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Spiders are regarded as the most important predators of insects, and they can be found all over the world. But for African-descended people, we know that one is the cleverest spider of them all. Anansi, known by many other names, is the shape-shifting spider-god who originated in Ghana and whose legend spread throughout western Africa and to its Caribbean diaspora in the New World. With his quick wits, verbal prowess, and calculated acts, Anansi affronts and outsmarts those who are bigger, stronger, and more powerful than he. Little and nimble, Anansi will run and prance, charm and disarm a rival, and triumph each time. 

At Independent 2024, VITRINE presents eight paintings in a portfolio of works by British artist Rudy Loewe. Their personal analysis and reconstruction of Anansi is exemplary of the narrative culture of the Ashanti people—whereby folk tales are used as a means of transmitting indigenous African knowledge and consciousness to younger generations.

Rudy Loewe: Of Spiders and Shape-Shifters - Features - Independent Art Fair

Rudy Loewe, Modes #2, 2023, Acrylic on board, wood, 62 x 49 x 5 cm, Photography by Jonathan Bassett, Courtesy of the artist and VITRINE

Loewe produced most of these works in parallel with their recent Speculative Ecologies residency with LABVERDE in the Brazilian Amazon. It was during this sojourn that Loewe conceptualized new artistic strategies through exchanges with scientists, Indigenous elders, and locals who encounter spiders differently from those in the Global North. Loewe then worked collaboratively with British artist Jacob V. Joyce to develop a symbolic language that communicates exclusively to trans people. Loewe has used this new language to encode their artworks. 

Through targeted workshops, the artists teach the language to other trans people. Linguistic agility, Anansi’s best survival strategy in the African myths, thereby becomes an attainable method of creative resistance and community preservation, or even liberation. Loewe explains that they are “thinking about how we can develop resources that are community-specific and find ways to disseminate those resources in plain sight.” The artist is expanding upon their heritage and prioritizing their communities: an art not only of survival but of the integration of culture with one’s own personhood.

Metamorphosis is an essential characteristic of Anansi. The cunning survivor is a dynamic icon of ethnic identity and gender, transitioning to and fro, a man-like human to a spider. In Anansi #3 (2023) the spider-person is donning eight-lens glasses, dressed in cobalt and aqua blue whilst balancing on four cubed-shaped stilts that are decorated with Loewe’s Anansi-inspired symbology. With matching red lips and sweater, and short asymmetrical locs of hair, Anansi #2 (2020) is a foliage-dwelling spider sprawling on the forest floor, poised in purple high-heeled boots and a posy behind the ears. Anansi is nonconforming to the core.

Rudy Loewe: Of Spiders and Shape-Shifters - Features - Independent Art Fair

Rudy Loewe, Anansi #3, 2023, Acrylic on linen, 180 x 120 cm,
Photography by Jonathan Bassett, Courtesy of the artist and VITRINE

Anansi’s domain—the spider’s web—is lighter than cotton, stronger than steel, and almost invisible to the human eye. Its strength and flexibility can withstand hurriance winds, as resilient and remarkable as the psyche of Africans who survived the transatlantic slave trade. In Modes #2 (2024) the artist depicts an anatomically correct spider sitting on an orb web, brown and patterned with cream spots and cursive lines. It is surrounded by Loewe’s handmade orange frame inscribed with their chosen symbols. As engineers of webs of possibility, Africans evolved their own internal guidance mechanisms and epistemological systems to navigate treacherous crossings. Like the silken fibers of a spider’s web, their mind maps are made up of infinite diaphanous strands of ancestral memory. 

Loewe has a well-articulated, acutely perceptive visual art practice that is attuned to such subtle frequencies. Over time, their works have become bigger in scale, featuring a bolder color palette and exploring different materialities in painting, drawing, and sculpture. Their interdisciplinary thinking is shape-shifting and inventive, learning from the spiders they observed at close hand in the Amazon. “Spiders are innovators, often feared and largely misunderstood,” Loewe has written, describing them as a “grounding force” and unbroken thread in their current practice.

Their work invokes Anansi as an icon of ancient wisdom whose liminal position between the worlds opens distinct possibilities for present and future generations. These African fables are more than beloved children’s tales; they continue to nourish new narratives, to play an important role in the ongoing process of making and remaking cultural identity. 

Like Anansi, Loewe’s paintings seem to say, may we all master the art of living and become experts in mischief and transformation, upsetting the order of things and making rebellion the only option.


Rianna Jade Parker is a writer, historian, and curator based between south London and Kingston, Jamaica. Her first book A Brief History of Black British Art was published by Tate in 2021 and her second title is forthcoming from Frances Lincoln. She is a contributing writer for frieze and contributing editor for Tate Publishing. 

Learn more about VITRINE’s presentation of Rudy Loewe at Independent 2024.