Jozimar Matimano's art speaks to the immigrant experience, and the complexities of the American identity
Jozimar Matimano’s art is full of tiny surprises: a flag, a bracelet, a hair pick. It’s vibrant, making use of bold colors and sharp contrasts. It’s political — sometimes overtly, sometimes subtly. While it’s made using the timeless tradition of oil paint on canvas, it’s distinctly contemporary.
Matimano’s oil paintings are on display at the Victorian Mansion Gallery at Kimball Jenkins School of Art in Concord as part of an exhibit, “Finding Home: Portraits, Memories and Art of Immigrants.”
It’s a play on the title of a book of photography by Becky Field, whose work is also part of the exhibit. Together, Matimano and Field’s work is meant to showcase immigrants and the contributions and experiences they bring with them to America.
Matimano was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. When he was ten, to escape violence there, his family moved to Nakivale, a refugee camp in Uganda. In addition to his own paintings, Matimano’s exhibit features expertly woven baskets, used to hold fruit, made by friends he met at the camp, with whom he still keeps in touch.
“That’s where I learned some of my art. I grew up doing art,” he says, as he gestures to an intricate pink and white basket.
In 2016, a refugee resettlement organization helped Matimano settle in Manchester, where he began working on his art – moving from painting sunrises to sunsets, to more complicated portraits with social commentary. He’s now enrolled in the art program at New England College.
Matimano’s work largely features people of color and often incorporates stark political commentary, like the experience of being Black in America, or Israel’s aggression toward Palestinian people.
“If you look into the painting, you can see the story in there. Without even talking about it, you can tell there is something going on,” Matimano says.
In one room at the Kimball Jenkins gallery, Matimano has placed two paintings on opposite walls. They’re in juxtaposition: One shows a Black man holding an American flag high in the air, a blue pick in his hair. The other shows a Black man, also wearing the pick, looking down in disappointment at the flag. A noose hangs in the background.
Matimano says he wants to show the duality of the American experience for immigrants. It’s something they can be proud of, and also something that can cause great pain. The pick is a reference to Colin Kaepernick, the football player who started the movement of kneeling for the National Anthem.
The second painting is called “Love it or Leave it.”
“As an immigrant, not only an immigrant, but sometimes as a Black person, when you talk about some issues or [are] trying to talk about some things that are going on in our society, sometimes you're told ‘If you don't love it, you can leave it.’ And that is a strong statement,” Matimano says.
In a direct nod to the Trump administration, another one of Matimano’s paintings shows a white man and a Black man with their backs to each other, both with intense looks on their faces. The Black man holds a red baseball cap bearing the words “Keep America Great,” and the tension between the two subjects is palpable.
Even in times of vitriolic political discourse, Matimano says it’s better to process out loud than keep it in.
“It's good to talk about it, not to hide how you feel about the issues,” he says.
The exhibit featuring Matimano’s work,”‘Finding Home: Memories, Portraits and Art of Immigrants,” is on display at Kimball Jenkins in Concord until March 25th.