Mokgosi’s research for his Objects of Desire series included an investigation into the Museum of Modern Art’s archives, specifically the exhibitions Primitivism in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern (1984) and Objects of Desire: The Modern Still Life (1997). The latter exhibition made a strong argument for viewing the inanimate objects depicted by the Modernists as evidence of a growing lexicon of affluence among the cosmopolitan artists. In response, Mokgosi approaches this series through an examination of the contemporary African object in his own paintings with the aim of challenging the legacy of African art as a tool of the Modernists in developing their own methodologies. The text panels contain excerpts from MoMA’s Primitivism essay, along with the artist’s critical annotations which question the theoretical framing of African art from a Western point of view.
“Most people do not wish to accept that the order governing their lives is imaginary, but in fact every person is born into pre-existing imagined order, and his of her desires are shaped from birth by its dominant myths. Our personal desires thereby become the imagined order’s most important defences.”
-Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari
Y.G. Srimati, New York Times, March 2017
This is among the earliest of Srimati's works that allude to the fifth-century Buddhist murals at Ajanta. The sensuous figure-type and dark complexion directly reference Ajanta prototypes, as does the textile design of the woman's skirt. The artist identified the subject as Sujata, the young woman in the Buddha's life story who offered the fasting ascetic Sakayamuni milk and rice gruel. This experience alerted him to the efficacy of the middle path, namely, that neither overindulgence nor extreme self-mortification is conducive to enlightenment and the release of the soul, thus setting him upon the the path to spiritual awakening. Sujata became the Buddha's first lay disciple. She is represented as a beautiful young woman, carrying the life restorative gruel in an earthen pot upon her head, and with a lotus in her hand, foretelling Sakyamuni's enlightenment.
“He unbrands not only white women but their depictions, taking away the linguistic frameworks that bind these drawings and photographs to the cultural stories we all know, unleashing them from the constraints of the narratives that pretend to give them some irrefutable meaning. Surrounded by written language and the familiar graphic design of magazines or billboards, pictures are justified and tamed; they can hide the fact that they are polysemous, that they speak in tongues. Left to their own devices, they are amorphous, mute and dumb, open to the interpretation of the beholder, free to float into ambiguous spaces that might instill anxiety or fear. Language and context mask what both Barthes and Susan Sontag have called the ‘madness’ of photography, its stubborn capacity to resist fixed meanings, to become unmoored from the narratives that provide pictures with a comfortable and domesticated ‘cage.’”
– Shelley Rice, Unbranded White Women, Jack Shainman Gallery: New York, 2015.
“Loved Ones, from the group 'Great Expectations', is the first group of lithographs in which all the prints are different sizes, reflecting the varying scale of the sculptures. This pairing – the small bronze and the lithograph – is unusual in that the bronze was cast from a maquette I made in clay before starting the wood; something I hardly ever do. The lithograph is a record of the wooden sculpture after it was finished.
Since my first solo show at Jack Shainman Gallery in 2001, it has become part of my working process to keep a record of all my sculptures through lithographs. Previously I had made these records with color pencil drawings. These works on paper are a form of closure. Before they are shipped from my studio, I have the completed sculptures photographed in natural light with the lithographs in mind. When I revisit the recently completed groups, ideas for the next project often become clear to me.
When I first had the idea to record them in this way, I envisioned eventually having a stack of prints, which would allow me in some way to keep the sculptures for myself. Faye Hirsch compared them to the printed mementos of cult statuary, an idea I like.”
A photograph of the ocean as viewed from the Door of No Return atop a black, glittering tarp, this eponymous work is exemplary of Bailey’s practice. Such doors populate castles all over the Western coast of Africa from where the enslaved took their last steps off of the continent and onto the ships that transported them across the Atlantic. The shimmering background both resembles the night sky and references an understanding throughout African diasporic arts and traditions that reflective materials repel bad sprits or energy. This idea is seen in the use of sequins in Hatian voodoo flags and finds roots in Congolese Nkisi Nkondi sculptures, which include a piece of glass or a mirror on the abdomen of the figure.
Door of No Return was commissioned by the Institute of Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University for an exhibition entitled Great Force, on view from October 5, 2019 – January 5, 2020.
This is How You Were Born and A Forbidden Impulse are part of a newly commissioned series of over 40 works from Toyin Ojih Odutola’s solo exhibition, A Countervailing Theory, which will soon unveil at the Barbican Centre’s Curve gallery in London and tour to two additional venues.
Working similarly to an author or poet, Ojih Odutola spends months crafting narratives which then play out in her drawings as vignettes of a larger story. In this story, she imagines herself as an archeologist researching a newly discovered ancient civilization found in the Jos Plateau region of Nigeria. In this epic cycle, we see humanoid-like figures play out scenes of love, war, loss, creation, and community set to an otherworldly landscape.
While the Plateau State of Nigeria is known for its ethno-linguistic, cultural, and artistic diversity as well as its biodiversity, with A Countervailing Theory, Ojih Odutola presents an imagined mythology of her own as an addition to the region’s rich features.
Through the “artifacts” explored in her story, she sees the potential of challenging known empirical and historical records related to the cultures and beliefs of Central Nigeria, in the hopes of providing a more balanced and expanded narrative.