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NEWSLETTER Nos artistes à la Une

Week #2: Temitayo Ogunbiyi


Propos recueillis auprès de Temitayo Ogunbiyi le 26 avril 2020
1 - Temitayo, you are in Lagos right now, confined in your family house with your husband and children. Let us know how things are doing in Lagos? Life keeps going? Or is everything stopped ?
Whew. I’ve been thinking about this question for days, and to be honest, I was tempted to change the question. But my 4 year-old gave me courage; last Friday morning she shared our update with her entire class on their daily Zoom call. On February 27th my husband, and father of our young children, moved out of our home. That same day, the first confirmed case of COVID-19 appeared in Nigeria and not far from where we live. I feel my life has been reset and the COVID-19 lockdown has given me time to think about ways to move forward or ‘face my front o’, as we say here in Lagos. I feel liberated. I’ve gotten back to some dormant, inert dreams, which have me planting, making new work, and expanding my world view. 
Lagos is quieter and delicate at the moment, but it is a place where life cannot stop; it just shifts--all the time. And COVID-19, while unprecedented, is another such shift. A resilient city, Lagos is a place of community, with many loving people and organizations chipping in where aid is needed. I am humbled by each opportunity to give, even if in relatively small ways. The creative generosity of people in this moment has been terribly moving. Our movements are restricted, yet we remain together. 
2 - Where is your studio in Lagos ? How do you manage to work ?
Overlooking the Lagos lagoon, my studio is a room within the compound where I live. 
I’m still figuring out the best way to work--really, I am very keen. To date, for each day, I write down the dream hours during which I would like to be in the studio. Sometimes I get close and other days are a complete bust. For next week, I’m going to write down milestones instead. Mostly, I manage to work while my kids reorganize my studio, leaving their experiments, sand, cuttings, and supplies (sometimes mine!) EVERYWHERE. Everywhere, everywhere, everywhere. Typically, I prefer that my studio be tidy, but these days I don’t have that luxury. And then smaller works in the house make it easy to work after my kids have gone to bed.
3 – As Artistic Director of ART X Lagos, you are really involved in the Lagos artistic scene, how is the crisis felt by artists? How does it translate?
Many of the artists I’ve spoken with are looking for their peace and finding it. Some artists are taking to instagram. Some are still able to get to their studios. Then there are those who find it difficult to work during this time. I feel the same could be true of any major cultural hub. I am more excited about the scene here in Lagos than ever. Looking back, the world pre-COVID-19 just wasn’t good enough --everyone in the world had become accustomed to particular cycles and planned accordingly. Now planning is tinged with the uncertainty of this moment, and therefore tends to be more short term and unpredictable. Artists are creative. Artists are survivors. And in addition, many Lagos-based artists have a dogged determination from being productive in this complicated city.
4 - Let’s talk more precisely about your work. 
If you had 5 words and only 5 words to describe it, which ones? 

This is really very difficult! (:D) : 
Conversations between yesterday and tomorrow
Prayer, Possibility ,Surprise, Asymmetry, Detail 
5 - Your work is focused on the creation of new shapes issued from a mix between the organic forms of real plants, fruits and seeds and geometric lines from American and Nigerian hair styles, among others. At the same time, your drawing is really precise (inspired by the aesthetic of the Natural history plates from the 18th century) and really free and organic. How do you balance the thoroughness of your drawing and freedom of your forms ? 
I never focus on where the work will end. I find a beginning and then stage situations that will challenge me and make me feel uneasy. I often think of rhythm--just as a musician composes a song with tempos. I’m continually searching for variation that upends repetition. There is a turning point in each work when I can see the end is coming. Getting there is in the details, sometimes just 2 marks out of maybe one million. I am always pushing myself to make my marks these smaller and smaller.
6 - Do you think this global crisis is going to influence your work and connect your research in a different way with our global issues? 
It already has! I started a farm at home, which has merged with my practice. So far, I have planted lime, passion fruit, date, oregano, basil, sorrell, spinach, watermelon and avocado. The oregano and spinach were from cuttings, but everything else is growing from seed. Before this moment, in my work, I was more focused on responding to fruits and leaves. With this reality upon us, I have become increasingly interested in seeds. How do they grow? Each emerges at its own pace, even if they originate from the same plant. This also extends to my renewed focus on symbols of hope, which I spoke about earlier, and continues my interest in exploring degrees of difference. As someone who just could not get with Instagram, I now find that I am more open to possibilities of digital sharing platforms and I am also thinking about digital media, which I used in my early work. How can my practice activate mediums that are easier to disseminate these days than physical matter? I’m also taking note of the most prevalent configurations and compositions in our midst and how my work can respond to these.
7 - I’m thinking about your plural identity as Nigerian, American and Jamaican. Your work is talking, through organic volumes using lines derivative of hair strands, about the links, roads, movements between those different places. Do you think the COVID crisis is going to redraw a new global map ?
I’m most interested in the paths in our midst right now. Which paths do we navigate in these lock down days? 
Shower-garden-kitchen-table-toilet-water dispenser-table-printer-toy pile-toilet-couch-garden-studio-unending lagoon shoreline 
How do the paths taken vary when one is rushing, has to step around yam that’s been mashed on the floor or navigate an amorphous puddle from a burst water balloon? 
8 – Drawing is your main media and you’ve recently started to work on a new series of sculptures. Before you used to work with installations. Can you tell us more about this path from artworks in volume to drawing on paper and then back to 3D ? 
I’m working across (too!) many mediums simultaneously. Last year, I began paintings, which are more like meditations. Whenever I work in 2D, I see the 3D form very clearly. For me the 2D and 3D are not separate. Sometimes, I feel the 2D is just one view of a 3D. There are other instances where the 2D becomes sculptural with raised paint and embossed pencil marks.
9 – Your last series, which you started during your residency at the Smithsonian in Washington DC, is part of a larger body of work titled « You will ». It responds to a really popular way to pray in Nigeria. Why did you link your drawings to these words ? 

The phrase ‘You will’ and those that follow them, have uplifted me many times over. My hope is that the use of the words in my works will encourage others and draw them into narratives of wisdom that may be new to them. 
10 - Thank you, Tayo. Do you have one last thing to say to our readers ? 
Every moment of every day is filled with an accomplishment. You can hold onto each one.

Press quotes

« 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. »
Contemporary and – Janvier 2020
« One of the most poignant works is by Nigerian artist Temitayo Ogunbiyi—You Will Find Playgrounds Among the Palm Trees(2018–19) is a series of interactive sculptures placed on the roof and made from a variety of large-scale anamorphous-shaped sculptures in cast bronze and galvanized steel piping wrapped in twine that relay the need to create platforms for play using techniques found in threading hairstyles. »

Rebecca Ann Proctor, – Novembre 2020
« Her work is essentially connected to the place of creation and also the space of exhibition by highlighting the correspondences and channels of communication that are created between the object and its direct environment. »
The sole adventurer – 19 janvier 2020


About the work of Temitayo Ogunbiyi 


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.

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