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The Medium is the Message, exhibition in London

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The Medium is the Message we can therefore say finds purpose in curating nuanced work. It contains work from a group of artists that explores shades of colour, blackness and identity. It seeks to “return to the raw constituents of painting, to find what can be said about black identity today, through medium alone.”

Christabel Johanson reviews the exhibition The Medium is The Message in London
Eniwaye Oluwaseyi. A Branch and Two, 2020. Oil and acrylic on canvas. 100 x 80 cm.

 

 

 

 

The Medium is the Message

The new group exhibition The Medium is the Message is concerned with pigment over pigmentation. Its curator Azu Nwagbogu quotes Frantz Fanon “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfil it, or betray it.” A lofty quote to hold up the spirit of the show. It tells us that Nwagbogu is looking beyond the typical art shows and finding a different kind of purpose in his curation.

The Medium is the Message we can therefore say finds purpose in curating nuanced work. It contains work from a group of artists that explores shades of colour, blackness and identity. It seeks to “return to the raw constituents of painting, to find what can be said about black identity today, through medium alone.”

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Installation Views, Unit Gallery, London, 2020

Nwagbogu founded the African Artists’ Foundation (AAF), a non-profit organisation based in Lagos, Nigeria. He has spent the last two decades curating for private and corporate events so we would expect his eye to be attuned to the subtleties needed for such a purpose.

The show runs during Black History Month in the UK, an opportune time to assess cultural identity after a summer of riots and protests. The artists’ focus is to provide an alternative narrative to society’s stereotypes and caricatured models of Blackness in popular media. They achieve this usually through personal expression and depictions of their work. The autobiographical nature of the art resembles the traditional or community identities they bring in some way. The depictions seek to transcend expectations and Nwagbogu says they are not “succeeded by unfettered existence.”

The exhibition is said to throw off the societal gaze which so often commodifies Blackness as dangerous, cool or the Other. This is the link to “majesty or misery” Nwagbogu wants to avoid without at least exploring the shades of middle-ground. With a clutch of artists through which these shades express themselves The Medium is the Message is not short of options to choose from.

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Edozie Anedu

One artist, Edozie Anedu, is a painter based in Benin. Amongst his artistic interests Anedu uses oils and acrylics to explore popular culture and social issues. His work is described as on the verge of abstract and he often works against the backdrop of the fashion, sports or entertainment industries.

How did you get involved with the show?

I was invited to participate by the curator Azu Nwagbogu. Azu came across my work during my solo show in Lagos in December 2019 titled “Mistakes I Chose to Keep” I’m glad to be working with him on this show at this particular time in our history.

What does the theme of The Medium is the Message mean for you?

The message being communicated is determined by the nature of the carrier medium and the carrier medium in this case is a product of a shared experience.

Why is this such an important message right now?

I had listened to a Ted Talk of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on the dangers of a single story; the lack of a balance of stories usually results in a popularized and recycled story which is known as the single story.

It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power. There is a word, an Igbo word I think about whenever I think about the power structures of the world, and it is ‘nkali’. It’s a noun that loosely translates to ‘to be greater than another’. Like our economic and political worlds, stories too are defined by the principle of nkali.How they are told, who tells them, when they’re told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power.

In order to paint a fuller picture of the black man, we must bring to light the overly ignored “multiple” stories of black people that has been enabled by the structure our society was been built on.

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Edozie Anedu, Mr Lefty, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 150 x 120 cm
How have your experiences affected your work?

I started drawing at the back of my school books as a kid, drawing popular cartoon characters, graffiti and calligraphy, drawing over rough workings or calculation. Turning to painting was a great life changing experience for me hence I choose very expressive colour combinations. I paint to create comic relief from the dramas of life.

The layers of drawings in my work could be similar to everyday experience, constantly editing our perceptions and deciding what elements of the drawing to keep… just the same way we take out the lessons from everyday life, the wins and the loses.

In as much as much as I try to create a painting, I am also obsessed with just drawing. For me drawing is similar to handwriting and I always want it to be visible in the final piece. I tend to stay on the fine line between drawing and painting, and sometimes it’s just the simple things like recognizable bad handwriting that is art.

What is your response towards the popularity of “black art”?

I can’t tell what works in the art world but there is as a need for the art world to catch up.

Sungi Mlengeya is another featured in the show. Mlengeya is a self-taught Tanzanian artist whose acrylic paints provide a minimalist canvas on which to explore. Her work looks at the figure of the black woman, often in black and white. If the exhibition looks at “facets of black existence: including play, solitude and contemplation”, then Mlengeya’s work is a keen example of this meditation. She says that her subjects are “detached from restrictive norms or settings that hinder them from pursuing their true desires or being their true selves”. Perhaps also the viewer is able to transplant their own ideas into the vacuum of space Mlengeya creates for her women.

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Sungi Mlengeya, Friend, 2020, Graphite on paper, 42 x 29.5 cm

Commenting on Friend, Mlengeya says that “There is a sense of unity and support between the subjects which play an important role in achieving our goals. This can be observed in the real world today during these times of the pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement where collective support coming from people from all over the world, people of different backgrounds has demonstrated how with a unified voice, there can be hope for change.”

It seems the tougher the hardships play out for the black community, the more powerful art becomes in unifying people through its message and through its medium. Especially in a world that stigmatises Blackness whilst gratuitously commodifying its exoticism, the art industry like any other is as guilty for inputting into a system of Otherness. However one way in which we can uphold the authenticity of the message is by holding a space for the black eye to curate its own black products. In this way the medium is the message on which Nwagbogu’s show personifies a self-regulating system. By embodying the spirit of its own empowerment The Medium is the Message rejects becoming a typical menagerie of curiosities and instead works towards Fanon’s quote of fulfilling a mission for its generation.

The Medium is the Message is held at Unit London and runs until 14th November 2020.
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