02.02 – 18.03.2017
The current exhibition of performative photographic portraits by Nigerian born artist, Lakin Ogunbanwo calls us to re-examine the peculiar parts of the language that houses our identity politics. Ogunbanwo’s new body of work comprises a set of portraits of imagined archetypal characters. These are mugshots that stand in for what we could mean when we talk of ‘coloured people’.
The exhibition is titled ‘We Must Not Be Looking’ and presents work created on the back of Ogunbanwo’s recent residency in Cape Town. It was during his time in the Cape that he became fascinated by how people self-identified by the colour of their skin: black, white, but even more strikingly as ‘coloured’ – a term considered derogatory in some parts of world.
Hence Ogunbanwo began to imaginatively explore interpretations of what it could mean to be called coloured. Though it is as refreshing as it is decorative, the show is a constellation of images that are direct visual translations of that term.
He has conjured up a host of figures with pink, grey, polka dot, brown and other hues for skin. The result is a set of epidermal metaphors that play on the absurdity of racialism and its discriminatory politics.
Ogunbanwo’s figures – though varied – are faceless and denied personhood. These are not portraits of individuals, they are archetypes. It is only through the variation in the stylized hairstyles along with the hues, prints and patterns of Ogunbanwo’s invented skin-types that the sitters are differentiated.
The various assemblages of textures and the layering of patterns that Ogunbanwo constructs register a visual connection with masking traditions. This is because the human skin is man’s primary mask. It is possible to read in Ogunbanwo’s images, an ontology that flows not only from European oil painting tradition, but also one that issues from the masking traditions of west Africa where the artist was born and raised.
The work retains Ogunbanwo’s idiosyncratic visual grammar of African studio fashion photography. His models, rendered with a striking, minimalist appeal are starkly lit. The skin shimmers with a luminescence that is highlighted as an important central discursive marker of his sitters’ identities.
These are ideas Ogunbanwo explored to great success in his previous works like We Are Good Enough. That work comprised topless male figures adorned with an assortment of traditional hats. The images highlighted the skin colour and the various hues of the hats differentiated his sitters from each other. Ogunbanwo often looks to draw attention to aspects that define individuals within larger cultural or social collectives.
In the new work, Ogunbanwo points us to how the racial language he experienced in Cape Town dissolves the individual in reductive group identity speak.