Modupeola Fadugba: Synchronised Swimming & Drowning is the artist’s first solo exhibition in London and inaugural presentation by Ed Cross Fine Art, curated by Katherine Finerty.
Through an organic and intellectual process incorporating game theory and play as forms of resistance, Fadugba’s work serves as a vehicle for activism and collective empowerment. She creates multi-media works full of active characters in symbolically laden environments – playgrounds whose figures challenge their surrounding hierarchies through alternative movements and viewpoints. The artist’s practice, often materialising itself on delicate burnt paper, is intrinsically related to time, texture, and the tension between a work’s surface and the ideas lurking beneath. Recurring themes include ideologies of change, states of duality, and depictions of women, from intimate self-portraits with soft power to large-scale groups bursting with collective strength. Fadugba’s work is laboriously detailed with great splendour and aesthetically seduces her viewers with gold leaf, precious beads, pops of colour, and classically-charged compositions – all inviting us to look closer at the surface, through one’s own reflection, and then deeper within it:
“Beneath the surface reside far more serious undertones: the works mirror challenges that exist – unspoken or spoken – in any social or physical space. Throughout the works, I've loosely applied elements of Game Theory represented by multiple players, who while limited by the presence of other players still try to further their own interests and gains...” – Modupeola Fadugba
Fadugba works in series addressing cultural identity, social justice, and the art world within the socio-political landscape of Nigeria and our greater global economy. In her on-going Synchronised Swimmers series we’re submerged into worlds of water and swimming pools – dynamic landscapes where we find ourselves in constant flux. A body may be floating and swimming, or sinking and even drowning, depending on her level of confidence, skill, or luck. In this sense the swimmer is a visual tool for Fadugba to represent artists: active figures constantly creating in an ever-changing terrain. Recent self-portraits in various states of water-bound motion, such as Proceed With (2017) and Treading (2017), elicit the spectrum of associations with this visceral realm from feelings of calm and luxury to fatigue and risk. The omnipresent, if omnipotent, red circles in this series and its recent predecessors allude to the sticker status symbol of art world success, where capital investment and cultural confirmation at once collude and conflict. Yet when joined by others, synchronised, these swimmers transcend the original rules of the game and activate stories of friendship, teamwork, and unity, giving voice to the infrequent representation of young black women in water together. As exemplified in Buy My Lot / Marry Me Next (2016) – a contemporary history painting where the men are women and the narrative moment is a water-bound “game” – these figures are social, political, and poignantly powerful.
In the game, there are only two rules:
1. Stay in the pool.
2. (Pretend to) ignore the red ball
Alongside the Synchronised Swimmers is Fadugba’s newest series, Flowers and Prayers, featuring church windows made up of burnt painted paper in lieu of stained glass. The looming red dot and delicate geometric petals in Flowers and Prayers III (2016) serve as an omen of ephemerality, suggesting the duality of sanctity and sanctimony at the heart of systems of belief. The unity of, yet tension between, Fadugba’s swimmers is thus extended in a meditation upon the nuance of faith – at once fragile and temporal, yet resilient and full of hope.
Finally, the Butterflies punctuating this presentation of new works signify an important personal moment of creative pause, transition, and rejuvenation for the artist. Between each new series Fadugba creates several butterflies representing the passage of time and transformation. This is a direct reference to the butterfly effect in chaos theory in which seemingly inconsequential causes may have momentous effects and impact. The metamorphosis that ensues ties each series together, revisiting motifs and concepts that further evolve in a constant exchange of reflexive criticality and open evolution, always in motion.
Modupeola Fadugba (Born in 1985 in Lomé, Togo. Lives and works in Abuja, Nigeria) Modupeola Fadugba is a multi-media artist working in painting, drawing, and socially-engaged installation. With a background in engineering, economics, and education, she works at the nexus of science, politics, and art. Fadugba’s use of game theory and play via symbolic representations such as synchronised swimmers and evocative red dots deconstructs charged hierarchical relationships – men/women, artist/art world, government/citizens – activating her viewers to decipher and play.
Fadugba holds a BEng Chemical Engineering / MA Economics (University of Delaware) and MEd (Harvard). Recent exhibitions include Dakar Biennale (Senegal, 2016); The Art Energy (London, 2015); and Design is the Personality of an Idea (Ford Foundation & African Artists Foundation, Lagos, 2015). Her installation The People’s Algorithm was awarded El Anatsui’s Outstanding Production Prize (2014) in the National Art Competition Grand Finale, and a 2016 Dakar Biennale Grand Prize from Senegal’s Minister of Communication.
Katherine Finerty (b. New York City, lives and works in London) holds a Masters in Curation from The Royal College of Art, she is an independent curator focusing on socially-activated practices, translocal identity politics, and contemporary African art.