TESTIMONY

Adejoke Tugbiyele’s solo exhibition TESTIMONY is showing at Goodman Gallery Cape Town during September and October 2015.
In her solo exhibition, TESTIMONY, the first in South Africa and on the continent, Adejoke Tugbiyele speaks to her personal experience and the lived and imagined experiences of all Nigerians, regardless of gender and sexual orientation. She takes as her motivation the fact that many Nigerians and other Africans cannot survive each day without dreaming of being elsewhere – somewhere far away. For example, Nigerians and other Africans migrate to places like South Africa for survival and freedom – including the freedom to love – managing existing trauma amid fears of xenophobia in a country still healing from its own apartheid past.
Adejoke Tugbiyele is a multidisciplinary artist and activist. She recently a residency at Maboneng Arts District in Johannesburg. In addition to exhibiting at renowned spaces like the Centre for Contemporary Art in Lagos, and the Goethe Institut in Washington DC, her work has been featured at international art fairs including Art Dubai 2014, LOOP Video Art Festival 2014 in Barcelona, as well as the FNB Joburg Art Fair South Africa in 2013. Tugbiyele’s work is included in the permanent collections of The Brooklyn Museum and The Newark Museum.
Tugbiyele received a Master of Fine Arts in Sculpture from Maryland Institute College of Art and a BS in Architecture from The New Jersey Institute of Technology at NJIT. She is the recipient of several awards, including a Fulbright grant to Nigeria in 2013/14. During that time she was forced to leave the country after coming out on CNN International. Since then, she has worked closely with organisations like the Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERS) and Solidarity Alliance for Human Rights in Nigeria. Her diverse practice comments on her personal experiences as well as political subjects related to human rights.
Tugbiyele notes that her fellow Nigerians use various means to acquire the necessary documentation to allow them to travel, taking steps that are dangerous and often placing them at odds with the law. Prostitution and sex work is common among both straight and gay people, because it is viewed as a means to success or a way out of the country. These are acts of survival given the conditions that cause Africans to risk their lives. It has become all too common to hear of refugees and migrants drowning while attempting to leave their countries by boat. Others take advantage of progressive marriage laws in other countries only to find themselves stuck in situations that can be just as complex as the ones they left behind.
In her statement Tugbiyele writes: ‘It is my hope that the exhibition TESTIMONY will do just that – testify on behalf of Nigerians and other Africans who are suffering, both gay and straight, because unfair dominance over people’s gender orientation eclipses the general hardships of life: electricity has been scarce for decades for example. In previous works I have said my piece about Nigeria’s unjust anti-gay bill, but ultimately it is a distraction. I know exactly what is going on. I just happen to be a queer Nigerian woman.
‘The homosexuality debate in Nigeria, a highly diverse and complex nation, has to be understood from multiple angles: historic (colonisation), economic (oil-state), political (north versus south), religious (extremism) and geographical (north/south/east/west). Nigeria is also a young nation, having only gained independence from its colonial master – Great Britain – in 1960.
‘Homosexuality in Nigeria can be viewed from a class perspective, but also through the lens of race, ethnicity, culture (re: marriage/dowry/children), gender (sexism) and age (global youth-culture). Age is important because statistics show that over 60% of Nigeria’s large and growing population consists of people under the age of 30, and the country’s poor education system has exacerbated the existing level of ignorance within the general population on critical issues pertaining to gender and sexuality.’
In the exhibition TESTIMONY, Tugbiyele reflects on her own experience of her gender identity, as well as her experience of migration – the result is an exhibition of works that are performative while engaging with architectural space. By drawing figures in performance, constructing sculptural costumes, and depicting herself in performance interacting with her artworks, Tugbiyele reflects on changing space, the evolution of objects and their enduring relevance in African cultures.
A percentage of proceeds from the exhibition TESTIMONY will go towards supporting the educational mission of Iranti-Org. Iranti-Org is a lesbian and trangender visual media organisation established in 2012. It works within a human rights framework to raise issues of sexual orientation and gender identities. To date, Iranti-Org has documented hate crimes and human rights violations across South Africa.

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