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Beauty and the Beholder


AG18 Gallery in collaboration with African Artists’ Foundation is pleased to announce the group exhibition titled Beauty and the Beholder, opening on the 24th of February 2022 at the AG18 Gallery, Annagasse 18, 1010 Wien, Vienna, Austria. This exhibition highlights the works of three contemporary African artists, Johnson Ocheja, Adesola Yusuf and Damilola Opedun.

“What I am interested in is challenging the mainstream ideas of what is beautiful and what is acceptable.”– Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The question of whether the discipline of aesthetics is a science, or an art is both an ontological and an epistemological query. The saying goes that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’; this is as true for a relative of the arts such as architecture as it is for the visual, literary, and performing arts. And it is because this dictum remains an eternal verity that the intersection of ontology — the study of what exists — and epistemology — the study of how to validate what we claim to know of what exists is so critical in Aesthetics.

What befuddles the mind is how Western canons of beauty dominate and colonise the collective consciousness of standards of beauty for the entire planet. Asians, Africans,
First Nation peoples and indigenous people all over the world have been propagandised into accepting the position of the subaltern with regard to aesthetics and notions of personal beauty. Perhaps this is a reason for the exclusion of Black portraiture, up till recent times, from the canons of contemporary visual culture and art. The Black is Beautiful movement championed in the late Sixties and Seventies was an essential counter-conduct reactionary movement suited to its time but in the Twenty-First Century, artists are looking to create their own more radical, sometimes more subtle reflections for our time.”

Beauty and the Beholder explores the nuances regarding beauty. It challenges viewers to revisit their subconscious and do away with outdated theories regarding flawed preconceived notions in relation to beauty. It is imperative to understand the politics and historical significance regarding black bodies in order to appreciate this phenomenal movement. This begs the question: is it possible for us to see something in a piece of art that is not already present within ourselves? How do we shift perceptions without replacing one worn out cliché with another?

Damilola Opedun’s hyper realistic rendition, in which the black bodies depicted embody Western fashion have perforative essence. Once we allow our eyes to stray beyond the familiar, we see that juxtaposition rather than opposition is the basis of the synthesis established by Opedun.

Johnson Ocheja, oscillates between the real, projected and imagined. The compression of all these textures of perception open the gate to the modern surreal. That is, a surreal grounded enough in reality to be rigid in symmetry but textured in dreamlike pastel withskin glistening from blue so black it could be obsidian. Again, the juxtaposition between the real and the imagined is managed here in terms of complimentary binaries.

Adesola Yusuf, whose works oscillate between complex states, timelines, real and imagined states. He carves room for the imaginary to exist. The absence of full facial representations on the glistening black skin tones he depicts, his use of various media, and the dexterity with which he deploys discordant colours all pull on the mimetic string of the self — a self-revealed as uncoordinated and asymmetrical.

All three artists build on their subjects, adding ethereal elements to their paintings. There is nevertheless also revealed an elegance juxtaposed against the still symmetrical frame a camera would have captured. The idea of beauty and self-subjection is challenged, and the exploration of individual visions of beauty in the ontological sense is a common thread.
Through the depiction of freshly colonized ancestors, anxious contemporary youth or the asymmetric passport of self, these works explore not just identity, but how it functions through layers of reality, from the physical to the psychological and spiritual. Beauty does not have to be superficial; it cuts much deeper than the skin.”
– The Curator, Azu Nwagbogu

Beauty and the Beholder is curated by Azu Nwagbogu, assisted by Princess Ayoola.

Available Art: