The core of my artistic practice rests on three foundational pillars. The first is an attraction to lines. I have always had a genuine fascination with lines. I think it’s interesting how the primary component of all complex forms can be ambiguously loaded with meaning. A line can connect and separate, enclose and exclude, direct and misdirect, all at the same time. To a large extent, my work is a three-dimensional manifestation of lines. I amplify their complexity by enabling them to catch pockets of light and cast subtle shadows. This becomes an avenue to tease out smaller stories within wider narratives visually. The second pillar is the seeming neutrality of paper. I view paper as a conceptual Trojan horse. It’s a basic, unassuming material that exists in the backgrounds of our lives; bland, reliable, and ordinary. By making paper the visual centerpiece of my art, I encourage my audience to reconsider the material’s value and potential. This re-examination also underscores a running theme in my practice, which is that things are rarely what they appear to be.
The use of fabrics in Yorùbá, Nigerian society is my third pillar. Across my practice, I use fabrics as a reference to the practice of Aṣọ ẹbi in Nigerian society. Aṣọ ẹbi, which translates to “family cloth” refers to the selection of a fabric that serves as a “uniform” worn by families and friends alike during communal ceremonies such as weddings, birthdays and funerals. It is intended to be a show of love, support and camaraderie. The practice has, however, been corrupted in contemporary times, becoming a common source of disputes when prices are excessively inflated to turn a profit and community members are unable or unwilling to acquire the fabric. My use of fabrics references how the positive can quickly mutate to take on negative connotations. It is also a visual representation of societal pressure and expectations.
I enjoy exploring themes related to gender, memory, mythology and identity. My work involves placing strips of paper on their edges to create forms. It is a rather labour-intensive process as each strip must be manually measured, manipulated and secured. I approach paper as a means of painting without pigments. The visual complexity of my art becomes a visual metaphor for the difficulty of the themes I tackle. My art is often visually playful and engaging, characterised by intricacy and bright colours. I think of the visual accessibility of my work as a “trap” of sorts. It lures an audience into engaging before revealing the darker subject matter the work deals with; a constant reminder of the fallacy of face value.
She and I
When I was a teenager, an image popped up in my mind. It was a recollection of my mother and me swimming when I was six years old. It was a calm afternoon, and my mother had just called to me to get out of the pool. It was about to rain. When I first remembered it, the image was so clear to me. I could smell the chlorine in the pool and hear the clatter of the beads in my hair as I turned my head. Moments later, I realised the memory was not real. I cannot swim and had never been in a pool. My mother developed a fear of water as a child after witnessing her friend drown. Neither my brother nor I were ever allowed near large bodies of water. And that was when I first recognised that I could not remember the bulk of my childhood. Over a decade later, I am ready to accept that I cannot access my memories due to unresolved traumas. This has inspired my attempt(s) to unravel the connections between the self and identity and how they interface with individual and collective memory.
I began a series of paintings attempting to reconstruct my childhood, real and imagined, drawing on old family photographs, conversations with family members, and pop culture references. I ground myself in the present by including fanciful and elaborate headgear, alluding to my recent body of work exploring gender equality and performative progress in Nigeria. I also attempt to maintain a grip on reality by inserting clocks into “memories” I find unlikely or inexplicably unsettling. In contrast, I rummage through the past by inserting and sometimes reimagining objects that either carry some form of meaning to me or would be readily recognisable to my peers.
In creating the paintings that make up this body of work, I toy with the most wholesome of ideas/experiences, childhood. Seemingly random and benign scenes of existence are shadowed by objects that become breadcrumbs of my attempts to understand my trauma and who or what I am beyond it. In grappling with the personal, I also examine the collective. How much of how we perceive and understand of ourselves is linked to what we do or do not remember?
In this ongoing body of work, I find an analogy for Nigeria’s electoral processes, and by extension, the reality of its leadership in a never-ending card game. In a country with over 190 million citizens, pandering, corruption, rigging, and violence have been the highlight of Nigeria’s democracy every four years for over two decades. As a comment on how skewed and performative the “democratic” process has become, the glamorous card characters I create embody a handful of individuals who transform every election cycle into an extended sequence of high stakes poker straight out of a Hollywood blockbuster. The series seeks to highlight how this state of affairs continues to mutate, dooming its citizens to an unending card game, where the players might change, but the game stays the same and the stakes only get higher.
Real Housewives of Old Ọ̀yọ́
In creating the Real Housewives of Old Ọ̀yọ́, I am interested in Yorùbá mythology/cosmology and how there is a marked difference between how much is known about male and female deities as well as how they are presented. I find it interesting that male deities are far more visible in contemporary popular culture. I also find it noteworthy that male deities are often presented within the context of their powers and abilities while female deities are often reduced to displays of pettiness and domestic squabbles.
As mythology is often an avenue for society to project its beliefs and core attitudes, I find these discrepancies particularly striking and worthy of exploration. It’s also a reminder of the erasure of women in history and the institutional dynamics that sustain these exemptions. I decided to lean into the ridiculousness of reducing these incredibly powerful female figures into one-dimensional caricatures and reimagine these goddesses as characters in an ongoing reality television project as a means of questioning the politics of gender, power and representation in contemporary Nigeria.
E No Concern Me
“E no concern me” is a Nigerian vernacular phrase which roughly translates to “It’s none of my concern” or “It’s not my problem”. Like many unequal societies, Nigeria can roughly be divided into a minuscule upper class, a stunted middle class and a bloated working class. This series highlights how the privileged lives of the upper and (to a smaller extent) middle class permits a large degree of detachment from the harsh realities of living and working in contemporary Nigeria.
A section of the population is cocooned in a false reality where their privilege seemingly keeps the country’s problems at bay. This false reality is symbolised by junk food, a medley of empty calories, and pending health problems. The irony of junk food’s position as a “status symbol” in Nigeria due to its cost is another interesting factor that informs its presence. These pieces speak to the privilege of being in a comfortable enough position to act like society’s problems are not “ours” and do not directly affect us.