Artists Data Oruwari and Diana Ejaita use drawing to respond to the personal yet Diasporic project of culture keeping. As they explore dialogues around beauty, spirituality, and design, both artists are pushing the relationship between figuration and typologies of symbolism.
Their works hold strong referential ties to traditional West African geometric patterning and the use of repetitive imagery, presenting contemporary illustrations that are expressive of popular cultural currencies. Ejaita composes her patterns with a sharp focus on diagrammatic lines and shapes. Her pattern work is used to build up her figures through shadow-like silhouettes. Offering a playful and organic relationship between her figures and their spatial environments, her portraits are stoic, with piercing stares and reasoned posturing. Ejaita’s portrayals of leading Black figures, like writers Toni Morrison and James Baldwin, have a minimalist but folkloric treatment about them. Working mostly in a monochromatic fashion with black and white, her pieces are dramatised by ornate markings or objects, like the letter ‘x’ or a flower pot, for example. When color does enter her work, it creates a lush atmospheric quality that enlivens the public scenes of a market or the depiction of a family in their home. As an illustrator who also works with textile design, Ejaita’s multimodal practice spans across silkscreen, etching, and drawing, both by hand and digitally, thus merging the visual lexicon of the African mask with new media printmaking techniques.
Oruwari’s compositions invites the viewer to consider a visual pantheon of mythical characters and their symbolic signifiers. Her drawings are rendered through a spiritual lens – from the depiction of figures that appear to be celestial extensions of the cosmos to the bejeweled hands of a healer, Oruwari’s works are value-based and narrative driven. They are full of meaningful denotations, including fragmented mandalas, or a medallion inscribed with the eye of providence. She uses pattern as a contextual frame that accompanies her figures, such as the treatment of a cowry-shell headdress, or robes embroidered with gold details. These pieces are conceptual offerings to remember or reflect on the properties of healing iconography.
Both artists offer hybrid exchanges between shared aesthetic traditions within the African Diaspora and contemporary interpretations. A mapping of cultural heritage becomes subjective material in their works – reflective activations of familiar aesthetics and imagery. However, the subject of culture is not prescriptive or possessive, but presented as creative matter for the viewer to consider; whether it be around our well-being or our ideas. While their works may read as abstract, both artists are making gestures towards the common, intimate, and imperfect, where seemingly simple geometric patterns have a collagist affect that produces movement and animation. It is emotive without density, and evidential without an archival pursuit.
An article by Ladi’ Sasha Jones
Featured image : Data Oruwari, “Celestial Intuition”, 2019. Ink, Gouache and 24 karat gold leaf on archival paper. 50,8 x 76,2 cm. Copyright and courtesy of the Artist.
This article was written for The Art Momentum | ART X Lagos 2019 Artpaper. [French version inside]
Articles are published in their original language | Les articles sont publiés dans leur langue d’origine