Arts & Design

At Tiwani Contemporary, It’s Lalala Ha! Season

  • Wura-Natasha Ogunji Wows Lagos audience in New Show
Tiwani Contemporary is at it again. This time it is all about the autumn exhibition at its Lagos gallery, titled lalala ha!. This solo presentation of paintings, drawings and performance by Wura-Natasha Ogunji ebbs, flows and accumulates over time.

Conceived as a series of changing vignettes with a non-linear narrative, lalala ha! considers the characteristics of the space as an important presence within the exhibition, with the height of the ceilings, the reverberation of sound, the cool industrial floors, and discreet windows all in dialogue with the works on display. Viewers are invited to look up, lie down, move about, return and remember, with new work hung within the gallery each week to reconfigure the whole.

Conceptually, lalala ha! is a form of memoir, embodying ways of being and moving in the city of Lagos, where the artist has primarily lived and worked for the past decade. Ogunji says:

“I am deeply interested in how our creative work as artists embodies the forms and poetics of Lagos: the stops and starts of moving through traffic; the choreography of the market; the deep red earth; water all around us; the return of electricity signalled by a fan turning on…A painting moves up the wall with a pulley…We pass images and the images pass us.”

Wura-Natasha Ogunji, Yellow, 2023. Ink, Acrylic on Linen, 48.9 x 54.6 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Tiwani Contemporary.

For Ogunji, the space of the imagination and art-making is expansive and liberatory; for lalala ha!, the gallery space becomes a place to speak more fully about, and bring focus to, unique Lagosian gestures, ways of being, thinking and moving in the world. Drawing inspiration from Édouard Glissant, a French writer, poet, philosopher, and literary critic from Martinique widely recognised as one of the most influential figures in Caribbean thought and Francophone literature, the art gallery becomes a site for transforming how we approach and remake this current world: By seeing, by feeling, by knowing that there are other ways of being and making that we had not yet imagined.

Parallel to these conceptual considerations, lalala ha! is also an exploration of Ogunji’s own transnational movements, and the ways in which these affect the form of the work she creates. How do paintings cross borders? What is the process of transporting large-scale work from Paris to Lagos? Could folding the linen to fit in a suitcase open up formal possibilities in the painting? Ogunji is interested in ways in which new language rises from transnational quandaries, broadly, and specifically as it informs her work.

Wura-Natasha Ogunji, A garden of date palms, 2023. Ink, Acrylic on Linen, dimensions cm. Courtesy of the artist and Tiwani Contemporary.

Formally, lalala ha! reflects the diversity of Ogunji’s practice from performance to painting, drawing, and embroidered stitches. The work Two figures standing in an embrace demonstrates the more painterly turn that her drawings have taken in the last few years: While the stitch is still present, Ogunji has explored the painted surface deeply. Yellow is a work made from ink and acrylic on pleated linen, with the pleated folds allowing Ogunji to make two separate, but related paintings. A garden of date palms is a drawing inspired by a sketch in one of Ogunji’s father’s dream journals. After her father passed away, the artist found his dream journals, spanning fifteen years, taking this sketch and reinterpreting it, before overlaying it with stitches and ink. For Ogunji, this piece acts as a kind of oasis in relation to the other works in the show, as well as to the gallery itself with its high, expansive walls.

A memoir, the ebb and flow of a life, a rupture, a seam, a series of notes and mistakes, the filling and emptying of a space; the multiple versions of lalala ha! are intended to inspire viewers to remembrance, disagreement, and excitement over what was there and where and when.

Wura-Natasha Ogunji (born 1970) is an American-Nigerian visual artist and performer based in Lagos, Nigeria. Ogunji holds a B.A. in anthropology from Stanford University and an M.F.A. in photography from San Jose State University. In 2012, she was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship to create a series of performance videos about the presence of women in public space in Lagos.

Ogunji’s works are in the collections of the Smithsonian African Art Museum, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark, University of Texas Austin, and Kadist Foundation. She participated in the 2022 Sydney Biennial, the 2020 Stellenbosch Triennale, the 2018 São Paulo Biennial, and the 2017 Kochi-Muziris Biennale, and has exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art Paris, Palais de Tokyo, Seattle Art Museum, Brooklyn Museum, Dallas Museum of Art, and other institutions.

Ogunji’s durational performance video ‘Will I still carry water when I am a dead woman?’ is currently on view in the exhibition A World in Common: Contemporary African Photography at Tate Modern in London (until 14 January 2024). She is currently an artist in residence at the Cité internationale des arts in Paris.

Founded in London in 2011 by Maria Varnava, Tiwani Contemporary is a London and Lagos-based gallery representing artists from Africa and its global diaspora. Tiwani’s mission is to broaden the representation of art from Africa and the African diaspora and works closely with continent-based collectors to realise this ambition and to develop a sustainable market for contemporary art from Africa.

Across both the Lagos and London gallery sites, Tiwani Contemporary produces between 10-12 exhibitions per year. Since 2022, it has also supported its artists to participate in the Guest Artists Space Foundation (G.A.S.) residency programme, founded by artist Yinka Shonibare CBE RA.

In Lagos, Tiwani operates from a purpose-built 2,000sq ft space on Victoria Island, designed in collaboration with Nigerian designer, Nifemi Marcus-Bello. It was officially opened in February 2022.

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