Art Twenty One is pleased to present Elsewhere, a group exhibition that explores contemporary notions of fantasy in an interconnected global environment. Working across artistic mediums, including painting, photography, sculpture, and collage, the artists in this exhibition define alternative ways of depicting otherness, not rooted in spatial boundaries but by instability, fluidity, and cross-cultural assimilation.
Elsewhere explores the relationship between history, memory, and the creation of new imaginaries, ranging from material manifestations of the afterlife to fake artifacts, cultural reconfigurations, and performative interventions.
Joseph Eze and Demola Ogunajo’s paintings adopt cultural references that span time periods and geographies, from mythical characters to street fashion and contemporary mass culture. Namsa Leuba’s photographs examine the representation of African identity through the Western imagination, combining an anthropological interest in ancient ceremonial structures with an aesthetic that is informed by fashion and design sensibilities.
Abraham Oghobase questions the socio-economic histories of African wax fabrics, inserting his own body within fictive scenarios. Paa Joe and Jacob Tetteh- Ashong create spectacular coffins in the form of consumer goods that speak to the aspirations and values of their intended users. Yarisal and Kublitz’s sculptures incorporate quotidian objects that take the form of pseudo-spiritual relics of a massproduced era, while Vincent Michea’s collages transform photographic portraits into silhouetted abstractions of geometric forms.
These artists point to the space between clearly defined boundaries, where meaning is produced through their simultaneous associations and junctures. In doing so, they form new understandings of ritual, transcendence and belonging that are intimately tied to the signifiers of a global economy.
(Nigeria, b. 1975)
In Joseph Eze’s recent works on canvas, cultural references that span diverse time periods and geographies are juxtaposed and meshed together in an eclectic clash of forms. In the Tribal Kings/Tribal Queens series, Eze creates diptych paintings that depict the modern African couple, where tribal marks are paired with three piece suits, designer sunglasses, and branded logos. Eze points to the fact that there is an inherent tension in attempting to define an authentic sense of “African” or “Western” value systems. While speaking to an age of globalization where borders and cultures are in constant flux, Joseph Eze’s constructed world is not defined through the technologies of the digital age but by overlapping histories, artistic genres, and social norms.
(Switzerland, b. 1982)
Namsa Leuba’s diverse photographic practice examines the representation of African identity through the Western imagination. Spanning documentary, fashion, and performance, Namsa Leuba creates a visual imaginary that explores the signs and symbols of her cultural heritage, from rituals and ceremonies to statuettes and masquerades. Whether executed on location in the artist’s ancestral hometown of Guinea or in the constructed studio environment, Leuba’s projects combine an anthropological interest in traditional customs with an aesthetic that is informed by fashion and design sensibilities. Adopting a theatrical approach with careful attention to props, colors, and gestures, Namsa Leuba questions the relationship between fact and fiction, action and representation, and the sacred and the profane.
Abraham Oghobase explores issues relating to human emotions and identity against specific socio-economic backdrops, often using himself as material for his performance-based work. In his newest series, Fantasy explores the artist’s fascination with the patterns and designs of popular “African” wax and cotton fabrics common in West Africa. These brightly colored fabrics, often manufactured in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, are foreign-made products that are targeted specifically to African consumers. Oghobase’s floating body amidst these patterns fuses a dream-like fantasy as he interacts with the scenarios depicted in the fabrics. At the same time, he attempts to maintain his own identity as he navigates through the cultural representations and narratives imposed by external consumer industries. Oghobase questions the duality of such cultural hybridity, engaging the symbols and objects that are at once universal (horses, birds, cars) with an aesthetic that is overwhelming identified as “African”.
(Nigeria, b. 1973)
Demola Ogunajo is a painter and conceptual artist who is known for blending a pop-art aesthetic with an interest in graphic design and illustration. In his works on canvas, Ogunajo references mythical characters and ambiguous narratives in a cartoonish and playful manner. With a range of fantastical elements ranging from angels, creatures, and clowns to barber shop profiles and urban fashion, Ogunajo inserts a spectacular twist to the routine aspects of daily life. Ogunajo’s paintings create an iconic world of characters and symbols that explore the philosophical complexities of modern life.
(France, b. 1963)
With a background in graphic design, Vincent Michéa is best known for his paintings, silkscreens, and posters that reference popular culture in Africa. In his recent collage series, Michéa engaged photographic portraits that were made in Dakar and Saint-Louis in 1986-1987 during the artist’s first trip to Senegal. The portraits depict friends, acquaintances, and meetings made during the period. Michea adds fragments on top of the photographs, cut from a series of small paintings in acrylic and oil made by the artist between 1995-1998. Inspired by the photographs of Irvin Penn in Benin (formerly Dahomey) and Cameroon in the 1960s, Michéa's collages transform the individualised portrait into a silhouette of abstract geometric forms. Shielding facial expressions, skin types, and clothing, the characters become universal archetypes. Michéa’s collages speak to the incessant overflow of of visual information in the context of mass media imagery, and he also points to the “backtracking” of memory of his overlapping mediums.
Paa Joe and Jacob Tetteh-Ashong
(Ghana, b. 1947/1988)
Considered one of the most important Ghanian coffin makers of his generation, Paa Joe creates figurative coffins in the shape of spectacular objects and forms. Following a tradition of burial rituals and artistic crafts in Ghana, the fantasy coffins are modeled after consumer objects, such as cars, sneakers, and cameras, as well as animals ranging from lions and fish to eagles and chickens. These coffins represent the aspirations and values of their intended users, and they speak to the individual’s personality and visions of the afterlife. Paa Joe now works collaboratively with his son, Jacob Tetteh-Ashong, who has learned the trade from his father and follows in the family tradition of coffin-making. In this series of commissioned coffins, Paa Joe and Jacob Tetteh- Ashong reference dated technologies, including computers, boomboxes, and Walk-men, as well as their iconic works including airplanes and mobile phones.
Yarisal and Kublitz
(Switzerland/Denmark, b. 1981/1978)
Ronnie Yarisal and Katjia Kublitz, under the name Yarisal and Kublitz, are a collaborative artistic team who create complex sculptures and installation works. Influenced heavily by popular culture, Yarisal and Kublitz are known for exploring heavy subjects in a humorous and light-hearted manner, from existential questions of life and death to fertility, transcendence, and reincarnation. Yarisal and Kublitz’s sculptures combine non-traditional objects found in our daily environment with a conceptual underpinning that eludes clear reference and meaning. In their ongoing series, Surfing the Web without Getting Wet, Yarisal and Kublitz question the superficiality of our knowledge through the Internet, where random associations mix together as a form of virtual tourism.