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  • Writer's pictureSegolene Py

Rites of Passage, at Gagosian

Rites of Passage is a group show gathering 19 Black artists. Curated by Péjú Oshin, the show presents compelling stories from artists of various backgrounds and experiences on their shared stories of migration. The exhibition explores the idea of "liminal space" as transitional events for post-colonial Black identity. I will here focus on 3 pieces by 3 different artists that were my favourite in the show.

Rites of Passage, installation view, 2023 © Elsa James, © Patrick Quarm. Photo: Lucy Dawkins. Courtesy Gagosian

The show starts violently with the work of Elsa James Ode to David Lammy MP (2022), a phrase made of white neon lights that read: "I AM HERE BECAUSE YOU WERE THERE". Something that instantly speak to your soul. The work references to the discourse that MP David Lammy gave in 2018 against the Windrush Scandal where many of this generation suffered severely with threats of deportation and detention after 40 to 50 years of living and working in the UK. This phrase reminds me of the work of Ryan Cosbert titled The only difference between you and me is you were brought here by force, something deeply hurtful and indelible one of her art teacher has once told her. A close meaning but in reverse, here told by a Black person to a white audience, an answer to "go back where you came from". This work as a start of the exhibition is a very strong and meaningful way to introduce the theme of the show.

Continuing the visit, what instantly captured my gaze was the work of Patrick Quarm. Painting on African wax print fabric, it looks like some characters are vanishing into the the pattern, a sort of claim in cultural identity ? Being the centre of one person ? Held by sculpted arm-shaped hooks made of resin, black, as if someone was holding your identity for you. Make you no see, Make you no hear, Make you no speak shows 3 different characters, sitting before an African wax fabric fading background, one with their eyes covered, another their ears and another again their mouth. To me, this is a representation of a certain generation, as if as diasporas, we hold heritage from our families but the contemporary world comes fading the culture imbedded within in us, blending. Given that the exhibition explores the "liminal space", in other words transitional phases, into 3 different phases: separation, transition and return, I take that this work is then on the separation of the first culture. I was amazed by the material used, and the superimposition of them to create layers and characters.

PATRICK QUARM, Make you no see, Make you no hear, Make you no speak, 2022, Mixed media, oil and acrylic on fabric, resin, in 3 parts ,195.6 x 500.4 x 47 cm

©Patrick Quarm. Photo: Chris Gardner. Courtesy the artist.

I was so pleased to see one of my favourite artist, called ÀSÌKÒ, appeared in this show. The exhibition takes us the liminal phase of transition, with the Moko Jumbie photographed against a grey coastal landscape. Culturally speaking, it represents the dancers on stilts in the Caribbean during carnival. Historically speaking and placed in such a background, it tells me that this culture is inherited, and transformed into a new one. The coast reminds me of the arrival of slaves in the Caribbean and the Moko Jumbie of the celebration of this culture. A transition, a remembrance of where it comes from and what it has become today, the title only describes the physicality of the picture. I always loved ÀSÌKÒ picture for his dramatic scenes and imagery, this time is slightly different as I see a different discourse.

ÀSÌKÒ, Pillars at the Port, 2022, giclée print on baryta paper, 160 x 107 cm, edition of 5 + 2 AP. © Àsìkò, Courtesy the artist.

Finally, the show ends on a very spectacular and emotional piece. You are first in awe in front of this immense handstitched rosary fresque attached to the ceiling. It shimmers in the nights, each black and blue beads scintillating. You then bring your gaze to the ground as a the reflection capture your attention, to see and understand the purpose and meaning of the piece. In Do it in Memory of Us, here lies the representation of a slave ships, directly inspired from the drawings by the salvers of the period (see image on the right). The installation is accompanied by "Amazing Grace" sung by a choir in the local language of Edo, from Benin City, Nigeria.

VICTOR EHIKHAMENOR, Do This In Memory Of Us, 2019 - 2020, Rosary beads, thread on lace and canvas, 914.4 x 457.2 cm, © Victor Ehikhamenor, Photo: Lucy Dawkins, Courtesy Gagosian. (left picture)

This is the most arresting piece of the show. Victor Ehikhamenor worked over than a year to handstitched these rosaries together. The work explores the role religion and spirituality had/has as survival tools for oppressed people. Being at once a weapon to erase African culture during colonisation on the continent, and a tool to remember who they were their culture and and identity, with spirituality in the Caribbean. Many texts from slave owners and other politicians implicated in the slave trade have described with horror how enslaved African were chanting and dancing whatever sentence they have been put through. Deprived of their name, taken by force from their lands and families, this was a way to remember and preserve a sense of identity, of sanity and proof that their existence wasn't just erased by inhumane perpetrators. One can only get emotional in all the meanings behind such an amazing piece and the absolute beauty it is. The space stands as a place of contemplation, as the work reflects on the acrylic surface, it invites to meditate. It presents the return phase, as a phase of remembrance for the death of our ancestors, and the survival of our generation throught them.

Exhibition continues until 29th April 2023 at Gagosian Britannia St, London,UK.

Artists Exhibited:

Tunji Adeniyi-Jones @tunjiaj Àsìkò @asiko_artist Phoebe Boswell @phoebe.boswell Adelaide Damoah @adelaidedamoah Femi Dawkins @femidawkins Victor Ehikhamenor @victorsozaboy Mary Evans @maryevansartist Ayesha Feisal @ayeshasarthouse Enam Gbewonyo @enamgd Elsa James @thisiselsajames

Julianknxx @julianknxx Sahara Longe @saharalonge Manyaku Mashilo @manyaku_mash Emily Moore @emily.moore7 Nengi Omuku @nengiomuku Patrick Quarm @_quarm Alexandria Smith @alexandriasmithstudio Sharon Walters @london_artist1 Michaela Yearwood-Dan @artistandgal



Britannia St


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