Moffat Takadiwa: the shy guy whose art speaks volumes

'I always wanted to be an artist. That’s why I was a lonely child. I would find solace in just drawing.'

His demeanour is unassuming. He is shy and quiet. Yet Moffat Takadiwa has an intriguing aura that commands attention. 

His large-scale, intricate works are the result of his inner personality: bold, detailed, meaningful, resourceful and beautiful.

They say superheroes have quiet alter egos in order to hide among ordinary folk. In that case, Moffat is a superhero. He is secretly living among us as a normal man, but when he creates that is when we see he is special.

I am sitting with him in central London in anticipation of his second solo exhibition in the city. He is a long way from home and jokes that Emma (who owns the Tyburn Gallery) is worried that he will get lost on his way back to his hotel. But he is very sure of where it is. Kind of.

‘It is somewhere in that direction,’ he says, pointing towards Oxford Circus, ‘I remember a square.’

‘In Soho?’ I ask

He shrugs. This is the nonchalant, temperament of contemporary African art’s new cool kid on the block.

‘I’ll find it’ he says with confidence.

Say Hello to English is the title of his new body of works that will be showing at Tyburn Gallery until the 6 May 2017. Takadiwa is interested in language, in particular the English language within Africa and its links to colonialism, and the deconstruction of native African languages.

 Judging By Language

Judging By Language

We sit down outside the gallery to have a chat in the crisp but sunny London evening over a couple of apple juices. I am not drinking due to my current ‘detox’, and he is not drinking because ‘we wouldn’t like him if he did.’  It is always the quiet ones!

Hello Moffat.  How many languages can you say ‘hello’ in?

In my language, Shona, well Shona has many many dialects and I can speak at least six dialects

Do you want to say ‘hello’ to me in one and I say ‘hello’ in a language I know?

Okay I can use the Shona street lingo which is ‘Ndeipi’

That’s like ‘What’s up?’

Yeah exactly.

Kedu? 

What’s that?

‘How’s it going’ in Igbo, an east Nigerian language. Were you one of those kids, when you were younger, that used to have a secret language with your friends or invisible friends? I did!

No, I was sadly very lonely as a kid

[awww Moffat]

I am a very reserved and shy person

[He smiles]

 

So when did the art thing start for you? When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

I always wanted to be an artist. That’s why I was a lonely child. I would find solace in just drawing. So I’d be drawing and drawing.

When did it become a vocation rather than just something you did by yourself?

After college, thats when I started showing my art around but a Zimbabwean gallery is like… you know. Emma–Tyburn Gallery owner–saw my work in Cape Town because I had a relationship with a gallery there and I believe she bought one of my works and then decided to represent me.

So talking about your art work, you have these amazing installations. These huge pieces have keyboards and intricate parts of computers among other things… How do you find all these recyclable parts? Are there like a million computers in a dump in Zimbabwe we don’t know about? 

have a team of people I work with. Some of them.. actually, most of them are involved in working in the dumps. They are garbage people. Garbage collectors. So I work with a lot of garbage collectors and a lot of people in my studio and they are the ones that help me collect these materials.

But I  recently had this particular interest to have a solo show only with computer keys because of my researches and what I have been reading – like Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s book Decolonising the Mind.

 English Cut

English Cut

What is the book about?

It is basically talking about how maybe African languages are fading and are being pushed out by English for instance. English being not only a language but also a culture.

Is this something you believe yourself? Do you think the colony languages like English or even French are making African languages secondary or subsidiary?

I’ve got mixed feelings with this… Even the word ‘decolonising’. English and French etc. are now a part of our history in Africa.

We can use them for our own good. We can ‘Africanise’ them.

I think so, in Nigeria for example, there isn’t only just slang but colloquial language – and the way people speak with English, especially young people. Pidgin English is a separate language infused with English and the local Yoruba language.

Yeah, it is an advantage to be born with an international language and your mother tongue, growing up with both at the same time. But when we speak of language killing a culture, we also need to deeply look into it more than just the speaking.

You don’t think African languages carry culture too?

Oh no, of course they do

So the book says that the English culture is overpowering African culture through language?

Yes, and also in my works which then tie into consumables and products. They also help spread culture and were used as tools for colonisation.

Is this why you decided to use computers?

Yes, it represents, primarily, a tool for writing. There is also this recent movement that is happening in South Africa, the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ protest movement questioning the validity of Western education in Africa.

Students were destroying a lot of things, burning down libraries and so on, decolonising their academia. And I feel like I want to take part in my own way, although I am questioning that movement also.

 The Rhodesian Narrative

The Rhodesian Narrative

Before, in the history of Africa, a lot of students died demonstrating for languages. And now, in my own generation, we have got students that are demonstrating again against languages, against that sort of thing.

So I went into the streets and into the dumping sites with my team and we collected these computer keys, about two to three months collecting for these works. The computer keys are like libraries and are like writing instruments. They meant quite a lot to me and I destroyed them. Physically. And I unplugged the keys, and then we used them to fabricate my own language.

I destroyed a colonial language. They belong to a different generation. The older generation.

I like the way you destroyed a language to make your own language. That’s a very cool concept.

Thank you

Not bad for a lonely kid

[He smiles]


Moffat will be exhibiting at  Art Paris Art Fair on 30 Mar – 2 Apr 2017  and 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, NYC edition on 5 – 7 May 2017

© Moffat Takadiwa, courtesy of Tyburn Gallery

This interview was published in TRUE Africa


Modupeola Fadugba: the art of game playing and game-changing

I loved Modupeola Fadugba's artworks as soon as I saw them. Known as the artist with 'the big red balls', she first hit the London public eye at the 2016 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair.

We viewed an exquisite large-scale painting of what can only be described as women swimming in a pool of gold, playing a sport - water polo perhaps - with a red ball.

And the paintings were instant stars of the fair as people clamoured to take instagram shots and selfies of her golden girls - I later find out she calls these women her 'homegirls'.

 Tagged III

Tagged III

I do love seeing African women doing 'bigst tingz' especially when abroad in the international art market, and Modupeola is no ordinary woman, nor an ordinary artist. The Ivy-League, Togo-born Nigerian studied to be a chemical engineer. As soon as I saw her art and knew a little more about her, I wanted to meet her.

There is evidence of her scientific background in her works and it is obvious that she is not only meticulous with her technique, but also very strategic in what she is representing. She is not just painting women swimming in pools, y'all!

So here I am in the posh streets of Chelsea, walking to a lovely townhouse with an apple blossom tree in front on a rare sunny winter's day in London. I can hardly contain my excitement.

Modupeola is currently in London for her first solo exhibition and inaugural presentation by the gallery Ed Cross Fine Art, which is curated by Katherine Finerty.

I enter the building and I am warmly greeted by her team and the artist herself. And she is super cute. A petite woman, dressed all in black with an abundance of hair on her small face, she has one of those big, sparkly, teeth grins; you can't help but reciprocate.

Endearingly playful, she smiles, giggles, and laughs a lot. I like her instantly and decide to nickname her 'Modups' for the rest of the day.

You don't mind if I call you Modups do you? I'm sorry, I have a friend called that. It's okay, right?

[Smiles] Yes, you can call me Modups, that's okay.

So quickly, tell us about your background. You were born in Togo

Well, let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start [a Sound of Music reference!]. Yes, I was born in Togo, and lived there for five years before moving to the States. I lived there till I was 11.

I then moved to Rwanda [her parents are diplomats] shortly after the genocide in 1996. And because the schools were still in such a bad state after the war, my siblings and I had to go to school in the UK.

So when did the love of art begin?

I'm a woman: I can do science, I can do math. Why be an artist when I can be a chemical engineer?'

I think it was while I was in secondary school here in the UK that it started. My school really encouraged us to take art very seriously. I always had an interest but then I began to conduct these very large-scale projects by myself at the age of 11 or 12.

I thought it was so interesting that we were able to dedicate energy, time and intellectual ability to the arts. But I was also very interested in and good at science subjects.

It was the stubborness in me that was like: 'I'm a woman: I can do science, I can do math. Why be an artist when I can be a chemical engineer?'

Hell yeah!

[ We both laugh]

It was that thinking that led me to study chemical engineering at university. Which was fantastic; I am very happy for that foundation.

Did you work as a chemical engineer?

No, I never did!

You went through all that, the degree and hard work?

Yup, and my parents' hard-earned money

[More laughs]

 How to do a Double Platform Lift

How to do a Double Platform Lift

So this is your first exhibition in London, correct?

Yes it is. Well it is my first solo exhibition as I was at 1:54 last year and I did something else in Knightsbridge two years ago

Congratulations!

Thank you. I was the newbie - well, I still am the newbie - but I was the new new newbie then and there was such a great line up of artists like Polly Alakija, Ablade Glover, Omar Cyril, Adewale Fatai among others.

So your new works, Synchronized Swimming and Drowning what was your inspiration? Is there more than what meets the eye?

I am a very big fan of pools and swimming in general. I swim quite often, and I think everyone has a bit of a fascination with pools. It signifies fun and leisure; it can signify prestige and luxury... but it is just a big mass of land filled with water.

Water itself, has so many physical and spiritual  connotations as well so water and swimming is something that personally draws me in. I also spend a lot of my free time in the pool...

That's wonderful

It is... Anyway, my first works, the Tagged Series (2015) had a number of women swimming trying to get this red ball and the synchronised swimmers do still have the red ball.

What does the red ball mean?

The red ball is symbolic of the little red stickers they put on sold artwork in a gallery setting to show that it has been sold.

When I decided to be an artist, I didn't realise that there was a strong commercial aspect to things. I thought I'd just get to make great work and talk about it. But the commercial element is there.

I mean art is one of those professions that you don't really retire from. You paint till the day you die.

So the red ball is about trying to navigate your way through the commercial space and it also symbolises anything that has value. Not just an artistic value, but anything and everything.

I want the viewers to put their value on it, what do you need to do, how far do you have to swim?

It almost seems like the red ball is always just out of reach in your paintings

Haha yes I guess so... In the Tagged Series, I had different players, competing to get the ball. My works are largely centered around games so the two rules of the game are, first: 'Stay in the pool'.

This refers to art being a long thing. Art is one of those professions that you don't really retire from. You paint till the day you die. So that signifies staying in the 'pool' because it is a long road ahead.

The second rule is 'pretend to ignore the red ball'. Don't get too caught up with the selling of the artwork and the monetary aspect because it takes a lot of focus. I feel like my art work takes the best of me as it is.

 Black See

Black See

Oh I see your work with a new light now! Everyone clamouring for the red ball, the value. Is that the art industry?

It can be. The funny thing about this particular painting [pointing to the large scale Buy My Lot/ Marry Me Next] is that it relates to me a lot. The title alone refers to art auctions and buying the artwork, 'the lot'. But the secondary title shows the red ball almost like a bouquet being tossed.

All these women, and you have this one ball or one bouquet and everyone pushing and competing to get to this one thing.

How to do a Double Platform Lift is different because each person in the painting is individually strong. They are competing as a system and it is a structure. That idea comes from my development and wanting to see indviduals, particularly within Nigeria, coming together and building structures that are sustainable.

Buy your Lot/Marry Me Next is a great title for this work

And I mean, if you are high maintenance, well I am not high maintenance but...

High quality darling

High quality–haha–thank you. I like that! Well if you are, it also refers to someone buying your lot as in your everything. So there is number of things going on. By the way, there is a hidden tattoo on one of the bodies in this painting. Only one person has pointed it out so far, first time in five months.

 Buy Your Lot/ Marry Me Next 

Buy Your Lot/ Marry Me Next 

Is it your tattoo?

No, I don't have any tattoos. I've never thought about getting one before actually

I get the sense you put yourself in these pictures, I mean one of them is most certainly you

Let me tell you why I do this – in the Tagged Series, I used to paint other people, working from photographs. And even though it wasn't me, people would see the painting as say 'That's you isn't it?' and I am like, no it is not, it is someone completely different! So after while I decided that I was just going to start painting myself. 'Cause it is easier. And do you know how hard it is to get a bunch of black women in a pool?!

[we both giggle]

I love swimming!

Yes but I need a group, it can't just be like me and you!

Haha... true

 Tagged Treading 

Tagged Treading 

I mean there are many reasons, women don't enjoy swimming, not just black women. The pool for example can wreck your hair. This is why I painted the women with braids, it protects women's hair from the destruction swimming brings.

I like that little touch

And of course, breaking the stereotype that black people can't swim. I mean in Senegal, I gave a seminar speech and people were like 'What is she talking about? Everyone can swim in Senegal'.

So it is situational, if you grew up by the river then most likely you can swim.

Breaking down stereotypes: you are an unfathomable woman Modups! So what is next for you?

I have a small show in Paris at the end of my residency at the end of March. I will be showing as part of Ed Cross Fine Art in New York during 1:54 , and then I have my exhibition in Lille that I have been working on since last June. It'll be curated by Simon Njami and there are going to be some other great artists there too.

 Modupeola with Simon Njami

Modupeola with Simon Njami

One more question, if you could pick three artists that you look up to, dead or alive, who would they be? Other than Abe Odedina of course [he came to Modupeola's exhibition opening and is also represented by Ed Cross].

Oh I love Abe!  It's going to sound super cliché but Picasso. He was the first ever exhibition I saw when I was 11 years old, here in London. I loved his playful, I-don't-give-a-crap attitude in his works and his African influences.

 Abe Odedina with Modupeola

Abe Odedina with Modupeola

And then there is MC Escher. He had a lot mathematical and geometrical references to his work and he was probably high all the time. I mean have you seen some of his works?

And then lastly, Wangechi Mutu. She has this beautiful letter that she wrote called 'They Eat Because You Grow The Food' , a seven-part letter that I then rewrote by hand and I read it all the time. It felt personal to me.

It is pretty much an open letter to young artists trying to find their way, and artists understanding their position in the art food chain. Because art is tough. I have been extremely lucky, but art is tough.

Thank you Modups! I think this is just the beginning for you and I wish you the utmost success.

Thank you

[And she flashes me that wonderful smile]

© Modupeola Fadugba, courtesy of Ed Cross Fine Art

Modupeola will be showing at Cité Internationale des Arts, Paris titled ‘PRAYERS , PLAYERS & SWIMMERS’ 27 Mar – 3 Apr 2017

She will also be exhibiting at 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, NYC edition  5 – 7 May 2017 on behalf of Ed Cross Fine Art

Artwork images © Alan Roderick

This interview was published in TRUE Africa

crazinisT artisT: Rituals of Becoming

Gallery 1957 is proud to present Rituals of Becoming, a new exhibition by the Ghanaian-Togolese artist Va-Bene Elikem Fiatsi, who works under the pseudonym crazinisT artisT, from 26 February – 12 March 2017.

Consisting of a theatrical installation that displays multichannel video projections, a readymade sculpture and a performance from the artist, the exhibition explores the assumed distinctions between gender identity, class, political injustice, violence and the objectification of humans. The immersive installation is composed from female clothes gathered and worn by the artist over the years, while the video installation depicts crazinisT artisT’s daily rituals of transformation. Collectively, these objects and videos question the strict categories of gender definition by urging us to rethink the fundamental construction of identity and gender performance.

 hat’s Why You are Mad (2014)

hat’s Why You are Mad (2014)

Additionally, the artist will perform live, giving the exhibition a tangible sense of the ritual involved in his process of stripping one identity in order to assume another. Through crazinisT artisT’s ‘drag’ (the clothing associated with one gender role when worn by a person of another gender) performances, the artist aims to denaturalise and re-signify categories of the body, sex and sexuality in order to perform a subversive re-signification and proliferation of gender beyond the existing binary frame.

Likewise, elements of washing in the performance constitute a purifying ritual, where the traces of an identity are stripped bare and washed away in preparation for a new identity to be forged. Through his performances, crazinisT artisT disrupts the idea that sexual identity is coherent along the axis of feminine/ masculine, showing its failures to reflect the complexity of human nature. His performances essentially establish a new understanding of Self and Other, where the Other is not located in another individual, but part of the same body.

Through Rituals of Becoming, crazinisT artisT also considers the socio-political marginalisation of minority groups; exploring both the personal and societal implications of reconsidering gender identity.

Text courtesy Maria Rus Bojan.


About Maria Rus Bojan

An international curator, art advisor and writer based in Amsterdam, Maria Rus Bojan established MB Art Agency in 2008. Throughout her extensive career, Bojan has directed or curated at institutions including: Museum of Art, Cluj- Napoca; Sindan Cultural Foundation, Bucharest; OK Center for Contemporary Art, Linz; Casino Luxembourg - Forum d'Art Contemporain, Luxembourg City; Tranzit Foundation, Cluj; MNAC- National Museum of Contemporary Art, Bucharest.


Dates: 26 February – 12 March 2017

Address: Gallery 1957, Kempinski Hotel Gold Coast City, PMB 66 — Ministries, Gamel Abdul Nasser Avenue, Ridge — Accra, Ghana

Telephone: +233 303967575

www.gallery1957.com

For press information and images please contact:

Sophie Campos or Francesca Meale at Pelham Communications

Tel: +44 (0) 208 969 3959

Email: sophie@pelhamcommunications.com or francesca@pelhamcommunications.com

Orun, Orisha, tattoos and tea : At home with Abe Odedina

Entering the home of Nigerian artist Abe Odedina, feels like crossing through dimensions of time.

Located in South East London, the traditional semi-detached house looks quite normal from the outside. But on stepping in, you are immersed into a cross between Narnia, an African treasure chest and the dwelling of an ancient high priest.

His home is a plethora of traditional and modern art pieces, spiritual and ritual items, photographs of the past and present, and the odd cat, which scurries here and there. There are masks which hang on the walls with curved chins, jagged teeth and eyes that gape open dully. Statues of two-headed dogs line the shelves. Voodoo dolls peek out from corners.

Our ‘Brixton Baroque’ host Abe is an interesting and fascinating man - both to look at and listen to. Margitte-loving, bowler hat-wearing, he enjoys discussing symbols and phenomena in the world and how spirits, mysticisms and religion still work within our modern life.

A wonderful mix of contradictions, he is a tall, athletically slim-built man who is covered in tattoos from head to toe! His fingers are covered with hearts, and numbers, and symbols of all different origins. His soft-spoken, refined and downright posh English accent throws you. The Adidas Stan Smith sneakers and jewellery-clad fingers show his youth and playfulness - he is a rather trendy man - and only his grey-haired beard and wise eyes reveal how old he might really be.

 © Claudia Leisinger

© Claudia Leisinger

 

Formerly a successful architect, Abe changed his professional path after an enlightening trip to Brazil which he refers to his ‘Damascus moment, like St Paul’s conversion’. He transformed from ‘an architect that likes painting to a painter that makes buildings occasionally.’

But what caused this change? It was his first encounter with the òrìṣàs (pronounced ‘orishas’) in Northeast Brazil. These are divine beings of the other world (òrun) who are manifested as humans in our planetary world according to some traditional Yoruba, Caribbean and South American customs.

This mystical spiritualism from the ancient world moves and inspires him, yet he does not believe in ‘fossiling’ such belief systems. He wants to make them contemporary and avoid shrouding them in obscure mysticism. This is evident in the figures within his EYE TO EYE body of work.

The paintings that surround us in Abe’s home show women swallowing knives, men holding doves, dentists clutching gleaming teeth. They are fascinating, celebratory and yet dark. Traditional spiritualism is often misunderstood and misrepresented, yet one cannot deny its attraction and craftsmanship. The artistry, history and culture within an Abe Odedina painting is easily appealing to people of different cultures and backgrounds.

He doesn’t think his Christianity clashes with these other deities. ‘Growing up in Nigeria, it was possible to be a Christian and yet pay diligence to ancient gods and spirits,’ he tells me. And it seems his openness to exploring the world through stories is how he celebrates his Ashe, the life-force that runs through all things, living and inanimate.                

  ©   Claudia Leisinger

© Claudia Leisinger

© Abe Odedina, courtesy of Ed Cross Fine Art

Abe will be showing at London Art Fair, 2017, JAN 18 - 22 2017

Header image © Claudia Leisinger

This interview was published on TRUE Africa