On View: October 29, 2021 – February 13, 2022
Location (In Person Exhibition): MoCADA BK, 80 Hanson Place Brooklyn
Link to Virtual Exhibition: CLOSED
Link to Interactive Game: CLOSED
Featured image above: “Self Reflection II” by Dennis Osadebe, 2020.
While the concept of Afro-surreal expressionism was coined by Amiri Baraka in 1974, the movement started long before, as witnessed by the pan-African, anti- colonial arts driven Negritude movement and the Harlem Renaissance of the early 1900s.
Writers and early Afro-surrealists such as Suzanne Césaire and René Ménil transcended the European aesthetic of surrealism, which celebrates “the marvelous’ in direct opposition of reason and rationality as a primary facet of the human condition. They, along with others, sought to broaden the movement to be inclusive of the deeper, richer experience that centered Black lives. So while Western surrealism met its ceiling by carving distant realities that inspire the unconscious mind toward political and artistic creativity, Afrosurrealism went beyond this to give birth to an invisible intervention: the supernatural, the spiritual, the soulful, and the emotional to articulate the full range of Blackness.
“The Marvelous” over the “miserablism”, as Césaire would have said, and as she wrote in Tropiques literary magazine in 1941: “Far from contradicting, diminishing, or diverting our revolutionary feeling for life, surrealism shored it up. It nourished in us an impatient strength, endlessly sustaining this massive army of negations.”
Haitian novelist Jacques Stephen Alexis, founder of the Marvelous Realism wave, would echo Césaire years later: “What, then, is the Marvellous, except the imagery in which a people wraps its experience, reflects its conception of the world and of life, its faith, its hope, its confidence in man, in a great justice, and the explanation which it finds for the forces antagonistic to progress?” (Présence Africaine, 1956).
This solo artistic presentation of works by Nigerian multidisciplinary artist Dennis Osadebe is a participatory experience consisting of a virtual exhibition and “Playful Rebellion,” an interactive game developed by the artist. Together they explore the foundational themes of his practice such as history, innovation, heritage, and the possibilities of the future.
It asks: Does the armor that we wear shield us from public harm or protect us in private spaces? Do we recognize ourselves in the performance of those identities? Where do we take shelter? Are we strangers at home? What resides in this living testimony teetering between two pandemics, structural racism and COVID-19?
Osadebe’s work creates a pivotal questioning towards where the collective social reckoning against police brutality and white supremacy will take us next. Between moments of fear, grief, boredom, rage, and excitement, where is the absurdity of the “now”?
Inside Out by Dennis Osadebe offers a safe space that affords viewers the freedom to grow above and beyond the surface right now.
This is exactly what the writer D. Scot Miller addressed in his 10-point manifesto that outlines the differences between Afrosurrealism and Afrofuturism. In it Milner highlights two major points that are recurring throughout the work of Osadebe, whether in his paintings, sculptures, or other musings:
“Afro-Surrealists use excess as the only legitimate means of subversion, and hybridization as a form of disobedience.”
“Afro-Surreal presupposes that beyond this visible world, there is an invisible world striving to manifest, and it is our job to uncover it. Like the African Surrealists, Afro-Surrealists recognize that nature (including human nature) generates more surreal experiences than any other process could hope to produce.”
Whether exploring the arcade-like installation in-person or virtually, Osadebe turns the ordinary lives of his characters into provocative, post-pop technicolor fantasies, where the metaphysical seeps through traditional Nigerian masks donned by each of them. Through this lens viewers witness Osadebe’s resilient seedlings as they uproot broken systems to birth new ways of living, whether they are in protest or at rest. Osadebe knows this dichotomy all too well and shares our struggle. In his work there is no choice; We must wear the mask – to laugh, to keep from crying, and to survive each moment with radical imagination. In his world, we are the innovators and the makers. We are safe in our knowing that Black life is bright with possibility in spite of the travails of the real world outside. And that even in the mundane, we exist in total splendor. We are magical. We matter.
Here’s a guide to assist you as you explore the exhibition and game. Just scan the QR code for more.
Dennis Osadebe is a Nigerian mixed-media artist, based in Lagos. Osadebe’s vibrant post-pop style is centered around the idea of reimagining Africa through the use of positive, provocative, and progressive imagery, and narratives, forging a dialogue where tradition meets invention and innovation. Through juxtaposing elements of the past alongside the present, while utilizing his Nigerian heritage as a starting point, Osadebe places Africa in the context of the future and its limitless possibilities.
With his characteristic use of flattened planes, minimalist geometric shapes, and bold colors, Osadebe works in what he refers to as a “NEO” visual style, one that is modern, bright, and expressive. Osadebe coined the cultural movement, ‘Neo-Africa’ as a response to deconstruct the limiting, lazy term of ‘African Art’. This encourages people to rebrand tradition in a way that reflects the transforming world.
Osadebe’s process blurs the line between digital and physical. The digitally composed scenes are elevated by painted adornments of carefully selected areas. This distinct texture change is inherent to the narrative of the work, by providing a visual relationship between the processes of the new generation artists and old masters together.
Osadebe consequently renders each work as unique, as he removes the possibility for digital reproduction. The references to traditional materials and crafts, such as masks and colorful textiles, are inspired by the historic arts and culture of Osadebe’s home, Nigeria.
Osadebe’s practice is loaded with provocative surrealism, meaningful symbolism, and playful humor, presenting itself as a continuing investigation of the relationship between the traditional and contemporary, with Africa at its forefront.
“Isolation” by Dennis Osadebe, 2021.
“One Milkshake For The Saint” by Dennis Osadebe, 2020.
“The Nigerian Dream” by Dennis Osadebe, 2019.
“Still Life With Some Dude” by Dennis Osadebe, 2018.
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