Camouflage and Cologne: A Taj Matumbi Solo Show

April 29, 2022 By Sophia Abrams, UW Archives Student Historian

UW Archives Student Historian Sophia Abrams highlights the exhibitions she curated on Black Arts for spring 2022.

APRIL 15, 2022 THROUGH MAY 12, 2022

Camouflage and Cologne highlights the work of Madison-based artist Taj Matumbi (MFA ‘21). Matumbi’s introspective work explores his experience as a biracial man through Abstraction, Jim Crow motifs and the depth of color. These works capture a 21st-century interpretation of the fluidity and stagnancy of American Blackness and coming-of-age in a landscape tethered by the past and present’s reaction to Blackness. Matumbi’s show offers a pensive expression of self-identity in 2022.

Curator Sophia Abrams interviewed Matumbi for her University Archives Oral History Project on Black artists in 2021, created through her Student Historian role at the Archives. After interviewing 17 Black student artists who attended UW-Madison, Abrams spent the 2021-2022 school year translating her oral history interviews into exhibitions and documentaries. Abrams chose Matumbi’s work for the School of Education Gallery due to its scale, colors and themes pairing well in the gallery. Matumbi is also featured in the Black Expressions: 50 Years of Black Student Artists at UW-Madison exhibit at the Memorial Union’s 1925 gallery, which will be on display until Friday, May 13, 2022.

Camouflage and Cologne is organized and curated by Sophia Abrams, with support from University Archives and the UW–Madison Division of the Arts’ Lyman S.V. Judson and Ellen Mackechnie Judson Student Award in the Creative Arts.

Taj Matumbi Artist Statement

In this grouping of paintings, I obfuscate text and icons as a tool to explore my positionality as a biracial painter and an American. Themes of isolation and otherness have been a constant backdrop of my lived experience—from my upbringing in Northern California to living abroad to moving to the Midwest.

These signs and text are my interpretations which personally represent American exceptionalism, my own toxic masculinity, and the personal and public pains of Blackness. I use allegories of the human experience and my own biography to confront the nuances of individuality and critique the fallacy of American idealism. I reveal how the myth of American Idealism continues to fail marginalized groups and individuals, especially in times of unforeseen tribulations. I experiment with varied compositions to observe how different contexts can allow a repeated symbol to reveal altered versions of itself.

My work references American iconography from the 20th and 21st centuries. For the last few years, I have been investigating signs and symbols such as Silhouettes of cowboys, guns, and boot forms. Formally, I often use bright, vibrant colors with subtle color variation and push and pull between figure and ground. Since my painting process is cyclical and intuitive, the paintings usually change and echo each other. This work reflects my visual logic and curiosity about the signifiers I employ. I am interested in painting my inner world through color and dumb representation to quietly rebel against the constructed conditions we experience in America and the world at large.


Camouflage and Cologne is on display at the School of Education Gallery from April 15, 2022 through May 12, 2022. This exhibition will be available for viewing from Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Photo by Juliette Walker

About the Artist

Taj Matumbi was raised in California and attended college in Iowa at Maharishi International University (MIU) in ceramics and painting. For his graduate research, Matumbi deeply explored American iconography, developing images of the symbolized qualities in America he was interested in exploring. Matumbi’s research grounds itself in African American history. Taj’s practice explores personal narrative as a biracial African American through a naive vernacular of western icons like horses, boots, and cowboys, bridging real and imaginary spaces. His MA Show, God Gave Noah the Rainbow Sign, No More Water the Fire Next Time, was a reflection of being a biracial American. After George Floyd was murdered, Matumbi made a State Street Mural. In April 2020, he exhibited his MFA Show, Self-Portrait Within Parallel Plans, which was composed of a series of acrylic diptychs. Matumbi graduated in 2021 with an MFA in painting and drawing from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Taj has been in several group shows across the US, including the Koplin Del Rio Gallery in Seattle, WA; Maus Contemporary Gallery in Birmingham, AL; and Levee Contemporary Gallery in Princeton, WI.