Solo Show by Temitayo Ogunbiyi
17 January - 29 February 2020
31 project presents a solo show by Temitayo Ogunbiyi.
The Nigerian and American visual artist presents for the first time in France a series of graphic works. This unique work is interested in the mixture of forms by inventing unexpected fusions between Nigerian hairstyles with geometric lines and botanical elements inspired by ancient Natural History plates. Thus autonomous hybrid patterns with meticulous lines and organic lines unfold on blank paper surfaces.
Using the aesthetics of naturalist drawing from the 18th and 19th centuries, Temitayo Ogunbiyi refers to the colonial classification system of the living world and thereby questions its plural culture and its diasporic heritage. With an intimate drawing mixing ethnological and botanical references, the artist tries to make her way in a fragile balance between her personal history and the movements of History in the broad sense.
« Capillarity » is of course a nod to the use of hairstyle in her work, but it is above all the symbolic evocation of the mixture of cultures by contact, impact, propagation, assimilation … This is « phenomenon physics by which a liquid tends to ascend to propagate through a porous body ”.
Temitayo Ogunbiyi was born in Rochester, USA in 1984.
She lives and works between Lagos in Nigeria, the United States and Jamaica.
As a visual artist, Temitayo Ogunbiyi works with a variety of media, exploring their possibilities and variations through installation, sculpture, collage and drawing.
Living between two continents, the essential thing for her is to produce a work that is always connected to the space in which it is created. Her work questions the exhibition space by highlighting the relationships and ways of communication that are created between the object and its surroundings.
Since 2016, she has focused her practice on drawing, taking an interest in mixing forms and inventing unexpected fusions between Nigerian hairstyles and geometric lines with botanical elements inspired by ancient natural history plates. Through the precision of the line and the organic development of the forms, she questions her plural heritage and diasporic culture. With an intimist drawing mixing ethnological and botanical references, the artist tries to find a path in a fragile balance between her personal story and the movements in History at large.
Trained at Princeton and Columbia University, Temitayo Ogunbiyi participated in the 2012 group show entitled The Progress of Love at the Pulitzer Art Foundation in St. Louis and with the Center for Contemporary Art in Lagos. She has also collaborated with Tiwani Contemporary Gallery in London in 2016, Medium Tings Gallery in Brooklyn in 2017, Gallery of Small Things in Dakar in 2018 and for the exhibition Women on Aeroplanes at TOR Art Space in Frankfurt. She has exhibited in 2015 at the Jogjia Biennale in Indonesia, Dakar OFF Biennale in 2014, 10th Berlin Biennale in 2018 and 2nd Lagos Biennale in 2019. In 2018, she is a recipient of the Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship.
By Brienne Welsh,
Art critic - New York
In an age where people snap pictures of everything they do, and post them on an app that will delete them twenty-four hours later, Temitayo Ogunbiyi’s work has a reassuring permanence. Her practice is concerned with taking the effluence of culture — text messages, beauty trends, fast food — and reproducing it as art so delicate and painstaking that the viewer has no choice but to look closer. In looking closer, what emerges is not a deeper understanding of the thing itself, but instead, that thing is not important. Instead, what matters is the interconnectedness of all that constitutes life, how by examining, for example, a pineapple, with focused attention, a wealth of disparate references both aesthetic and intellectual begins to coalesce through mark-making on a single piece of paper.
Previously, Ogunbiyi’s work had been concerned with the ways that other people communicate. Early work included collages that combined romance literature written in the 1930s with text messages written in the early 2000s. What followed next was an elevator-inspired installation at Galerie Attis in Dakar, Senegal, which Ogunbiyi filled drawings of food she ate while in transit from Lagos, where she is currently based, to the gallery show. In 2015, she continued to work with food at the in Jogja Biennale in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, where she created an installation that combined food packaging paper, fast food logos, and the film Ada Apa dengan Cinta?, which is the first Indonesian teen movie to feature an on-screen kiss. All of these works were concerned relationships between people and objects. “I liked the idea of challenging physical boundaries,” she says. “How relationships can do that, and how work can do that.”
Motherhood shifted her attention inward. In 2016, Ogunbiyi gave birth to her first child, a daughter. She found that putting a pencil to paper was one thing she could do while she was held captive by an infant. Her serie You Will began with a still unfinished drawing that initially referenced a jackfruit or a breadfruit — the reference is intentionally vague, as Ogunbiyi does not draw from real life, but instead, from memory and imagination. (She finds a compelling beginning, and works towards a sense that the beginning has been rounded out, or ended.)
Although Temitayo Ogunbiyi’s drawings in You Will serie are ostensibly botanical, drawing on the millennium-old tradition of using illustration to identify plant species for medicinal purposes, there is a sense that in creating the work, she is giving the viewer a glimpse at the invisible sculpting of her mind after she became a mother.
When she was invited to contribute to The Pineapple Show, a group exhibition curated by Zina Saro-Wiwa at Tiwani Contemporary in London in the summer of 2016, Ogunbiyi began drawing pineapples. In particular, the way the fruit — a symbol of love in Nigeria, and a symbol of exotic abundance in the colonial West — has served as a reference for hairstyles in Southwest Nigeria. Under Ogunbiyi’s hand, the pineapple was dissected, pulled apart, woven from human braids, banished to the realm of the ethereal, zoomed in upon, and transformed into a hybrid that resembled some sort of organic composite from an alien world that whispered words upon the paper.
They were a beginning. An invocation for the viewer to look through the strange dissections, and see the artist herself. The energy of the lines, which are tightly coiled and dense, recalled the early drawings of Ree Morton. In Ogunbiyi’s work, the lines, whispering and turning on the page, speak of the surfeit of energy characteristic of early motherhood.
Ogunbiyi’s dissections continued, with other fruit. Plants had always been a part of Ogunbiyi’s life. Her parents carefully tended garden throughout her childhood in the United States, Nigeria and Jamaica. As a teenager and young adult, she worked at an organic food store, where she grew an appreciation for the expansive world of edible botanicals. The ways that these botanicals connected different populations around the world — for example, mangoes are grown and eaten in India, South America, Central America, the Caribbean and Africa — was a form of communication unbounded by language.
She made drawings of her strange fruits — jalapenos, poppies, made-up hybrids, for example— on herbarium paper, which is traditionally used to mount dried specimens of plants. In using the material, Ogunbiyi is creating a jarring juxtaposition between the real and the imagined. The type of paper, along with the size — many of Ogunbiyi’s drawings are 12-inches-by-18-inches— reference the actual botanical samples she came upon during a residency at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. “There might be a piece of bark attached to a piece of paper, the leaf, the seeds, the pods,” she says. Her drawings, which reference actual plants, but are actually drawn from her imagination, thus become uncanny, ghostly presences emerging from blank space. They are weighty and scientific, but they are not real.
The sense that the drawings are being pulled from another realm, perhaps a spiritual one, is heightened by the cursive at the bottom of some of the drawings. They reveal prayer-full invocations such as: “You will see new growth from the most abysmal beginnings. The name of the serie You Will, is inspired by the tendency of Nigerian people to pray in affirmative declarations. For example, for one person to say, “I want”, and another person to say, “You will have it.”
In 2018, Ogunbiyi introduced color. She had just given birth again, this time to a boy. After spending some time in the United States with her parents, she had moved permanently to Lagos, Nigeria. The color was a profusion. The tightly wound lines of her grayscale drawings, which sometimes were less drawings than whisps of thoughts on the paper, suddenly became more permanent, more solid, firmly held in space by washes of color. The use of color was inspired by Ogunbiyi’s toddler daughter, whose own fearless experimentation with crayons liberated Ogunbiyi to experiment. Soon after, she began casting sculptures of the botanic forms she was drawing on paper, using an alloy of metals specific to foundries in Nigeria, which is created from melted belt buckles, tap heads, and gas valves. The ability of the drawings to translate into three-dimensional objects speaks further to the interconnectedness of matter, no matter how seemingly disparate.
Every time you look at the drawings, they unfurl. The twig at the end of a piece of dissected fruit becomes a tightly woven spiral of hair. Jags of burnt sienna seemingly applied to add texture to a flower sprout tentacles. They speak deeply to the connectedness of matter, which is revealed when you examine something closely enough — a stem could be an insect, a pineapple can be a head of hair. A drawing the soul of an artist.