BAF presents Minding my business, Spirit’s in place by painter and illustrator Odera Igbokwe. The exhibition, which will continue to evolve throughout its run, features figurative paintings and painted portraiture created over the course of the artist’s fall residency. Igbokwe is known for their grand representations of Afro-diasporic mythologies—for dramatic, otherworldly settings with a centralized figure, often combining elements of fantasy, science fiction and supernatural belief.
In developing their show for BAF, Igbokwe endeavoured to expand their repertoire both through subject matter and material strategy. The exhibition’s two principal canvases, while materially in line with Igbokwe’s lush oeuvre, showcase everyday earthly activities. The artist’s aim with these works is to draw attention to Black queer experience, specifically as it pertains to receiving well-intentioned but cumulatively disruptive commentary as a Black queer person casually existing in daily life—comments speaking to anything from clothing style to physical features, to other mundane details, all while the recipient is simply running errands, or buying groceries, and so on.
Igbokwe’s practice has provided much needed representation for Black queer folks, creating visuals for projects that centre Black queer narratives. Their work can be seen as cover art for books such as Jennifer Hayashi Danns’ novel, Beneath The Burning Wave, which explores gender fluidity inspired by African and Japanese cosmologies. Other bodies of work, such as Igbokwe’s Dance of the Summoner, explore reverence for diasporic pathways and intersectional connections to Igbo and Yoruba spirituality. Minding my business, Spirit’s in place reminds us that, in addition to important stories of heroism, perseverance and survival, it is also vital to represent moments of peace and quiet, anonymity, and recharge for Black queer individuals.
In a second and ongoing series, Igbokwe explores a kaleidoscopic yet naturalistic approach to depicting melanated skin tone through portraits of their Black queer friends. Igbokwe has observed a tendency for Black portraiture to be either perfectly lit and realistic (see works by Kehinde Wiley) or stylized with limited palettes of deep jet black (see works by Kerry James Marshall, or Toyin Ojih Odutola). With this show, Igbokwe has endeavoured to add to the canon of Black portraiture by creating underpaintings, in an array of bright hues, that they will continue to develop throughout the run of the exhibition. Importantly, the series has also fostered community engagement, providing motivation for visits and discussions with the artist in person or through online correspondence.