Recently I was on a discussion panel following a group exhibition. One of the topics of discussion was about travel and how important it is to the artistic process. Most of the panelists had very nostalgic and positive views on travel. However, I recall being startled by just how different our experiences were on a very fundamental level.
Because you see, all I could think of and see in my mind’s eye, was GREEN. Green being the colour of the Nigerian passport and a major identifiable marker that has determined my travel experience, socio-economic standing and global identity.3rd world country. Resident alien. Immigrant. Terms that collectively define “otherness” that aspires to belong. To be “randomly” searched prior to every single flight. The shame and embarrassment that has become colour. Colour as power. Green. The colour of my skin and the colour of my passport define my travel experience far more than nostalgia and the freedom of discovery. While the topic itself may seem innocuous, there is an underlying menace in the disparity between our experiences.
That menace is perception.
The ISC Residency at Grounds for Sculpture has come at a crucial time in my practice, when I am clearly defining the type of work I want to make. Although choosing to take a responsive approach to current issues pertaining to African identity, I am also exploring how to avoid the danger of a single story. How to convey the ambivalence surrounding these issues without sensationalizing traumatic events, or feeding into a “white saviour complex”.
My work has always tried to walk the line between perception and representation. and my interests lie in the importance of creating and highlighting narratives rooted in an African discourse, whilst implicating a global community. I resist the “othering” of African bodies and issues by drawing parallels between contemporary issues simultaneously occurring within the continent and abroad. Beit xenophobia, gender inequality, political unrest, violence and conflict. With my work, I encourage the viewer to reconsider their proximity to issues that seem far away and inconsequential, in the hopes of creating avenues for collective understanding.
To achieve this I use abstraction a means of obscuring perceived notions, whilst highlighting core aspects of the issues I am addressing. At the same time try to evoke an intuitive empathic connection with the work, which would hopefully generate more questions than answers for the viewer.
I have been drawing, sewing, and revisiting old materials to gain perspective and fresh insight. I admit it is a vulnerable moment: coincidentally making work surrounding “hot topics”, and making it available for consumption. However, there is something liberating about having the solitude and space to create, and realizing the burden of the artist is not to answer but to enquire.
By Layo Bright