Nigerian artist Ken Nwadiogbu is the subject of a new solo show at The Bomb Factory Art Foundation in London. Central to the presentation is an installation of stacked cardboard boxes. Each box is painted with the face of someone the artist has met on his travels.
For Nwadiogbu, it is a metaphor for global trade and the migrant experience: ‘Our individual lives may be self-contained but, essentially, we stand on each other’s shoulders journeying to a different continent and bringing with us values that shape the culture and ideas of these spaces’.
Painted in vibrant colours, the boxes stack in a way that references traditional African woven fabrics, while the title of the exhibition pays homage to the Nigerian custom of saying prayers for a traveller about to embark on a long journey.
‘Journey Mercies highlights the struggles and joys, gains and losses of Migration,’ explains the artist. ‘This is particularly applicable to those of us with dreams, values and hope who flee our countries due to the insecurity, lack of infrastructure, and scarcity. But the stacked structures we build are intact. The communities are rich with diversity and beauty.’
Paul Rego has made her name telling tales on canvas. ‘I always need a story,’ she said. ‘Without a story, I can’t get going.’ Thrillingly for Londoners, many of her most powerful visual narratives are now on show at Tate Britain in the largest UK retrospective of her work to date.
Spanning all six decades of her boundary-breaking career, this exhibition sheds light on her extraordinary imagination, tireless experimentation with styles and media, and commitment to denouncing socio-political injustices.
Take Interrogation (1950), for instance, a torrid canvas depicting a woman cowering at the hands of her torturers, which she painted aged 15 under the Estado Novo, the brutal dictatorship led by António de Oliveira Salazar. Then there’s Salazar Vomiting the Homeland (1960), a grotesque later response to the repression of living under the Portuguese regime.
But it also explores her lifelong preoccupation with the female experience: betrayal, domestic abuse, motherhood, obedience in marriage and abortion are among the powerful themes she brazenly confronts. Dog Woman (1994), in which a woman snarls on all fours, is a standout highlight.
A blend of the personal, universal and mythical, Rego’s art is raw and unflinching. It can be frustratingly difficult to decipher at times but persevere and you’ll be spectacularly rewarded.