Postcolonialism encompasses an array of scholarly contributions aimed to investigate the effects of centuries-old colonialism and the identities of decolonized peoples. In recent times, this particular autonomous scientific field has significantly influenced the art world, especially in the context of examining the globalist trends and the centers of power.
One of the most significant proponents of postcolonial theory is the Nigerian-born American artist and intellectual, art historian and curator Olu Oguibe. Throughout his entire work, this established figure tends to dismantle overtly oppressive mechanisms that obtain the still very relevant colonial logic. By observing closely the personal and collective memory, Oguibe critically articulates, in brief, the notion of nation, eternal damnation, and identity.
Currently on display at Galerie Kandlhofer is his intriguing solo exhibition centered on three extensive pieces of work that were produced throughout the last decade.
The triad of Olu Oguibe’s works on display in the eponymous exhibition in Vienna is of commemorative nature as they capture strong narratives centered on the victims of terrific violence undertaken in the African context. In almost archival fashion, the artist expresses the history of the oppressed, without taking any form of moralist standpoint.
Aesthetically dazzling and thematically relevant, these works evoke spaces, forms, and ideas, and function as memorials of particular histories or occurrences that are important for a better understanding of the world we live right now.
The first work on display is a spatial installation titled Many Thousand Gone (101 Drawings in Ink on Paper) made by Oguibe in 2000. It consists of generic portraits of one hundred and one African faces of different genders, races, and ages, that symbolically embody the millions of people who died of AIDS since it was identified in 1981.
The second work Biafra Time Capsule, made seventeen years later, is an installation commissioned for the 14th edition of documenta in 2017. The narrative examines the horrific decline of Biafra republic (the African state which lasted only for three years from 1967 to 1970) and the war crimes committed by the Nigerian army, at the same time honoring the poet Christopher Ifekandu Okigbo, who lost his life during the struggle. The installation consists of history books, photographs, magazines, and other artifacts that examine the atrocities of the Biafra war.
Oguibe’s last artwork in the show called New York, April 2020 embodies the most recent events related to the coronavirus pandemic. This installation features the images of endless queues of military vehicles transporting dead bodies in Italy, images of mass graves in the Central Park, images of soldiers patrolling the streets across the globe ordering people to stay at home, the images of deserted streets conquered by animals, as well as the images of flooded hospitals.
After all stated above, it is clear that Olu Oguibe’s agenda is based on the concepts of personal and collective responsibility, reconciliation, and a broader understanding of colonialism. With these selected three works, the visitors can learn more about the histories of Others and rethink their own positions.
The exhibition is curated by Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung.
Olu Oguibe will be on display at Galerie Kandlhofer in Vienna until 26 September 2020.
Featured image: Olu Oguibe - Many Thousand Gone, detail, 200. Ink on acid-free watercolor paper; Olu Oguibe - Installation views. Photo credits: Manuel Carreon Lopez | kunst-dokumentation.com. All images courtesy Galerie Kandlhofer.