The poetry and politics of power, identity, physicality, spirituality, and more take centre stage in Adejoke Tugbiyele’s solo exhibition Hybrid Spirit.
Exhibited at the Melrose Gallery from 15 October – 15 November 2020, the artworks on the show were produced in South Africa during a time of intense immersion, and a personal and artistic challenge to confront the unknown, as well as to push the boundaries of Tugbiyele’s primary material – traditional African brooms – in exploration of the human/female/hybrid figure.
Born in Brooklyn, New York and partly raised in Lagos, Nigeria, Adejoke currently lives and works in NewHaven, Connecticut. Following her time spent making and performing new work in South Africa in 2018 -2019, as well as her current exhibition at Melrose Gallery, Hybrid Spirit, we caught up with the artist to discuss the medium of photography, performative sculpture, visual art as a collaborative practice, and more.
Creative Feel: Tell us a bit about your time spent living and making work in South Africa in 2018 and 2019. What were your main interests and areas of exploration during this time and how did they find their way into your work?
Adejoke Tugbiyele: I returned to South Africa in 2018 with an excitement and readiness to build on the material and formal qualities of my work/practice – submerged in intention and with mindful recollection of history and past experience. Understanding of post-apartheid struggle, the Rhodes Must Fall movement ushering in the spirit of the youth – the ’Born-Free’ generation – and revisiting the way we view ‘the body’ and the ‘the monument.’
In 2018 and 2019 my intention was to achieve a simplicity and pureness in the formal qualities of my works as well as push the material boundaries as far as scale. I sought to do so with my primary material of traditional brooms and in ways I had not achieved in the past. In sculptures such as ‘Flow #4: Dress Code’ and ‘Destiny’s Child’, as well as large installations such as ‘SHRINE’ and ‘All My Hearts’, I believe I came to master the material and its sacred potentials. My work further underscored the spiritual dimensions of my practice, rooted in nature and thus allowing me to build towards greater awareness of self. By simplifying, I was able to focus my energy (In Yoruba – ase) towards greater awareness of formal and material possibilities, including scale. Furthermore, I continue to explore performance in costume to understand the visual language(s) my body speaks – hybrid, androgynous and spontaneous gestures with improvisation. By doing so, I could free myself from historical and cultural “othering”. I could become whole unto myself, regardless of identity.
I was informed by memorable studio visits from Makgati Molebatsi, Mikhaile Solomon, Ruzy Rusike, and Raimi Gbadamosi, among others. I also held a lasting impression of ground-breaking exhibitions such as ‘A Black Aesthetic’ curated by Dr Same Mdluli at Standard Bank Gallery – coming to an understanding of the key role of early masters like Dumile Feni, David Koloane, and other Black artists whose works did not enter the archives during and immediately after apartheid. I was fortunate to attend Sam Nhlengethwa’s retrospective at Wits Art University – which expressed his outstanding oeuvre while declaring the important role that jazz music has played in his work over the decades.
Last but not least, my installation ‘SHRINE’ was featured in the exhibition POWER OF SITE at the 2019 Winter Sculpture Exhibition at Nirox Sculpture Park, curated by Lorena Guillén Vaschetti and Adam Jeppeson. The show featured my work and that of incredible contemporary artists including Richard Forbes, Willem Boshoff, Olu Oguibe, Moataz Nasr, Marina Abramovich, and Gerald Machona among several others.