For Fadekemi Ogunsanya, The Future Is Blue

September 29, 2023

The foundations of art are laid by those before us, a guided path for a new generation of artists as they develop their own practice. One particular example is Carrie Mae Weems, whose U.K. solo exhibition saw an ode to her career. From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried gives a pointed commentary on how racism alters perception. Weems’ use of color –  a piercing red and stilling blue – retrains the focus and gives voice to the Black subjects previously seen as other. This careful handling of hues is one such example of how creative practices are crucial to progression while also highlighting the richness and vastness of Black identities. In Blue Black Boy, another example of Weems’ use of color, she inspires a particular artist, Fadekemi Ogunsanya. In her first solo exhibition, Easy Remedies For A Tired Heart, Ogunsanya forges her own relationship with shades of blue.

Artist, Fadekemi Ogunsanya / Image by Faridah Folawiyo

The most striking feature of Easy Remedies is its warmth. The coldness often associated with the color blue is absent here, and visitors are instead enveloped in a moment of breathless wonder. Through a collection of paintings seeped in blue tones, Ogunsanya creates a space to pause, to breathe and be at ease. The unraveling of self in the moment is a key indicator of what it means to be an artist. ‘Like personal journaling’, Easy Remedies For A Tired Heart is an intimate archive of Nigerian history and women in communion but it didn’t start off this way. 

Black Joy In Shades Of Blue

‘I remember just thinking of blue as a color and what color can evoke. I started creating this narrative in my head that blue is one shade darker than Black. When something is super Black in a certain light, it almost looks blue.’ 

The allure of Easy Remedies lies in the intimacy of the work. ‘I was making these paintings for myself, I didn’t think I was going to be an artist so there was no audience.’ It makes the collection all the more poignant and speaks to a bigger picture of community. As a Nigerian woman, Ogunsanya is able to capture the familiar moments of girlhood in Nigeria. The use of raffia mats layered with the pairings of young girls posed with braided hair are reminiscent of  the images of hair salons taking viewers back to an easier time. Her portrayals of women in conversation mirrored moments of my mother and her friends, hushed urgent tones akin to the way I would whisper in the ears of my friends, ‘please ask my mom if I can stay at your house this night’. There’s images of women alone, women together and in Friend of My Heart, women in an embrace. 

Friend Of My Heart by Fadekemi Ogunsanya / Photo by Rob Harris

Encompassing all these is the color blue which speaks Ogunsanya’s background. ‘There is a  connection with the color and Yoruba women because of adire’ – a traditional dyeing technique utilizing indigo dyes developed and practiced by Yoruba Women. This layers the storytelling of Fadekemi’s work as blue ‘is an extremely emotional color and brings that out of people.’ Through the use of composition and depictions of women, Ogunsanya makes references to 1960’s West African photography. ‘It’s creating a moment, that’s almost choreographed. For the smaller paper works, you have to walk up and squint to understand. It allows a sense of intimacy with the work’. Visitors are invited into Fadekemi’s bubble, here is the place to reminisce, to rest, to feel and to be.

Artwork by Fadekemi Ogunsanya / Photo by Rob Harris

Archives, Art & Accessibility 

The nostalgia and recollection of moments frames the importance of archives. This is particularly prevalent today. 2023 marks 50 years of Hip Hop, 25 years of groundbreaking albums by artists like Lauryn Hill and Destiny’s Child and 20 years of film favorites like The Cheetah Girls. Archives and archiving institutions do their bit to ensure media is preserved and celebrated in the years to come. For the generations that lived through these moments, there’s an opportunity to recall memories, create something new and ultimately share them with their communities. But as art and media disappear and become inaccessible, it becomes difficult to remember what art spaces are for.

Even in her quiet moments of personal creation, Ogunsanya is able to create art that pays homage to the educators and cultural innovators that came before her. ‘I’m happy to be culture for someone else to consume’ and highlights the importance of making accessible art. Nigeria’s history is a rich cultural landscape that’s getting its resurgence in pop culture history. The function of art is not at all singular but should always be ever evolving – an expansion of the parameters of what art is and can look like. 

Like its name, Easy Remedies for a Tired Heart overcomes the access barrier through its connection with cultural and communal memories. ‘My work is for everyone that resonates with it’. Here is a show that invites visitors to sit with themselves, engage with the myriad of art’s languages and ultimately celebrate the collection for what it is; a celebration of culture, community, girlhood and access. You can see more of Ogunsanya’s work in an upcoming online presentation with Nina Johnson Gallery

Artwork by Fadekemi Ogunsanya / Image by Rob Harris