonderful Summer & Exciting Times Ahead!

Canfas has had a very busy summer and is looking forward to upcoming events as well as some exciting news we want to share!

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Simon Whitehead – Stitching Soft Matter

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Interview with Steve Brockett February 2023

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Leigh Sinclair interview 2022

Leigh Sinclair November 2022

Ceri Pritchard interview 2022

Ceri Pritchard interview - November 2022

Iwan Bala ‘Ethnograff(r)ica’ Review by Cathryn Gwynn

For several decades. Iwan Bala’s raw, unflinching work has shone a light on issues of culture, national identity, history and politics. One of its hallmarks, of course, is the integration of text – as slogan, poetry or comment – in strong black lettering, in paintings where landscape and figure merge in powerful, urgent messages.

Interview with Iwan Bala

Interview with Iwan Bala

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James Naughton interview

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Kathy Thomson Film 2022

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Eloise Govier Film 2022

Film of Eloise Govier's exhibtion

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Sam Vicary talking about here June 2022 exhibtion here at Canfas

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Review of Sam Vicary's exhibition by Cathryn Gwynn

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Canfas has been chosen to exhibit at Affordable Art Fair - Hampstead Heath 2022 - 5-8th May 2022

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Elizabeth Haines talking about here February 2022 exhibtion here at Canfas

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Pete Bodenham – August 2021

August 2021 interview with Pete Bodenham about his ceramic exhibition

Adam Taylor – August 2021

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Meinir Mathias

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Clare Rose

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James Charlton

James Charlton interview July 2021

Guto Morgan, James Charlton, Sean Robinson & Clare Rose

Sean Robinson

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A bright and vibrant window display with Natalie Chapman

Sophie Turner art

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Seren Stacey – Film

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Interview with Sam Vicary May 2021

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Interview with Pauline Latham about her 2021 show in Canfas.

Exhibitions for 2021

Exhibition list for 2021 at Canfas

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Are you on Universal Credit and aged between 18- 24years? Would you like to work at a busy independent contemporary art gallery in the old market town of Cardigan in South Ceredigion?

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Rose Sanderson - lichen

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Ag cain

Ag Cain – October 2020

Ag Cain talking about his October Exhibition at Canfas - October 2020

Elizabeth Haines filmed Interview 2020

Filmed Interview with Elizabeth Haines talking about her exhibition at Canfas in September 2020

Carole Hodgson film October 2020

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Meinir Mathais

Meinir Mathias 5

This is the fifth of a series of short films by Meinir Mathias

Meinir Mathais

Meinir Mathias – 4

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Meinir Mathias – 3

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Meinir Mathias – 2

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Rebecca Riots

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Carole Hodgson

2020 Exhibitions

List of Exhibitions for 2020 at Canfas

Exhibition review October 2020 – Carole Hodgson

Carole’s exhibition at Canfas is a masterful celebration of texture, form, light, and shade. Simply but effectively displayed, Carole’s works are allowed to speak for themselves, without interference, and invite contemplation from every angle.

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Elizabeth Haines has a new show at Canfas. It consists of a handful of relatively large, confidently handled abstract paintings which she has made over the last 18 months and during the pandemic lockdown this year. She says the enforced isolation allowed her to focus better on her work which has so often relied on…

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Ian Phillips – 28/9/19 – 22/11/19

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paint tubes

10% discount on Fine Art Materials for ‘Friends of Canfas’

10% discount on Fine Art Materials for 'Friends of Canfas' at Y Wiber

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