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October 1, 2020

Hybrid Spirit exhibition at The Melrose Gallery

Adejoke Tugbiyele’s much-anticipated solo exhibition titled ‘Hybrid Spirit’ launches at The Melrose Gallery, in Johannesburg on the 15 October and runs until 15 November 2020.

The artworks on the show were produced in South Africa during a time of intense immersion, personal and artistic challenge to confront the unknown, as well as to push the boundaries of Adejoke’ s primary material – traditional African brooms – in the exploration of the (human/ female/ hybrid) figure. They combine to form a new poetic aesthetic, which departs from her previous works in their minimalism. They embody power in their simplicity.

“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”, Adejoke explains.

Implicit in hybridity is the notion of queering dominant space or, accepting both sides of the soul which are both masculine and feminine, or neither. Adejoke explored this further through movement/performance and via collaboration with Clint Strydom (South African lens-based photographic artist and photo essayist with a profound gift for capturing humanity) in a series of photographic works taken at Nirox Sculpture Park and several video works. As a result, a clear unified message finds a common thread through all her mediums. The exhibition and the works challenge audiences to look through and past the physical, manifesting the Spirit and to discover their hidden essence – destiny.

Hybridity frees the mind from the limitations of gender and sexuality, and from the human body in general. It takes us into the spiritual realm, where we can begin to imagine new ways of perceiving and being in the world. Hybridity also makes us more aware of the two-spirit nature of humans and therefore the potential to tap into different energies towards successful inner transformation.

Adejoke was born in Brooklyn, New York and was partly raised in Lagos, Nigeria. She currently lives and works in New Haven, Connecticut. She completed a Bachelor of Science in Architecture from the New Jersey Institute of Technology and a Master of Fine Arts in Sculpture from the Maryland Institute College of Art. This has led to Adejoke’s understanding of two very different cultures and societal norms and behaviours.

Traditional African brooms, her preferred medium, have been widely used across cultures for social, cultural and political symbolism – the act of sweeping and cleansing negative energy from society.

In Limpopo, people (predominantly women) use brooms to drive out evil spirits. In contemporary Nigerian politics, the waving of traditional brooms is a significant symbol during the election period. And in African American culture, “jumping the broom” was a symbolic gesture during marriage ceremonies and part of celebrating black love during a time (the enslavement of Africans) when it was dangerous to do so.

“Church sticks form the spine in all of my most recent sculptures, out of which wrapped brooms seductively evoke recognizable body parts”, says Adejoke. In some South African churches, church sticks are used in praise worship, but unfortunately, they have also been used to “beat the demon” out of unbelievers, including homosexuals. Despite the constitutional laws that serve and protect queer individuals and communities – perhaps the most progressive on the African continent – such abusive practices still occur.

The exhibition, curated by Ruzy Rusike, includes several sculptures created from grass brooms, 2-dimensional mixed media works, photography and performance art presented as videos. An engaging talks programme has been planned to accompany the exhibition featuring invited guests from the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Brooklyn Museum, Museum of Arts and Design (MAD), curators, academics and activists. ‘Manifesting the Spirit’ on 22 October at 6:30 pm and ‘Sides of the Soul’ on 29 October at 6:30 pm via Zoom. Visit www.themelrosegallery.com for more details or contact craig@themelrosegallery.com

Adejoke’s works sit in significant public collections including, Daimler Art Collection – Berlin, Museum of Arts and Design, Brooklyn Museum and National Museum of African Art Smithsonian and the Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art.

Artist profile

Adejoke Tugbiyele was born in 1977 in Brooklyn, NY and moved to Lagos, Nigeria at the age of three. She returned to New York going on to study architecture at the prestigious High School of Art & Design with internships at The Central Park Conservancy and art studies at The Cooper Union (Summer Program) in Manhattan. In 2002, she received a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Architecture from the New Jersey Institute of Technology, New Jersey School of Architecture (now Hillier College of Art & Design) and a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Sculpture from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2013.

Tugbiyele describes her practice as ‘hybrid’; reflected in both her approach to making and the physical forms that manifest in many of her works. On one hand, her practice is multidisciplinary; continuously ‘presenting alternative forms of expression that can be universally understood’. Hybridity also makes us more aware of the two-spirit nature of humans and therefore the potential ability to tap into different energies, spontaneously’. Some of Tugbiyele’s crafted objects enter a performative practice which, she revealed, often operates as a way to ‘queer dominant spaces and narratives pertaining to race, gender and sexuality’. She further suggests: ‘Through the performance the body can engage architecture with movement and begin a healthy discourse on how space itself affects our psyche and imagination.

In 2019, Tugbiyele was awarded the Grand Prix Leridon of the prestigious Gervanne Leridon Matthias Collection based in Paris, France for her sculpture Ange, produced for BISO2019! – The First International Sculpture Biennale in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, sponsored by The French Institute.

In 2016, The Joan Mitchell Painters and Sculptors Grant was presented to Tugbiyele for her outstanding record of production and clarity of purpose.

In 2015, Foreign Policy named Tugbiyele one of 100 Leading Global Thinkers and in 2017 invited her to sit on the distinguished panel “Arts & Gender Equity” at Culture Summit 2017 – Abu Dhabi, UAE.

In 2014, Tugbiyele was granted a U.S. Student Fulbright Award to travel to Lagos, Nigeria and conduct art research related to gender and sexuality. While there, she toured the UNESCO World Heritage Site – Oshun Sacred Grove, Oshogbo, Nigeria, contributing to a video she produced, directed and edited, Afro Odyssey IV: 100 Years Later (2014) later featured in a group exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw, Poland.

In 2014, Women in The World invited Tugbiyele to Lincoln Center in New York City to sit on a panel with world-renown Filmmaker Roger Ross Williams and LGBTQ Activist Claire Byarugaba

During graduate studies at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) – Rinehart School of Sculpture, Tugbiyele received The William M. Phillips ’54 Scholarship for Best Figurative Sculpture in 2013 and The Amalie Rothschild ’34 Rinehart Awards in 2012.

Tugbiyele works in diverse mediums including traditional African brooms, bronze, wire, fabric, wood and LED lights amongst others to create exquisitely intricate two- and three-dimensional works which are on occasion integrated into moving performance works. She often weaves elements of photography into her practice – transforming contemporary and historic iconic images into ink drawings or mixed media works and by engaging in collaborations while critically observing her own gaze in the studio.

Tugbiyele’s works have been mentioned and reviewed in many leading publications and she is regularly invited to contribute as a panellist in dialogues hosted by reputable institutions around the world.

Her works grace important corporate, public and private collections including The Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn; The Museum of Arts and Design, New York City; National Museum of African Art – Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.; Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York City; The Newark Museum, Newark; Daimler Contemporary Berlin, Berlin; Sakhile&Me Art Gallery, Frankfurt; and Credit Suisse Bank – Global.

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