Saturday 21 January 2012


In Berlin, Ogunbiyi’s Am I A Thief? interrogates unlimited access to Internet materials

 By Tajudeen Sowole

 As Internet facility continues to enhance exchange of intellectual content and social networking, the artist, Temitayo Ogunbiyi is worried about the unrestricted access to images as reflected in her debut solo exhibition titled Am I A Thief?

   THE exhibition, Am I A Thief?, which opened on Friday, January 13 at Freies Museum Berlin, Germany, is being put together by TS Art Projects. It runs till January 29, 2012.

  While Temitayo Ogunbiyi has nothing against people exchanging ideas and experiences through the platform of social networks as well as downloading music, films to get inspiration, through the web, however, she is not comfortable with what she termed “outright stealing in the name of surfing the web.”  She asked rhetorically: “Do we steal from each other or do we collaborate?”

  Ogunbiyi, until about one and a-half years ago, was based in New York. Late 2010, she made a debut exhibition, titled Broken Weaves, in Lagos. Since then, she has curated one exhibition and participated in several shows in Nigeria while shuttling between Lagos and New York.

Ogunbiyi's Mama's Cupboard to Uncle's (Fragmented Afro

  In two of the works she sent via the Internet, there appears to be a progression in the artist’s collage and print identity, some of which she has shown in Lagos, earlier. For example, in Regular Braid, Short and Long and Mama's Cupboard to Uncle's (Fragmented Afro), Ogunbiyi’s style and technique, which blur the line across the art disciplines, seem stronger. 

  She explained that the works “began as formal investigations of painting and sculpture,” from which she explores other ways of rendering her concepts, breaking away from the norms.

  This technique is exploited in Regular Braid, Short and Long, as she disclosed that the materials used include “bits of clothing purchased in Brooklyn and a tee-shirt I was given following my college graduation.”

   Ogunbiyi would not stop at bringing her private life into art. Like the Lagos show, in which she added parts of her mother’s wedding gown into a composite, in the Berlin exhibition, she has included “cupboards from my grandmother's house and planks from my uncle's floor in the piece, Mama's Cupboard to Uncle's (Fragmented Afro).” This composite, she explained, “represents moments, places, and people in my life.”  

  From her debut show in Lagos, the artist has sent a signal of conceptual and site specific themes. Am I a Thief?, she insisted, is strengthening this identity. “It’s site specific installation, which will become a temporary artist’s workshop in order to further develop select artworks.”

  In addition, the project, she disclosed “will be digitally documented and released on the web in the form of a short film for virtual posterity.”  

  Although, a solo show, two Nigerian fashion designers, Kate Williams and Ugoma Adegoke are presenting few fashion pieces. 

  And what is the significance of these two fashion designers' participation? The curator, Anastasia Stein who responded via email explained that “we regard this as an opportunity to show art and fashion audiences how visual artists and designers can collaborate by creating unique pieces of clothing that are also art works in their own right.” 
   She argued further that it’s also a medium to stress that creativity is one of the areas in which the diversity of human intelligence manifests. “The visual arts, fashion, design, architecture and other creative disciplines start from the same source.”

  On diversity, it has been argued that the dynamics of imagery – aided by the Internet to enhance artist’s content – may erode the essence of originality, within the conceptual art context. 

  Anatsansia disagreed, noting that the Internet does not affect originality. “The Internet gives us information that fosters learning and leads us to a better understanding of both the contemporary world and its history. The Internet is, at the end of the day, just a tool and it is an individual responsibility on how they use it. I do sincerely wish that every person in the world has instant access to a free,
uncensored world wide web.”

   In Ogunbiyi’s rendition and form, which collapse painting, craft, sculpture and design into one expression, the attraction seems a perfect match for the take-off of TS Art Projects.

  However, from the curator’s perspective, the choice of artist for the maiden project is “because she is a brilliant, young, international artist.”

  She hoped that the exhibition evolves into projects for the Havanna Biennale, in Cuba and the Contemporary Art Festival in Perm/Russia, holding this year.
Regular Braid Short and Long

  No doubt, the Lagos and Berlin shows share certain similarity as some of the works are making appearances in the two cities. “Yes, many of the works in the show have been previously exhibited at the CCA and S&S Hotels and Suites,” Ogunbiyi stated, disclosing that much of the print-fabric showed in Lagos “has been transformed into fashion pieces or stretched as canvas.”  

 One of the challenges in site-specific shows is space. For example, the complexity of tracking an artist’s work, retaining an identity – in case of a tour exhibition – may not be so flexible to sustain. “The project will change in every location and the partnering institutions have already agreed to this and are quite curious about the changes that are to take place over the course of each exhibition,” Ogunbiyi assured.

  Taking off with Am I A Thief ?, TS Art Projects, according to the organisers, “will start an international exhibition program applying the Flying Gallery concept to cities such as Berlin, Munich and New York.” They reasoned that rather than presenting content in a fixed space, every exhibition determines its environment. “In the future, one can expect, in addition to a classic exhibition format, visual and audio experiments that involve interdisciplinary collaborations, between musicians and artists.”

  Sub-events such as artist talks, dinner parties, concerts and fashion shows, would compliment the concepts to “assimilate the show into the host cities art scene whilst simultaneously enhancing it.”

  Aside Broken Weaves and New Paintings, which she showed in Lagos, Ogunbiyi has featured in group exhibitions such as A Kilo of Hope, at the Yusuf Grillo Gallery, School of Art, Design and Printing, Yaba College of Technology (Yabatech), Lagos; All We Ever Wanted, an all women, at the Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA), Sabo, Yaba, Lagos; grand finale of African Artists Foundation (AAF)/Nigerian Breweries (NB)-organised national art competition tagged Documenting Changes.

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