Queer Visions is a new series of interviews and studio visits featuring QCA member artists. QCA boasts a large number of working artists amongst our membership, and Queer Visions seeks to highlight the work and artistic pursuits of those members.
Our first interview catches up with member artist, Adejoke Tugbiyele, a queer Nigerian-American artist based out of NYC. Tugbiyele has exhibited both nationally and internationally, and won a 2013-14 Fulbright Scholarship to study and work in Lagos, Nigeria. Her work addresses contemporary representations of the body by LGBTQ individuals, whose voice has long been denied. Her latest body of work, Grassroots, can be viewed at Skoto Gallery in Chelsea (529 W 20th St, 5th Fl) until April 9th, 2016.
As an artist who engages in a great deal of social activism, where do your roles as artist and activist intersect and/or where do they diverge?
As an artist I feel a sense of responsibility to use my work/practice as a platform for speaking out against injustice especially crimes against blacks/Africans, women/girls and same-sex loving people. One of the ways I have done so include attending or helping to organize protests and marches to speak out against homophobia, racism, and climate change. I have also partnered with organizations that work hard to advocate for equality for less privileged and socially marginalized groups. I do spend much time working in my studio because my art is as much a spiritual practice as it is political. Confronting politically charged subjects continuously can be very traumatizing. Making space for healing is an essential part of my artist/activist journey.
Your work engages heavily with the intersection of multiple identities (female, queer, Nigerian-American, etc...) how do those various identities inform your choices as an artist? Do you feel that any one particular identity has a greater impact on your work or is it more about balancing these intersections?
I don’t necessarily feel my identities need balancing with each other. However I do sense the need for them to be balanced or relate to larger universal ideas about what it means to be treated equally as a human being. Identity should not be a border but rather a window or an opening towards learning about the deeper qualities about a person. For example, saying I am Nigerian-American might lead someone to ask me how I specifically relate to both places.
What issues are activating your newest body of work at SKOTO Gallery?
I am still concerned with the individual and societal struggles that surround acceptance of same-sex love. I am also concerned with major human rights violations/issues, such as the Flint water crisis in Flint, Michigan which has negatively affected the poor and minorities in greater numbers. I am also concerned about the migrant crisis in many parts of the world, which often leads to death by drowning of innocent human beings. The sea has historically been an undocumented “grave” for so many people and unfortunately it continues to remain so today. Both of these concerns are addressed in the works entitled “Flint Water – POISONED Plant” and “Capsized: Sea as Grave,” respectively. Ideally, advocating for the rights on one group should neither be made at the expense, nor overshadow the needs/concerns of another group. I combined different concerns in this solo exhibition to reflect my deep sensitivity to all human rights issues. I am aware that they affect me personally either directly or indirectly.
In comparison to your previous sculptural works, your newer work exhibits a clear economy of materials, what is driving the shift in your choice of materials?
Indeed, my newest body of work at SKOTO Gallery is presented more simply and poetically as far as my use of materials, while remaining politically charged. I have learned to focus more deeply on each material because they have so many stories to them. I chose to focus on palm spines heavily in my newer works after having come to a deeper realization of their potent spiritual, political, economic and personal complexity. When looking at my work, one can make references such the strength of palm trees, the palm oil economy in West Africa prior to the discovery of oil, religious observances like Palm Sunday, the African-American tradition at weddings of jumping the broom, the use of grass for furniture and basketry by indigenous people all over the world, the socio-political interpretation of the broom as sweeping away corruption or bad spirits/energy. Last but not least, a viewer from Africa or the Caribbean might remember using palm spines to make strong, beautiful kites (something I also did as a child), where the spine becomes the structure for planes made of newspapers, and held together by glue/cassava. I recently learned that my creation of kites as a young child was gender-bending activity because only boys were allowed to do so.
Similarly, your drawings in this series seem to illustrate a shift in how you are tackling the representation of queer bodies. You've moved away from the references to illuminated manuscripts and to the depictions of violence. What is driving this change in how you are approaching your subjects?
I have not moved away from the illuminated manuscripts reference completely, as one of the drawings in the exhibition is done on parchment. The other drawings are on vellum, however none of the drawings in the show include text. Previous drawings have incorporated calligraphic text that relates to the drawing itself. The sepia ink drawing on parchment, entitled “My Lover, Our Gun and The Cross, references both religion and violence, and it relates to the sculptural work “Unholy Matrimony” which fuses a rifle and a crucifix. It was an aesthetic decision to focus only on “line” so the drawings relate more formally to the sculptures in this particular show.
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