|Artist, Lanre Olagoke (right) and Lindsey Bowman, Assistant Cultural Affairs of American Embassy, U.K, with members of Art-Alive creatives.|
WHATEVER Lanre Olagoke, Nigerian-British artist has achieved in over 40 years of full-time studio practice would be incomplete without giving back to the grassroots, his 'alma mater.'
Identifying with Olagoke on his journey is U.S. Embassy, London, which on Tuesday, April 19, 2022, at 5 p.m, will celebrate its collaboration with Art Alive, a not-for-profit organization set up by the artist. Art-Alive empowers vulnerable young people to realize their potentials through art.
In the past weeks Black History Month and International Women’s Day celebrations, Olagoke has been showing an exhibition titled Reclamation, featuring artworks by young female artists of Art Alive at the Embassy. As a continuation of the exhibition, a moderated conversation with Olagoke, will feature Writer and Activist, Bonnie Greer, and the U.S. Department of State’s Chief Officer for Diversity and Inclusion, Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley. The conversation will explore the meaning behind the ground-breaking Art Alive exhibition at U.S Embassy, London, and how it aligns with broader U.S. State Department efforts to further Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility. A reception and viewing of the exhibition will follow.
Art-Alive was established in the late 1990s, and became a regist- ered U.K. charity in 2001. Since then, Olagoke has mentored over five thousand young creatives with varying disciplines in The Arts across the U.K and beyond. In 2017, Olagoke attended a
Creative Health Conference where he met the then Secretary of Health and Social Care, Matthew Hancock. They exchanged ideas on how Art can be used as a tool to relieve anguish of those struggling with mental health.
The Reclamation theme as a focus, for Olagoke, is connected to his long held ambition for Art-Alive. He had always wanted an Artist-In-Residence (AIR) Program, where they can provide a permanent studio for many of the charity’s transiting young creatives. Towards the end of 2021, in the midst of the global pandemic of Covid-19, his ambition became a reality. "Out of the act of generosity, Lutz Strangemann, CEO of Land Union, decided to support my vision, and I was able to establish the AIR Program in a five storey building with 20 rooms, on the Strand, in the heart of London," Olagoke stated ahead of the Reclamation Art Talk. "This building became a hob for a group of 25 creatives of various disciplines, ranging from painters, to photograph- ers, filmmakers and dancers, even included were a group of architects." He explained that "it was within this space that I relayed my philosophy of Reclamation, encouraging the artists to reclaim their sanity that was brewing during ‘lockdown, self isolation, and social distancing’."
He recalled how his work was inspired by the popular phrase ‘The Era of Reclamation’, a concept born out of a series of conversations held by intellectuals and academics such as the playwright and novelist, Dr. Bonnie Greer OBE; Dr. Hartwig Fischer, Director of the British Museum; and Prof. Dr. Olivette Otele, Professor of History of Slavery and Memory of enslavement at the University of Bristol, among others. The conversations, then, Olagoke stated, focused on Africa extending to its diaspora, encompassing black history, emphasising on the role of black women, and relaying the importance of the African identity in general.
In December of 2021, Olagoke was invited to attend the Directors Dinner at the British Museum, where he was introduced to Christina Tribble, the United States Embassy Cultural Attaché to Britain. Within their conversations, Christina learnt that Olagoke was the first artist to ever exhibit some of his artworks at the former U.S.A. Embassy on Grosvenor Square in London, during February’s 2017 Black History Month. After hearing this and what he was doing with Art-Alive, Christina extended an invitation to him and his Art-Alive team to exhibit their artworks at the newly built American Embassy in Vauxhall. This invitation set the stage for the second bit of history repeating itself: the Art Alive team were soon to be the first ever group to exhibit at the newly built embassy.
As the theme of the exhibition Reclamation, coincided with Black History Month during of February, and International Woman’s Day, on the 8th, of March 2022, works of three female artists, Fatoumatta Rose Jallow, Ronni Winter and Orry Shenjobi have been on display at the Embassy. Jallow, a 19-year-old, who was born in the United States to Gambian parents, and raised in the British Virgin Islands, moved to the U.K. after Hurricane Irma tore through the Islands in 2017. She says, ‘that was when her artist journey began’. She is currently studying fashion design at Southwark College with the view to becoming a stylist. Her sense for creativity is apparent in the mixed media painting she is exhibiting at the U.S Embassy. In describing her work, which she calls 'Body Language', Jallow says, “I just wanted to capture the essence and show the power, but yet femininity of the woman as well, showing details of the carves and the poses.” She uses two colours of black and yellow: the black representing her masculine side while the yellow the feminine part. With these two contrasting colours, she ended up producing a visually appealing minimus piece.
Winter is British-born artist and also 19, but a set designer from East London. She joined the Art-Alive team just over a year ago. When the ‘reclamation project’ came up, she thought about her ancestors, which is now represented in her piece on how she sees their struggles, which gives her power. Winter’s ancestry is mix Guyunese, Dominican, Indian and Jamaican. She said: “After doing a bit of research into the different places, I discovered that a few of my ancestors are from Nigeria. So, there are tribal markings on a few of the people in the piece that are from the Yoruba tribe”. Winter had said, in so many words: “the reason why I paint is to learn about myself, but also to let people learn a little bit about me, and hopefully learn something through my art”. She titled the piece ‘The Spirit Within’. Winter, clearly projected herself into her artwork to create the striking piece, which is bound to make an observer stand and stare in wonderment.
Shenjobi, 24, was born in London but grew up in Lagos. She describes herself as a Nigerian multi disciplined artist. She uses texture elements in her pieces to give it a 3D effect from reclaimed materials, cotton embroidery fabric, and oil paint. She is exhibiting two large photographic print on canvas at the embassy. One is entitled, ‘Wa, May I Tell You Something’, and the other, ‘Ireti Oluwa’. She says ‘Wa, May I Tell You Something’, is an emotive photographic image of two men engaged in conversation in a danfo bus. The animated and passive composition of the two men places the viewer in the midst of their conversation, in which Orry says, was a conversation about ‘the non progressive state of the nation’, in which the men engage her in. On ‘Ireti Oluwa’, which translates to God’s hope, is a part of a larger collection entitled ‘Beauty Within The Struggle’. Ireti Oluwa’, is a photographic image of a group of children, as the piercing eyes of the young girl in the centre of the image is puzzling, drawing the observer to contemplate on her thoughts. Shenjobi says, “it’s highlighting the resilience and perseverance of the Nigerian people’’.
Shenjobi’s direction to Reclamation can best be described as an attempt to tell our story, the African story, and changing the narrative. This can be achieved by depicting people where they are and letting them speak for themselves.
The three young women’s artworks, including two of Olagoke’s, titled ‘Hope’, and ‘Reclamation’, will stay on the wall of the U.S. Embassy, until mid April 2022.