“The mythology of the archive is that it comes fully formed – the truth already exists within it. Identity is located within the uncertainties of the archive – the gaps between history and myth – the imagined and experience” John Akomfrah – artist and filmmaker
“This painting depicts five girls dressed in their pink school uniform during a moment of ‘contemplation’. Their gazes are fixed on something out of sight of the viewer and where they are in the world, what they are looking at and reflecting on, I do not know. I found the source image online on the microblogging and social media site Tumblr without any information attached. I was immediately attracted to these, to me, anonymous young girls – eyes fixed on something, unbothered by the camera – which the viewer now replaces. Without knowing their place of origin, whether situated in the past or the present, it opened up an interestingly complex, diverse and contrasting multitude of meanings to me.”
“These schoolgirls became ambiguous negotiators of an open-ended narrative – along with the viewer, I can only speculate as to where they are from, maybe my motherland Nigeria or England where I was born or possibly, they are from here in The Netherlands or from Suriname. They could be the children of migrants who unwillingly left their homes or of people who were asked to come and rebuild a Europe in ruins after World War II. Perhaps they are daughters of Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti and Dora Nkem Akunyili or the niece of Ama Ata Aidoo. I wondered what captured their attention, are they thinking about what they are going to eat for dinner that evening, or perhaps the grades they would get on their favourite subjects at school, or are they thinking about their favourite musicians, or maybe dreaming about the people they have crushes on? We do not know, these girls however, standing eyes transfixed on different points are not thinking about us speculating about who they are.
I borrowed the title ‘Barricade’ from the song of the same name by the American post-punk rock band Interpol (who I was listening a lot to when making this painting), which lyrically measures out the distance or obstructions between people who should be closer.
The background of xerox transferred photos consists of images I had saved over cinema, philosophy and feature images of Civil Rights protests in 1960s America; a portrait of the French West Indian psychiatrist and political philosopher Frantz Fanon; scenes from the French 1967 neo-noir film Le Samouraï directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, a film I love which starred Martiniquan actress and model Cathy Rosier. Alongside images of a woman from the Caribbean standing outside of her flat in South London in 1960s England showing off racist graffiti from the white neo-Nazi neighbours who were trying to intimidate Black people into leaving the country. We can also see mugshots of members of the US Black Panther Party, British fashion model Naomi Campbell in the early noughties, Malcolm X shortly after his assassination in 1965, a photo of Ruby Bridges (first African-American child to desegregate the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana during the New Orleans school desegregation) walking to school under armed guard in 1960. As well as images taken by white American photographer Eliot Elisofon, of a Yoruba woman in 1959 in Nigeria proudly holding her ‘Ibeji’ which is the Yoruba word for twins, it translates as ‘double birth’ and ‘the inseparable two’ and is the name of the Orisha spirit of twins in the Yoruba religion.
This painting derives from my obsession with encoding/decoding and merging images together that might have no relationship prior but when placed together take on multiple new meanings. Combining the images collected in my archive that relate to art history, cinema, cultural studies, media theory and mixing the personal, the mundane and the political, is my way to counterbalance the white gaze with my gaze as a Black woman, with how I see the world and manoeuvre within it. Barricade was made shortly after encountering the works of African American painter Kerry James Marshall at his brilliant retrospective at Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Antwerpen (M HKA) in 2013/2014, where for the first time in my life I saw rooms and rooms filled with paintings of Black people that had no relation to trauma or slavery. It was a life changing moment in my life having that kind of visual representation in art and on the train back to Amsterdam I made a promise to myself to champion Black stories through painting. I wanted to shape narratives and create paintings that provide room for people to interact with histories and accounts that are often overlooked. I hoped the paintings would invite everyone in, but made from the Black gaze especially for people from the Black African diaspora to come in, stay awhile and see themselves taking up space on otherwise white walls.”
Barricade is currently on view as part of Tomorrow is a Different Day, the new collection display of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. This is the full version of the artist text excerpted in the display.