“Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.” – Frantz Fanon
At its core, The Medium is the Message is an exhibition concerned with pigment over pigmentation. It is primarily about the power artistic pigment holds when trying to express an identity free of cliche. The exhibition takes this focus in order to avoid curatorial emphasis being placed on the pigmentation of skin, which can often reinforce such cliches.
The Medium is the Message is curated by Azu Nwagbogu with the assistantance of Wunika Mukan and Jana Terblanche. The exhibition brings together artists who collectively navigate a world which stigmatises blackness while simultaneously celebrating its cultural products. However, unlike many recent shows featuring black artists, this is not an exhibition with a strong focus on narrative, these works do not outline societal issues by virtue of form alone. Instead, this exhibition is elemental, it seeks to return to the raw constituents of painting, to find what can be said about black identity today, through medium alone.
Tiffany Alfonseca (1994) is a Bronx born Dominican-American mixed media artist who makes works that celebrates the Black and Afro-Latinx Disaporic communities and culture. Often situating her subjects within bold and colorful settings, Alfonseca explores the nuances of these communities in order to construct new narratives reflective of her upbringing as a Dominican-American woman.
Edozie Anedu is a painter based in Benin City, Nigeria. He explores popular culture, social issues and his personal experiences through oils, acrylics and pastels. His paintings incorporate elemental forms that verge on the abstract, with figures and objects formed with expressive brush strokes akin to graffiti or mural art. His work often includes cultural references that span music, fashion and entertainment.
Wonder Buhle Mbambo
Wonder Buhle Mbambo was born in 1989, in Kwa-Ngcolosi, South Africa. After he received his formal training from the BAT Centre (a visual arts residency program in Durban, 2010), he studied fine art, under the mentorship of Themba Shibase, at the Velobala Apprenticeship Program at the Durban University of Technology (2011-2013). In 2020; he will be part of the The La Brea Studio Artists Residency in L.A.
Sthenjwa was born in Botha’s Hill, South Africa, in 1991. In 2010, he joined the BAT Centre Visual Art classes and say’s that these classes familiarised him with the art industry and encouraged him to further explore and develop his creativity. He creates highly intricate, meditative work by carving detailed patterns into wood blocks. His supple figures bend and contort to give a sense of gentle motion.
John Madu was born in 1983 in Lagos, Nigeria. He is best known for his figurative symbolic style of painting that responds to the complexity of identity, social behavior and the effects of cultural globalisation on individualism. He derives ideas from a wide range of influences and sources based on popular culture, African history and art history, which culminates in a diverse body of work. Madu believes that art in its purest form is a didactic reaction to certain issues of social interest.
Manyaku Mashilo was born in 1991 in Limpopo, South Africa and is currently based in Cape Town. Mashilo is a self taught multidisciplinary artist who creates mixed media, paper-based drawings and works. Mashilo is currently exploring the phenomenon of the cartographic portrait: her enmeshed figures are mapped onto the canvas, piecing together dimensions of time, place and space.
Sungi Mlengeya is a self-taught Tanzanian artist. She works primarily with acrylic paints, creating works that are free, minimalist and concerned with the role of negative space. The paintings consist of dark figures in minimal shades of black and brown against white backgrounds, with topics varying widely from self-discovery to empowerment - her work is often centred around women, specifically black women.
Cameroonian born Ludovic Nkoth engages in a visual investigation of his native home; his family history; and the cultures, traditions, and ideas of Africa and its diaspora pre-and post-colonialism. These topics are approached with both a brusqueness and a boldness of color that suggests a passion for discovery. African symbols such as masks, patterns, and other totems of identity and culture appear throughout his work.
Collins Obijiaku’s work is a celebration of identity: the faces of his figures, imprinted with numerous contours, are redolent of the impressions made by the papillary ridges of our hands. Obijiaku plays with the signifiers that makes us distinguishable from others through a skilled use of emotional cartography; by mapping human expression so powerfully, he opens up vistas of artistic opportunity.
Emma Odumade was born in 2000. He is a multi-faceted Nigerian artist whose work centers around hyper realistic drawings which interact with notions of identity and explore the social constructs of beauty and power. Born and raised in Lagos, his art journey started at a very young age - drawing comics and cartoons and pasting collages on paper. Odumade lauds the pencil as a weapon for activism and a means for reconnecting with personal stories and experiences.
Dawn Okoro’s practice began with her interest in fashion illustration, photography, and design. She is a painter, fashion designer, and videographer whose works feature dynamic female figures against gold backdrops. She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in fashion design from the University of Texas at Austin, and her Juris Doctor degree from Thurgood Marshall School of Law. Okoro’s solo exhibition “Punk Noir” launched in Austin, Texas, in 2018 and toured through March 2020. Her work has been featured in Architectural Digest, Hyperallergic, Forbes, Artsy, Drawing Magazine, and on BET’s The First Wives Club.
Eniwaye Oluwaseyi is a Nigeria born contemporary artist. Born in Ilorin, Kwara state on the 17th of October, 1994. Oluwaseyi is a self-taught artist working in oil, charcoal and acrylic on canvas. His practice is primarily centred around a contemporary approach in his portrait paintings. He uses bold and vivid tones, representing human figures in grisaille and brunaille in striking realism to give his paintings a strong physical presence.
A self-taught artist with a studio practice in Nigeria, Peter studied biology education at Kogi State University and began making art in 2017. His most recent work combines West African Folklore with Post-Colonial theory within the realm of blackness, unpacking critical themes that refer to a time in pre-colonial Africa. Peter brings a new and exciting depth to the figure by creating mask-like visages, harkening back to the cultural practices that first led to abstraction. Instead of hyperrealist faces and bodies that objectify blackness, Peter replaces naturalistic features with traditionally ritualistic masks that focus on a feeling rather than skin.
Talia Ramkilawan was born in Cape Town in 1996. She uses mixed media in order to visualise the complexity of one’s relationship to trauma using various mediums including tapestry, video, performance and installation. The discovery of rug-hooking in her fourth year of university was a breakthrough moment. She immersed herself in this craft and through this medium she was able to create an intimacy and honesty that felt refreshing. Ramkilawan describes the process of making these textiles as a process of healing. Her work is inspired by her own family dynamics and her own experience with South Asian identity, culture and trauma.
Ngozi Schommers is a Nigerian multi-media artist born in Enugu in 1974. She now splits her time between Germany and Ghana. Her work focuses on a wide range of subjects including identity, equality, memory, culture, ecological destruction, migration and colonialism. Schommers uses the body and experiences of the female gender, archival materials and memories of her childhood in tackling these subjects. As an artist living between West Africa and Europe, she incorporates experiences of both locations in her work and further expands this discourse using plants, floral patterns and butterflies.
Katlego Tlabela was born in Pretoria, South Africa in 1993. Tlabela has always been concerned with the multi-disciplinary technical processes within painting, sound, photography and sculptural installations. Tlabela’s artistic interests span from the social and political crises in post-apartheid South Africa; the independent African continent; and the political climate in the USA. Resistance, protest, dialogues around race and positive methods of representation of the black body and experience are visualized through text-based and visual works, often revisiting history and relating it back to contemporary events.
Zandile Tshabalala was born in Soweto, South Africa in 1999. She is a visual artist and is currently completing her BA(FINA) at the University of the Witwatersrand. The mediums she uses most are acrylic and oil paint, at times infusing the two with some sculptural elements, and bringing it all together on the canvas. She tends to revisit and make reference to the works of painters who came before her, and interpret or rework the works in the way she sees fit.
Born in Nasarawa state, Barry Yusufu is a self-taught visual artist from the north-central part of Nigeria. He is a traditional artist who uses dying art media ranging from charcoals, coffee, paints, papier mache, collage, and graphite to tell stories using model dramatization, colors, and a great deal of imagination. His style of art is Contemporary Expressionism which he calls Kolo Art meaning madness in a sane way.
The blackness presented in The Medium is the Message is authentic, quiet and confident.
The exhibition rejects the lazy depictions of blackness as majesty or misery (with very little gradation between the two). The work unveils many facets of black existence: including play, solitude and contemplation; it is a collection of work that spans the entire canopy of human emotion without kowtowing to exoticism.
In letting the medium take centre stage, these artists are deploying painting as a meditative form of self expression – highlighting the process’s calming nature, and its ability to act as a contemplative release.
Azu Nwagbogu is the Founder and Director of African Artists’ Foundation (AAF), a non-profit organisation based in Lagos, Nigeria.
Nwagbogu was elected as the Interim Director/ Head Curator of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art in South Africa from June 2018 to August 2019. He also serves as Founder and Director of LagosPhoto Festival, an annual international arts festival of photography held in Lagos. He is the creator of Art Base Africa, a virtual space to discover and learn about contemporary African Art.
Azu Nwagbogu served as a juror for the Dutch Doc, POPCAP Photography Awards, the World press Photo, Prisma Photography Award (2015), Greenpeace Photo Award (2016), New York Times Portfolio Review (2017-2018), W. Eugene Smith Award (2018), Photo Espana (2018), Foam Paul Huf Award (2019), Wellcome photography prize (2019) and is a regular juror for organisations such as Lensculture and Magnum.
For the past 20 years, he has curated private collections for various prominent individuals and corporate organisations in Africa. Nwagbogu obtained a Masters in Public Health from The University of Cambridge. He lives and works in Lagos, Nigeria.
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