“An Order of Being” by Manyaku Mashilo offers a profound and imaginative journey into a future realm that stretches the boundaries of possibility.
As visitors step into this captivating exhibition, they are greeted by a series of figurative paintings, including a breathtaking multi-panelled triptych adorned with three expansive arched canvases. This collection of art invites viewers to transcend the ordinary and enter a dreamlike world where boundaries blur, and possibilities are endless.
Within the realm of “An Order of Being,” Manyaku Mashilo masterfully weaves together a tapestry of influences, drawing from her religious upbringing, ancestral heritage, mythical folklore, science fiction, music, and meticulously selected archival photographic images. The result is a body of work that serves as a gentle exploration of the myriad facets of the artist’s past, present, and future self.
While firmly rooted in the realm of portraiture, Mashilo’s paintings defy conventional categorization. She views her creations as abstractions, challenging viewers to see beyond the surface and embrace the essence of each subject. Her commitment to this artistic approach becomes evident when she speaks of the historical distortions that plagued ethnographic photography from the 19th and early 20th centuries.
These images projected Eurocentric biases onto depicted bodies, diminishing the subjects’ true essence. Mashilo’s figures, on the other hand, stand as a testament to her dedication to creating a fresh narrative, free from the shackles of historical projection.
In her own words, she states, “I invent characters; I have had to create these subjects from scratch—crafting skin tones, planning similarities, considering race, and at times exaggerating features—all while starting with a blank canvas and acknowledging that I cannot unsee or un-know.” This admission underscores the artist’s commitment to forging a unique artistic path, one that challenges preconceived notions and invites viewers to see the world through a different lens.
Throughout “An Order of Being,” the recurring use of red ochre takes on multifaceted symbolism. It connotes clay, blood, and the traditional ointment known as “imbola,” a thick paste of burnt earth pigment applied to the faces of Xhosa women and newly initiated youth. This infusion of cultural references adds depth and resonance to Mashilo’s work, inviting viewers to explore the layers of meaning within each piece.
In the spirit of American composer Sun Ra’s Astro-Black mythology, Manyaku Mashilo’s paintings transport viewers to a peripheral alternate space—a space that seamlessly merges the real and the unreal. Here, historical injustices are confronted with a sense of lightness and hope for a future yet to be realized.
As you immerse yourself in “An Order of Being,” you will find that each canvas tells a story, not only of Manyaku Mashilo’s artistic evolution but also of the boundless potential of human imagination.
Oluseye’s Exploration in “Black Exodus”
“Black Exodus” by Oluseye unfolds as a captivating artistic odyssey that spans sculpture, installation, and photography—a culmination of five years of creative exploration. Through this exhibition, Oluseye delves deep into his personal narrative, trans-Atlantic journeys, and artistic evolution. The result is a profound exploration of historical and contemporary Black life, a narrative that resonates deeply with viewers.
Over the past year, Oluseye’s artistic practice has taken him on a whirlwind tour of vibrant cities, from New York to Toronto, Lagos, and Cape Town. During this journey, he spent two transformative months at the GUILD Residency, which added a unique dimension to his creative process.
At its core, Oluseye’s work involves the reanimation of found objects and detritus collected during his travels—materials he aptly refers to as “diasporic debris.” These objects, infused with the spirit of his experiences, allow him to trace the intricate tapestry of Blackness as it evolves across continents and generations.
Inspired by the role of the “nganga” (spiritual worker) in traditional Kongo religion, Oluseye imbues everyday relics with a mystical essence. Car parts, rubber debris, electrical scrap, domestic items, and synthetic hair are transformed into “eminado,” a Yoruba term that denotes good luck charms. This transformation not only breathes new life into discarded materials but also serves as a testament to the resilience of Black culture.
One of the exhibition’s standout installations, the “Eminado Series,” presents over 100 palm-sized talismans, each carrying a unique aura of mysticism. These small but powerful relics offer viewers a glimpse into the artist’s transformative journey, inviting them to contemplate the power of symbolism in everyday life. Another striking installation, “Patra (Mothership),” explores the symbolism of a ship as a woman—a thought-provoking reflection on the interconnectedness of human history and the broader diasporic experience.
Through “Black Exodus,” Oluseye embarks on an exploration of everyday African ingenuity as a means of livelihood and survival. His choice of materials—hair, rubber, cotton, cowrie shells, and mirrors—carries with them the weight of brutal histories marked by enslavement, colonial conquest, oppression, and pillaging. Yet, in Oluseye’s skilled hands, these materials are not just transformed; they are reborn as symbols of power, resilience, and good fortune.
In Oluseye’s own words, these materials are “loaded” with histories that include oppression and exploitation. However, they are reclaimed as symbols of strength, resilience, and hope. “Black Exodus” is not just an art exhibition; it is a testament to the enduring spirit of a people who have faced adversity with unwavering determination.
These exhibitions offer more than just a visual experience; they provide a window into the complex narratives that shape our world. Art enthusiasts and those curious about the human experience should make it a point to explore “An Order of Being” and “Black Exodus” between 23rd November 2023 and 25th January 2024. These exhibitions invite you to immerse yourself in the rich tapestry of cultural, historical, and personal stories woven into each masterpiece.