Skoto Gallery exhibits Adejoke Tugbiyele: Grassroots

Adejoke Tugbiyele


February 25th – April 9th, 2016
Reception: Thursday, February 25th, 2016

Skoto Gallery is pleased to present an exhibition of recent works by the Nigerian-American artist Adejoke Tugbiyele. This is her first solo show at the gallery. The artist will be present at the reception on Thursday, February 25th, 6-8pm.

Adejoke Tugbiyele’s work is informed by a sophisticated discourse on traditional philosophical concepts, a deep understanding of the aesthetic and cultural character of the African continent as well as an invigorating inclination and facility with various materials and methods. By inventively handling her material within a formalist sculptural framework, combined with a highly developed experimental approach to making art, she creates work that is unorthodox, persistently innovative, and ignores boundaries between different cultural heritages and socially constructed constraints.

Tugbiyele’s sculptural process combines the weaving of fibrous materials such as palm spines around light metal structures, producing abstract figurative forms with universal elements of androgyny, armor, flight, seduction, myth and mystery. Her practice is influenced by multiple genres including ready-made/assemblage, architecture and performance/film. While her work does not openly narrate the events in her life, they are certainly rooted in her cultural, political and emotional experiences as she continuously explore strategies that fuse her aesthetic concerns with playful ironies and poetic metaphors. Despite the fact that she does not avoid the significance of content in her work, they still manage to tell stories of hope and courage, of compassion and resilience that speak to the triumph of the human spirit.

Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1977 to Nigerian immigrants, and raised for seven years in Lagos Nigeria, award-winning artist/activist Adejoke Tugbiyele boldly, yet delicately weaves complex ideas about race, gender, sexuality, spirituality and migration. Tugbiyele’s work has been exhibited at reputable institutions around the world including the Brooklyn Museum, The Newark Museum, The Museum of Arts and Design, Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, The Reginald F. Lewis Museum, The Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos Nigeria, The Goethe-Institut (in Lagos, Nigeria and Washington D.C), The Centre for Contemporary Art, Torun, Poland, and The United Nations. Tugbiyele’s work is in the permanent collections of the Brooklyn Museum, The Newark Museum and in significant private collections in the United States and Hong Kong.

Adejoke Tugbiyele is the recipient of several awards including being named Foreign Policy’s 100 Leading Global Thinkers of 2015, a Fulbright U.S. Student Fellowship in 2013, the 2014 Serenbe Artist-in-Residence, the 2013 Amalie Rothschild Award, and the 2012 William M. Phillips Award for best figurative sculpture. In 2014, images of her sculptural works graced the first-ever United States publication of poetry by the African Poetry Book Fund. Her work has been mentioned and featured in numerous publications including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, Artsy, Financial Mail, This Day Live, The Feminist Wire, The Star Ledger, Intense Art Magazine, Africanah, Okay Africa, Art South Africa, Mail & Guardian, and ArtThrob. In 2014, she appeared on CNN International as the first openly gay woman of Nigerian heritage to come out in the media. Tugbiyele received a Bachelor of Science in Architecture from The New Jersey Institute of Technology and a Master of Fine Arts in Sculpture from Maryland Institute College of Art.

Artist Manifesto

One day I woke up and it dawned on me that simply choosing to be me WAS the protest. By boldly saying these words: “My name is Adejoke, I am black/African and I love women, could I possibly inspire a young woman out there facing her own personal demons? A girl who had her genitals cut at birth, before she could even speak…a fourteen year old girl forced to marry some forty year old against her will. or a young student who has been raped by thug militants. What about the woman who feels voiceless because she is neither allowed to study nor vote. The woman who fears speaking her truth and being cast out – rejected by her family, community and church/mosque. Or the older woman trapped in an abusive marriage and too scared to leave because maybe in her hood/village she has very few means for providing for herself and children. I woke up and realized that by simply choosing to live, but to live authentically… by choosing to love unconditionally, do the best work I can and recognize those who came before me, perhaps a woman out there might find the courage to break free and do the same, in her own way and at her own time. Just as countless women, gay and straight, have surely inspired me. The journey is never as easy or straightforward as it seems, but I chose to take the journey regardless and not just for me alone.

Since birth I have been on a journey towards a global Black experience – born and raised in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights, further seasoned in Lagos for seven formative years, later educated in Newark and Baltimore, a former resident/frequent-flyer to Harlem and most recently, a two-month long stay in Johannesburg. I still remember the smell of London’s Little Lagos and I look forward to my first trip to New Orleans, Dakar, Guangzhou and other cities Black people call home. Part of my mission in making art is to help people understand and relate to the suffering of Blacks/Africans who face discrimination and injustice on a daily basis. Ethnic discrimination, lack of understanding and xenophobia among Blacks/Africans also puts a dent in the fight against poverty and white privilege.

Last but not least, I work in order to give voice to injustices against LGBTQ people in Africa, where thirty-seven countries still outlaw same sex love. Beyond the impact of hate-politics and extremist religion’s homophobia on the gay community, I also relate to the shared experience of the strain on familial bonds, as well as the initial work of facing one’s own demons which, if not done can lead to severe depression and suicide. Love should not kill.

At the end of the day, what I’m really talking about is not simply about race, gender and sexuality. It is about judgment. The first three are surface issues, but judgment is the core problem. Apart from the general work we all do, much of the work in life is simply unpacking. Unpacking the judgments and expectations of others. If you’re Black, the expectation to look White. The expectation to “behave” like a woman and constantly act or sound submissive to men AND other women, even when you know exactly what you’re talking about. The expectation to be straight when every part of your physical and mental health/well-being tells you you’re gay. So much to unpack! Unpacking a deep self-loathing in that search for the freedom to simply be you and love yourself unconditionally. It’s so bad that there are people who come into your life who never, ever carried a single judgment of you and you didn’t recognize them because of the baggage you were carrying about yourself. And oftentimes those are the very people who’s view of you is way more accurate than what you see when you look in the mirror. I hope and pray that my art, and indeed my life, reflects the best and not the worst that others see in me.

My art practice seeks truth, balance and fairness. I subscribe to the age-old notion of ethics/aesthetics what we now call art and activism or the return to agitprop. With sharply rising inequality in these modern times our collective ethics is in serious question. I keep all of this in mind when I work. Transformation of my materials is a metaphor for the transformation of myself and, hopefully, others.


Adejoke, 2016