Curated by the British-Nigerian writer and curator, Péjú Oshin, 19 contemporary artists are brought together for Gogosian’s new exhibition at its Britannia Street gallery entitled Rites of Passage. The artists chosen, share a history of migration but, instead of implying any kind of sweeping political stance on this fact, the title of the exhibition sets the tone for unique insight into the variety of situations, perspectives and experiences which have necessarily brought the artists to create the art displayed – Rites of Passage. Rather, the contemporary political relevance emerges in the manner in which, through themes of ritual, spirituality, fantasy, family and history, the artists explore the meaning of postcolonial Black identity in the present. The African diaspora experience and how it manifests today becomes the crux of the exhibition that lets it stand strong in its present London location.
The work of three artists in particular stood out to me. Alexandria Smith’s A time for those that remained (2023) absorbed me for its figurative uniqueness. It is a mixed media on a three-dimensional layered wood assemblage which effectively captures the theme of embodied memory. The two central figures are ambiguous yet joyful, while a dark cloud literally clouds their faces, their identities. The arch shape of the work and the structure of the composition are perhaps references to the common manner of depicting historical and religious portraits in the Western cannon. The layers of Smith’s work, both literally and symbolically, lend themselves to underscoring the beautiful complexity of understanding identities in today’s world.
The photographs by the artist Àsìkò were instantly recognisable as they are part of the exhibition promotion. Perhaps surprising and confusing at first for their apparent drama, the artist draws on various masquerade traditions belonging to the Yoruba culture and assembles them to suggest how their representations affects contemporary diasporic identities. Against striking landscapes, the adorned figures are tall and overbearing, intentionally placing the viewer on the spot in ways that few other works on display do so boldly.
Nengi Omuku’s large-scale painting, Eden (2022) depicts an ethereal scene in which figures are interlaced into a vast landscape that extends into the distance. Figural but abstract in its execution, this combination immediately conveys a sense of calm. An important quality to the painting is Omuku’s cleaver use of mediums that emanate light and connect her to her country of birth: she adopts a Fauvist oil paint palette on strips of sanyan, a traditional Nigerian fabric, that she weaves together to create her large canvas. The textural weave underpins the natural fluidity of the work and references a collective experience of joy of place that can’t be missed.
Due to its everlasting nature, the theme of migration and identity has long been the subject of artistic practices. The theorist T. J. Demos argued that the diasporic art of the 80s was based on a feeling of essential sadness and loss, while the nomadic art practices of the 90s embraced ideas of dislocation to re-frame the idea of a sole lost home.
By not being overly narrated, the current exhibition at the Gogosian allows the art on display to speak for itself and make one consider what this decade’s relationship with these themes could provide. Personally, I feel that different to an embrace, the work on display acknowledges the natural flux inherent in the human experience in a refreshingly positive light. The proud individuality of such ‘Passages’ prompts the viewer to reconsider their own role, position, or agency in the process.
Image: ÀSÌKÒ Pillars at the Port, 2022, giclée print on baryta paper 63 x 42 1/8 in, 160 x 107 cm, edition of 5 + 2 AP, © Àsìkò Courtesy the artist
Review by Michela Giachino
Since studying History of Art at The University of Oxford Michela has continued to pursue her interests in art and culture. She particularly enjoys considering how contemporary and historical art forms are presented to the wider public through exhibitions and viewings at art institutions. Michela’s favourite mediums include photography, film, painting and drawing, and she is always excited to learn about new art.
Read Michela’s latest review here Review: Turn It Out with Tiler Peck & Friends- ‘Colourful and light-hearted, classical and emotive, vibrant and experimental’-Sadler’s Wells 9-11 March – Abundant Art
Rites of Passage explores the idea of “liminal space,” a coinage of anthropologist Arnold van Gennep (1873–1957). In his 1909 book, after which the exhibition is titled, Van Gennep was among the first to observe that the transitional events of birth, puberty, marriage, and death are marked by ceremonies with a ritual function that transcends cultural boundaries.
Featured artists: Tunji Adeniyi-Jones, Àsìkò, Phoebe Boswell, Adelaide Damoah, Femi Dawkins, Victor Ehikhamenor, Mary Evans, Ayesha Feisal, Enam Gbewonyo, Elsa James, Julianknxx, Sahara Longe, Manyaku Mashilo, Emily Moore, Nengi Omuku, Patrick Quarm, Alexandria Smith, Sharon Walters, and Michaela Yearwood Dan
RITES OF PASSAGE
Opening reception: Thursday, March 16, 6–8pm
March 16–April 29, 2023
6–24 Britannia Street, London
For more information –Rites of Passage, Britannia Street, London, March 16–April 29, 2023 | Gagosian