Sola Olulode seems compelled to create. She is prolific, working quickly through different ideas and techniques with exuberance. Her exhibition; “Could You Be Love” at Sapar Contemporary in New York, coalesces paintings and works on paper that depict scenes of connection, passion and the simple pleasure of being near the one you love —an intimate couple is absorbed in a sea of blue (Let Me Drown In The Depths of Your Love, 2022), another sits on a picnic blanket on lush green grass (Picnic In The Park, 2022) and two women lock eyes, curiously walled in a bed of yellow and orange (Beautiful Union, 2022).
Olulode paints and draws her figures with a determined flatness that reflects her ability to handle colour and space. Moving fluidly between interiors and the outside, she documents a very particular slice of Black queer love based on her experiences and that of friends and family. Her work centres on pleasure which can be read as an ideological mode both in terms of its aesthetics and ethics. They are sensual and delicate and represent a kind of ethic of love that is free and unbound.
I sat down over zoom with Ladi’Sasha Jones, a writer, PhD student in Architecture at Princeton University and curator of Sola Olulode’s “Could You Be Love”. Jones’s reflections on the exhibition reveal the tenderness that encompasses the relationship between an artist and curator, reflected through care. Jones is enamoured with Olulode’s practice and reads it firmly within the context of world-making and world-building —how queer folk build worlds within which to represent their own stories.
Nkgopoleng Moloi I was hoping you could tell me a little bit about Sola Olulode’s practice.
Ladi’Sasha Jones Sola Olulode is an artist working in figuration, currently representing queer scenes of intimacy and focusing on ideas of togetherness. The work is very fresh and energetic. I would describe her work by beginning with the fact that she is a draftsperson and a painter. She garnered lots of attention right out of university based on a series of blue monochromatic works on somatic scenes of dance. It was just so electric, new and lovely. That’s been her signature thus far, in her emerging and early career —working on monoprints.
NM And how have these developed recently?
LJ She began with a series of works in blue. From that early series, which was illustrating scenes of dancing, she continued to work in blue —moving from dance to scenes of intimacy and then working on a series in yellow, a very bright yellow which is a nod to the kind of work you see included in this show. Featuring a radial motif where figures are formed from the energy of the sunlight. Recently she’s moved to placing her figures within space, as depicted in her park or lawn series. What we’re seeing now is a shift from the monochromatic to a strong interest in more multicoloured works of different scales.
Elements of this show reflect Sola’s impulse towards the sculptural. There are various techniques toward manipulating the canvas. We see stitched lines across the works, irregular canvas construction, and the fabric treatments with indigo dye. The work is playful and growing more experimental and those expressions come across strongly in the show.
NM That’s really beautiful. One of the things I wanted to ask you, is about your reflections on figuration, which is what we see in this work, given all the contestations and discourse around its proliferation at the moment.
LJ I do love figurative works, but the wave of depicting very solemn or sombre Black figures gets tiring. Particularly those figures that are composed to push against larger racialized narratives of Black subjectivity. This work is not concerned with any of that. Sola is very much interested in the softness and the sweetness that comes from love. She speaks more so about tenderness in that she didn’t want to show queer figures battling homophobia or public policy or having an interior fight around identity. She wanted to speak to what it means to fall in love, what it means to meet someone you’re interested in and the joy around that. It’s a very exciting space. It’s a space of wonder and possibility. That is where her figures are. They’re smiling, they’re holding each other, and they’re embracing. They are not even doing any wild or magnificent things. They’re just walking, resting, enjoying each other, you know? There is something about the quality of ‘everydayness’ that she wants to come across.
NM In terms of the title of the exhibition, where does that draw from?
LJ Music is a big part of Sola’s studio practice. The title draws from the 1980 song “Could You be Love” by Bob Marley and the Wailers. As the works in the show represent those beginning moments and early stages of love, the song title was fitting. The fervour of possibility and the potential of a meeting or coupling. Could you be love?
NM I think the idea of softness definitely comes across, you see it in these paintings and drawings. But also that Queer love is not extraordinary, it’s very normal. This kind of work that’s very soft can be described as naive or folkloric but often those are not meant positively, they are meant to demean the work. But I think that those are actually quite powerful. There’s a playfulness in them.
LJ Sola is not working in a tradition where her figures are rendered super realistic. It’s more about gestures, soft and active gestures that are alive across the work. One of her references is Faith Ringgold. For instance, the essence of Ringgold’s art is working with strong scenes and storytelling compositions. Sola is working within a tradition of artists who are engaged in this modality. I’m excited to see where she goes with it and how it will continue to resonate in a contemporary landscape of painting and drawings.
Featured visual: Favorite Dancing Partner, 2022 Ink, acrylic on canvas, 39 3/8 x 47 1/4 in, 100 x 120 cm. Courtesy of Sapar Contemporary and the Artist.
An interview by Ngkopoleng Moloi for The Art Momentum