Abdulrazaq Awofeso

Made from discarded wooden pallets used for the transportation of goods around the world, Abdulrazaq Awofeso's recent work is loaded with connotations of human migration, as well as referring to the artist's own frequent journeys through Africa and Europe.


Dismantling the pallets, Awofeso uses the timber to represent human figures in wall reliefs, freestanding sculptures and installations. Individually carved and painted by hand, their physical traits and vibrant colours are inspired by encounters with people in different cities and subcultures - such as La Sape ("society of ambience-makers and elegant people"), prevalent in Kinshasa and Brazzaville. While La Sape's colourful sartorial style originated as a response to colonial rule and western "dandy" fashion, any suggestion of uniformity - or a kind of universal portrait - is contradicted by the distinctiveness of each figure, conveying the artist's resistance to simplistic cultural or racial categorisation. 


For more than a decade, Awofeso has produced stand-alone figures, entitled Boujee (2009-present), formed of geometric blocks. His series Skhothane (2021-22) takes its title from the culture of the post-apartheid 'born-free' generation living in South Africa. Visiting friends in the townships of Soweto, Vosloorus, Thembisa, Mabopane and Thokoza, Awofeso enjoyed watching Skhothane dance battles, involving the destruction of personal possessions, such as money, mobile phones, designer and luxury clothes, as a demonstration of wealth. 


Do You Know Who I Am (2022) depicts people Awofeso met during a return flight to Birmingham from Lagos in 2021, when the artist and his fellow travellers were held in Amsterdam as the UK government imposed a swift ban on arrivals from Nigeria due to the country's then-rising cases of Covid-19. One wears a face mask, reflecting the way that global events can become conflated with and visible in our physical and social identities. Another figure wears sunglasses, a tribute to the jazz musicians and communities in both Birmingham and Nigeria encountered by Awofeso. 


Commissioned by Ikon Gallery, Avalanche of Calm (2021- 22) comprises 3,000 individually carved figures and signifies the modern city, where people from all walks of life come together. Suspended above are wooden clouds, their subdued hues recalling the overcast British weather. In life, passing clouds often remind us of the ephemerality of human existence; evoking the relative smallness of people in relation to the cosmos, Avalanche of Calm balances that revelation with an inference of humanity's strength.