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Expanding Contemporary African Sculpture

Olu Amoda – Spy Agencies In The World

Five-hundred cameras are placed in a repetitive rhythm in the gallery space. Covering three walls, each camera is systematically hung with geometric precision, facing upright and forward, as if soldiers in full military attention. Each camera’s lens, in varying lengths that identify different areas of focus, are pointed toward the same invisible subject. Whatever these cameras are recording, its intended target cannot escape. The cameras are overwhelming, omnipresent and leave no detail undetected.

In fact, these are not cameras at all. They are creations of celebrated Nigerian artist Olu Amoda, and they are welded together using second-hand steel and wood. As an art installation entitled Spy Agencies in the World, these metal cameras are part of Amoda’s newest body of work that explores questions of privacy and public space in the Nigerian urban environment. These recent works, presented in Olu Amoda’s solo exhibition, Fringe, at Art Twenty One in Lagos, Nigeria, examines the relationship between surveillance, voyeurism, and the female form.

Olu Amoda has worked consistently over the past three decades to create a sculptural language that has unique character and beauty. Working as a sculptor, muralist, furniture designer, and multimedia artist, Amoda is best known for using repurposed materials found from the detritus off mass consumer and industrial culture. His works often incorporate rusty nails, metal plates, bolts, pipes, and rods, that are welded together to create figures, animals, flora and ambiguous forms. Amoda uses these materials to explore socio-political issues relating to Nigerian culture today, from sex, politics, race and conflict to consumerism and economic distribution.

Central to Amoda’s investigations in this exhibition are the influences of technology and how virtual communications shape and prescribe identity. Noting the hyper-consciousness of self-representation that is brought about by the digital revolution, Amoda focuses his attention to the prevailing presence of the camera in our daily lives. Whether self-imposed or brought about by increased modes of surveillance, the omnipresence of cameras and recording devices in these works suggest a cultural obsession with our “public” selves.

Olu Amoda – NSA Camera- and Balls

Amoda’s installation NSA Columns and Balls, which is spread throughout the exhibition, continues this investigation into self-imposed surveillance. NSA Columns and Balls includes multiple structures that are formed out of the remnants of old disposable cameras. With the plastic viewfinder cut out from these mass-produced objects, Amoda attaches the fragments to various steel columns and circular shapes, along with lights created from repurposed glass bottles. Throughout the gallery, microphones have been strategically placed to pick up the idle chatter of visitors, and this recording is played back by speakers embedded in the sculptures themselves. As a multimedia and interactive installation, the audience is forced to participate in their own surveillance, and ultimately to relish in the sensorial delight of being recorded and spied upon.

Set amidst these works are new series that reference religion and the sacredness of the private, as well as depictions of women that highlight the conflicting forces of sexuality. These nude and seminude women, shown in varying states of undress, represent the workers of the commercial sex industry in Nigeria. As an ongoing body of work that Amoda has produced throughout his career, the Queens of the Night series depicts his female subjects from varying perspectives and poses, almost to the point of obsession. Depicted from an obtrusive gaze, these women have an eye of being watched and of always watching.

Rather than preaching morality or situating the pornographic as taboo, Amoda celebrates female sensuality. Eschewing the line between vulgarity and intimacy, Amoda points out that the public and the private are two sides of the same coin and intimately inform one another. In Holy Communion, Amoda creates a steel frame to hold a circular collection of votive candles, referencing quiet contemplation and prayer. As in the omnipresence of cameras in his installations and the voyeurism of his female figures, Amoda suggests another element of revelation and concealment, this time in relation to religious practices.

Olu Amoda - Sunflower
Olu Amoda – Sunflower

Amoda’s artistic practice is first and foremost defined by the materials he uses, and he focuses on the contexts and histories of the found objects he incorporates. Amoda’s seminal large-scale sculptural work, Sunflower, highlights this signature approach to materiality. Incorporating hundreds of rusty nails that have been pulled from wooden crates at Tin Can Island in Lagos, Amoda repurposes these objects as a reincarnation. A commercial seaport, Tin Can Island is the primary destination for the shipments of many of Nigeria’s luxury and consumer goods, which are brought to Nigeria in crates that have traveled multiple destinations throughout the world. By reusing these nails, Amoda breathes new life into them, and they are ultimately placed in art collector’s homes alongside the furniture and objects that they might have been originally used to carry. In this way, Amoda transforms these materials and allows them to transcend their socio-economic status and predetermined fate.

While Olu Amoda has worked in many different directions throughout his career, his artworks always manage to relate back to each other, even indirectly, as he continues to examine consistent themes and methods of practice. Looking back at his past work, these ideas concerning public and private space have been circulating for many years, from his use of doors and keys to the actual gates Amoda has constructed for private homes. In these latest works, however, Amoda has thought bigger and in larger scale. Amoda’s installations in this exhibition overwhelm the viewer in their visual space, which ultimately relates back to the overwhelming nature of the technologies that he exposes.

Olu Amoda has cemented himself as one of Nigeria’s leading contemporary artists. His work, Sunflower, won the top prize at the Dakar Biennale in 2014 in Dakar, Senegal, and he has exhibited in prestigious international museums around the world including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Museum of Art in Design in New York. His newest exhibition at Art Twenty One coincides with Art Twenty One’s presentations at international art fairs this year, including Amoda’s inclusion at Art Dubai and the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fairs in New York and London. Olu Amoda has also served as a professor of Sculpture and Drawing at the Yaba School of Technology in Lagos since 1987, and he has mentored a rising generation of artists who have studied under his tenure.

With this newest exhibition and body of work, Amoda explores new conceptual territories while advancing his career-long devotion to metal and steel. As Amoda enters the spotlight of the international art stage, he can only continue to charter new artistic horizons.

Art Blog

Venice Biennale


The 56th International Art Exhibition entitled All the World’s Futures is curated by Okwui Enwezor and organized by la Biennale di Venezia chaired by Paolo Baratta. The exhibition, held at the Giardini della Bienalle and the Arsenale, features over  136 artists from 53 countries, of whom 89 will be showing at the Biennale for the first time.

“The world before us today exhibits deep divisions and wounds, pronounced inequalities and uncertainties as to the future,” said Paolo Baratta as he introduced this year’s edition. “Despite the great progress made in knowledge and technology, we are currently negotiating an ‘age of anxiety’. And once more, the Biennale observes the relationship between art and the development of the human, social, and political world, as external forces and phenomena loom large over it. Our aim is to investigate how the tensions of the outside world act on the sensitivities and the vital and expressive energies of artists, on their desires and their inner song. One of the reasons the Biennale invited Okwui Enwezor was for his special sensitivity in this regard.”

Okwui Enwezor, the first Nigerian curator of the exhibition, described the 1974 Biennale (part of which was dedicated to Chile)  as a curatorial inspiration.  “Bringing practitioners across the fields of visual art, cinema, music, theater, dance, and performance, the events of the 1974 Art Biennale were spread across the entire city of Venice, said Enwezor. “Today, this remarkable and transformative episode in the history of the Biennale is largely forgotten. The dedication of the program of events to Chile and against fascism remains one of the most explicit attempts, in recent memory, by which an exhibition of the stature of the Art Biennale not only responds to, but courageously steps forward to share the historical stage with the political and social contexts of its time.”

All the World’s Futures, introduced the ARENA, an active space dedicated to continuous live programming across disciplines, designed by award-winning Ghanaian/British architect David Adjaye. The linchpin of this program is the live reading of all three volumes of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital (Capital).

venice3Other highlights of the exhibition include :

The Invisible Borders Trans-African Project,  an artist-led organization founded in Nigeria in 2009 that assembles African artists –mainly photographers, writers, and filmmakers  to reflect on the question of borders and its implications in 21st century Africa.  The Invisible Borders will present in the 56th Art Biennale a Trans-African Worldspace, a survey of their platform’s recent and ongoing photographic and audiovisual production, which will be periodically generated and incorporated into their presentation throughout the seven months of the exhibition. Moreover, the group will present in the ARENA their feature length documentary Invisible Borders 2011, The Film, followed by a discussion on the State of Things in the trans-African contemporary art scene and the critical ideas at the centre of their practice.

Theaster Gates activates his new multimedia installation Martyr Construction, a work addressing the question of the recurring dissolution and demolition of church parishes in African American and Hispanic neighborhoods across the United States.

venice4Abounaddara,  an anonymous collective of Syrian filmmakers working on impromptu documentaries, otherwise known as “emergency cinema.” Abounaddara has long reflected on the right to the image. They employ an aesthetic of do-it-yourself and disorientation, self-producing their films and distributing them online to avoid political censorship and the formatting dictates of the media and entertainment industries. Since its founding in 2010, Abounaddara has released a series of short documentaries celebrating the daily life of ordinary Syrians. In the wake of the March 2011 popular uprising, they began to produce a short film every Friday, an ongoing initiative that relies on the voluntary commitment of a network of filmmakers who work in secret, for reasons of security. At the Art Biennale Abounaddara will present a video installation featuring a selection of films from their prolific body of work, and will premiere a new film every Friday.

The Biennale ends on  Sunday, November 22nd, 2015 .



Art Blog

FNB Joburg Art Fair

joburg3The eighth edition of the annual FNB Joburg Art Fair returned to Johannesburg’s Sandton Convention Centre on the 11th of September. The three day event featured over 50 exhibitors from seven countries including South Africa, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom.

The FNB JoburgArtFair  is known for bringing together artists, curators and collectors for the conceptual visioning of contemporary African art and the 2015 edition featured curated exhibitions by contemporary galleries, alongside critically acclaimed Special Projects, Talks, Performances and Film Screenings.

Artsy, the  Fair’s online partner opened up the experience to a global audience by hosting a dedicated preview of exhibitor booths and editorial content and a digital catalogue  which gave collectors the opportunity to make direct sales inquiries on artworks directly through the site.

Candice Breitz was this year’s Featured Artist. Internationally acclaimed, Breitz combines the modes of film and performance in her installation Him + Her  which marked its inaugural showing in South Africa.

This year’s FNB Art Prize, which awards a young artist the financial means and opportunity to create a new project for the Fair, was juried by eminent African curators Koyo Kouoh (Senegal) and Bisi Silva (Nigeria). South African artist Turiya Magadlela (born 1978) took he honours this year and presented a large-scale installation comprising a grid of steel institutional beds arranged in a cell-like constellation, made over in correctional service fabrics. The installation entitled, Imihuzuko showcased a unique look at the state of South African  prisons and brought into sharp focus the realities of present-day incarceration.

The  2015 Advisory Committee members consisted of Koyo Kouoh (RAW MATERIAL COMPANY, Dakar), Bisi Silva (Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos), Jay Pather (Gordon Institute for Performing and Creative Arts, Cape Town), Karolina Ziebinska-Lewandowska (Centre Pompidou, Paris) and Zoe Whitley (TATE, London).


2015 Exhibitors

Participating galleries included:  Goodman Gallery, Stevenson, WHATIFTHEWORLD, SMAC Gallery and Everard Read, together with London-based Tiwani Contemporary; La New Gallery from Madrid; First Floor Gallery, Harare and Omenka Gallery, Lagos. The ‘Young Galleries’ section is dedicated to galleries founded in or after 2012. These galleries included the Kalashnikovv and Eyethu Galleries from Joburg; SMITH from Cape Town and Sulger-Buel Lovell from London. The ‘Art Platforms’ section provides not-for-profit arts entities an opportunity to participate and for the first time we have a ‘Limited Editions’ section dedicated to printmaking studios and galleries. In another new initiative, we introduce ‘Gallery Solo Projects’ in which a select number of galleries will present curated solo exhibitions specially conceived for the Fair.

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