Embark on a captivating journey through the life and artistry of Bahati Simeons, an influential figure at the intersection of Belgian and Congolese heritage. From her roots in Burundi to the vibrant cityscape of Ghent, Bahati’s artistic evolution unfolds as a testament to self-discovery, empowerment, and the rich tapestry of black culture.
Bahati Simeons, born in Munanira, Burundi, in 1992, stands as a beacon of artistic brilliance with a distinctive blend of Belgian and Congolese descent. Currently calling Gent home, her upbringing in an artistically inclined family laid the foundation for a flourishing career.
Bahati has self-taught prowess as she transitions from admiration of artistic giants like Hockney and Gauguin to finding inspiration in the rich tapestry of black artists.
Artistic Style of Bahati Simeons
Though Bahati Simoens isn’t entirely sure what inspired her to create her enormous, faceless figures, she has given up on trying to figure it out. Her round bodies, adorned with meaty limbs, belly, and thighs in various shades of brown, crowned with tiny heads and even tinier caps, earrings, and hairstyles, have come to be recognized as her trademark. They are either painted over plain colored backdrops or placed into serene scenarios that bring back memories of her mother’s tales of her time in the Congo, her youth in Burundi, or her home.
According to Bahati, she uses color and overall gentleness as a kind of disarmament, drawing people in so that she can discuss weighty subjects. “I believe that when you’re upset, hurt, and disappointed and you’re talking a lot about it, it doesn’t work to raise awareness of something,” she says. “Trying to make a point in a gentle way is helpful.”
Using her art as a powerful tool for social commentary, she sensitively conveys deep themes such as racism and love.
Roots and Upbringing
Bahati initially turned to art as a means of self-expression before using it as a form of communication. Raised by her Belgian math teacher father and Congolese mother, both of whom were artistic, she had a cultured yet strict upbringing. After her parents’ divorce, she and her siblings were primarily raised by their father in Belgium, where she felt constrained by the lack of diversity and her father’s rules. Despite her mother’s experience with systemic racism, she never discussed racial issues with Bahati, emphasizing that they were now European.
In 2017, during a month-long trip to South Africa, Bahati experienced a sense of belonging for the first time since childhood. Feeling at ease among black people, she realized the importance of speaking out after witnessing the after-effects of apartheid. Upon returning to Belgium, she felt a burning desire to immerse herself in art, using it as therapy to address microaggressions and injustices. As she gained confidence, her paintings transitioned from small works on paper to larger canvases.
In her recent art, Bahati incorporates subtle details to convey a sense of conflict. Examples include a man in a tropical setting wearing a sweater with “FYPD,” tattoos proclaiming “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH” and “Black since Birth,” and a woman with Breonna Taylor’s face on her dress. One overtly political painting depicts a family carrying a lifeless body on the White House lawn. Bahati expresses a shift away from concern for the white gaze or sensitivities of white spectators. Instead, she prioritizes creating art that resonates with black individuals and reflects their experiences.