Kakudji is many things: tough, generous, unrelenting, fragile, knife-sharp. He lives in two worlds simultaneously: a dreamscape he remakes daily and a hard face-to-face with a world whose ugliness he refuses to take for granted. He is 32 (born 1978), 4 (humour, kicks and all) and 98 (an aged soul) all at once.
Life began in what was then Zaire (today Democratic Republic of Congo), in the town of Kalemi. Mobutu Sese Seko was in power. The family fled the dictator’s iron rule. First came exile in Rwanda, then Zambia and, in 1984, the United States. Kakudji grew up in the heart of Brooklyn – Brownsville: not the easiest place to call home in the 1980s. Early school years, he says, were a pain: fistfights daily, born of the need to gain respect (success: he can throw a punch); all-American sports (absolute refusal to engage); dull classes (boredom chased away by reading and reading – everything and anything not on the curriculum). Family (six brothers and sisters), music (Hendrix while the rest of the world was listening to Madonna) and still more books brought strength. In the 1990s came definite improvement: Laguardia High School for Music, Art & Performing Arts – the place of choice if you happened to be very young, very talented and in New York City in the 1990s. Basquiat, Bach and Biggie Smalls.
In 1997, K books for Europe. A backpack (two sweaters, pencils and paint), a few bucks and a US passport in his back pocket. The plan is to stay three months. 13 years later, he’s still there.
K’s art – collage (no Photoshop, not ever), installation, video – is not fashionable. Not hip. Not easy. What it is is immensely thoughtful, funny as shit, nasty, politically and socially engaged – truly engaged: there is no fronting here. Even if it’s not your bag, this work will move you. If it is your thing, more than once it will knock the breath out of you. G. Rodrigues puts it awfully well: “Kakudji’s style is fast, poetic, expontaneous. His lines are precise, ironic, sometimes destructive.” And strong. Very strong.