Artist Wole Lagunju's first solo show explores issues of power, gender and identity
A new exhibition by Nigerian artist Wole Lagunju fuses traditional Yoruba art with modern pop culture in exciting and eye-catching ways.
Born in Oshogbo, Nigeria, in 1966, award-winning artist Wole Lagunju now lives and works in North Carolina, USA. He's known for his large-scale figurative works splicing Western visual culture – models and celebrities, from magazines and museums – with diverse Nigerian motifs, particularly Gelede masks traditionally used by male dancers to play female parts in masquerade.
Wole's work is associated with Onaism, a contemporary art movement of the Ife Art School dedicated to reimagining traditional Yoruba art and design. He often pairs this influence with a clash of diverse cultural notions, exploring post-colonial hierarchies and hybridisation.
His art was recently featured in this year's Royal Academy Summer exhibition, curated by Yinka Shonabare. And now his first solo exhibition, Cut From the Same Cloth, has opened in London at Ed Cross gallery's Garrett Street space.
Delving into themes of cultural identity and a reinterpretation of contemporary fashion, Cut from the Same Cloth seeks to bridge the gap between two distinct strands of the artist's practice, both conceptually and physically. It features a selection of new large-scale works on canvas, exemplary of Lagunju's ongoing Gelede series, alongside smaller, conceptually different works rendered in the same oil paints on the same material surface.
Applying pigment with a pallet knife onto canvas offcuts, Lagunju's series is literally 'cut from the same cloth' as his larger works. Exhibited together, each illuminates aspects of itself in the other. It's all part of a continuing exploration of dual cultures, the artist explains.
"In 2014, after my exhibition 'African Diaspora Artist and Transnational Visuality' in Virginia, I decided to engage with images of men and women that appear in pop culture and high-end glossy magazines to further my artistic practice," says Wole. "In the exhibition catalogue, I reiterated how the configurations derived from combining these images with Gelede masks and costumes might best be left to the imagination. And fast-forward to 2022, it seems that the reinterpretation of contemporary fashion is all the rage in contemporary African art; not surprising, perhaps."
The aim of Cut From the Same Cloth, then, is to question existing canons of race, reimagine heritage and respond to global influences. "In my juxtaposition of traditional Yoruba iconography with Western Euro-American culture, I hope to instigate new conversations about stereotypes of racial superiority while fostering intercultural understanding," says Wole.
That said, his work is more about posing questions than providing neat answers. "I will not interject in the resulting conversations or proffer solutions to existing issues relating to cultural relationships or diplomacy when interpreting them," he clarifies.
Wole adds: "I am returning to my African roots to search for narratives and share knowledge that will hopefully transcend cultural boundaries and resonate with individual viewers as we all investigate and critique both personal and cultural relationships to issues of power, gender and identity."
Wole Lagunju: Cut From the Same Cloth is open to the public until 28 September at Ed Cross, 19 Garrett Street, London.