“It is this kind of animated, almost naivete enthusiasm about her work that keeps me intrigued. Listening to Yadi talk about her work is a delight.”
In 2016 I wrote the article We Need More Alternative Art Spaces in Lagos for many reasons, but one of them was to raise the need for centers where emerging artists with non-conventional and experimental work are welcomed to show their work. Thankfully, between then and now, some multi-function artist-centred spaces have popped up in addition to the few already in existence and are re-shaping conversations around art in the city.
Spaces like the Revolving Art Incubator, 16/16, WafflesnCream Skateshop, to name a few are opening up opportunities for emerging artists to show experimental works that may otherwise not be allowed in traditional commercial galleries.
One of such emerging artists, Yadichinma Ukoha-Kalu, showed an exhibition “Opening Shadows” at the WafflesnCream Skateshop in March. Yadi, as she is known, is a multidisciplinary/experimental artist in her early twenties currently working in Lagos and Opening Shadows was her first solo exhibition.
Walking through the rooms of the exhibition, I was taken back to my first meeting with Yadi in 2015 when we sat together to discuss a group show I was curating. A plethora of ideas and her immense excitement over the project culminated in her debut group exhibition, Woman In Bloom. As part of the exhibition, she presented six digital prints on paper, representing her thoughts on self-actualisation for women in a typically patriarchal society. Almost two years later, I was staring at her work again and still blown away by how much thought goes into each piece. Without question, there has been a lot of growth.
In the time between Woman In Bloom and Opening Shadows, Yadi has participated in several group exhibitions including the 2015 AWCABIG60 at A Whitespace Creative Agency, the first edition of Rele Gallery Young Contemporaries 2016 and one of the artists at ArtX Live – the live art section of ArtX Lagos 2016.
Yadi’s Opening Shadows show her fascination with light, shapes, and objects. The works came from different media including sculpture, digital print, and drawing. It was a progression of her works overtime in phases. From light to dark, from lines to shapes to forms to objects. In her own words, “Opening Shadows is a process that is becoming as I aim to portray the birth process of the things featured in “of things to come”, witnessing light and darkness in their interactions with each other, their in-betweens and the absence or presence of either.”
Even though Yadi insists that one form did not necessarily influence the other, one could see a linear process in the various expressions. For instance, the clay sculptures seemed like the 3D representations of some of the objects in the illustrative drawings. When asked if this was intentional, her response was she had been drawing those objects for a while without really giving much thought or interpretation to them. Then she decides to experiment with clay and simply produced what came to her mind and hands. At the end of the process, she looked at the finished product and thought, “Hey! I know you. I’ve been drawing you for a while.”
It is this kind of animated, almost naivete enthusiasm about her work that keeps me intrigued. Listening to Yadi talk about her work is a delight.
In what is perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the project for me, Yadi’s interest in signs and symbols as a foundation for language and communication is brought to life in Script. Reminiscent of old Egyptian scripts or the more close-to-home Nsibidi or Uli symbols, these works are presented as codes that may mean one thing, several things or nothing at all. At an interactive part of the exhibition, guests were invited to create their own scripts following preset guidelines. Although some chose to completely ignore these rules, it was no problem for the artist.
Throughout the exhibition, it was exciting to see the uncommon pieces and the promises her work holds. But as Yadi is a young artist with many years ahead of her, only time will tell whether this is no more than a phase until she finds a more permanent style and medium or this kind of experimentation is her style.