Sculpture. Painting. Performance.
Victor Ehikhamenor, on whose canvases there is a proliferation of forms, has chosen to tinker with both the dilemma and material form of history in his installation “A Biography of the Forgotten.” He sourced hundreds of Benin bronze heads from Igun Street in Benin City, a World Heritage Site that produced the famous Benin bronzes. This street maintains to this day its guild structure and several workshops of brass casters. Against large canvases Ehikhamenor alternatively places mirrors and bronze heads, which bear metonymic weight, as symbols of colonial encounter—the former often exchanged for commodities as valuable as humans, and the latter plundered. In addressing the now, Ehikhamenor’s “A Biography of the Forgotten” reenergizes historical time and material, putting them at the service of self-reflection.
Peju Alatise’s “Flying Girls” is an installation based on the story of a ten-year-old girl who works as a housemaid in Lagos while dreaming of a realm where she is free, who belongs to no one but herself, and can fly. In the words of Fernanda Villarroel, in her essay for the exhibition catalogue, in “Flying Girls,” Alatise “cunningly illustrates how digging with a sharp eye into what is real, concrete, and present, might rather unearth aspects of the spectral, surreal, or fantastic.” Here, then, we notice the intermingling of worlds. The world of the quotidian peters into one of the preternatural, in much the same way Nigerian experience is often relayed as a blend of what is believable and what is outrageous. Beyond the immediate dreaminess of the installation, in which girls have wings and birds are sculpted in mid-flight, we consider “Flying Girls” a concise interpretation of the nature of survival—which here connotes a challenging journey into the mind’s eye.
The work of the choreographer Qudus Onikeku, collectively titled “Right Here, Right Now,” unfolds as a live performance and a trilogy of dance films. His contribution as a dancer brings into clear focus the tensions between the various senses of time. Onikeku is preoccupied with Yoruba spirituality, which for him, “carefully outlined the significance of the self, of alterity, of the commune, and of the divine, in its imagination of the role of aesthetics, beauty, and art.” In infusing contemporary dance with the energy of an indigenous worldview, he wanders back and forth the past and present, as if to regain time. He puts it aptly in an interview in our exhibition catalogue: “My role as a dancer is to not only look for ways to go through my own journey, but also to trigger the body memory of my audience. As a colonized people, we have lost track of many things. What’s the role of my lineage in the story of Nigeria? If you stay with that narrative, how do you trace back all the way to a space where you can rewrite pre-colonial memory?”