Contours of the Interior
Curated by VisArts’ 2023 Emerging Curator Gervais Marsh
November 17 – January 21, 2024
“If you can’t be free, be a mystery”
– Rita Dove, Canary
Our interior worlds are rich landscapes of emotions, thoughts, desires, and contradictions. But is the complexity of interior life always assumed and who is afforded the space to prioritize this realm for the self? Contours of the Interior brings together the work of Lola Ayisha Ogbara, Sasha-Kay Nicole and zakkiyyah najeebah dumas-o’neal in a meditation on opacity, quiet, withholding and mundanity. Each artist complicates the confines of form, while re-orienting into the self and exceeding narrow, definitive interpretation. Spanning photography, sculpture, sound, and video, the artists attend to the nuances of Black life (and living more broadly). They move away from the limited considerations of Black creative expression for public consumption, and do not position their work solely within discourses of resistance and circumstances of anti-Black violence.
Lola Ayisha Ogbara describes her use of clay, “to emphasize a necessary fragility which symbolizes an essential contradiction implicit in empowerment.”( Lee Schulder, “Lola Ogbara’s Artist Statement,” interview for LVL3, 2023.) The artist critiques notions of resilience as an empowering trait and highlights the physical and emotional vulnerability of Black femme life. Sasha-Kay Nicole’s images teem with affective intensity, maintaining a subjective distance while grappling with the myriad forms of violence facing Black womxn in Jamaica. Her photographs in the exhibition viscerally disrupt the presumed access of the viewer’s gaze, situating the specificity created in the image with larger, resonating questions. Across her practice, zakkiyyah najeebah dumas-o’neal delves into the psychic abundance of living beyond what is prescribed by societal systems. The poetics of feeling emanate through her films, photographs, and drawings, gesturing to an expansive and ever-shifting vulnerability and reflective terrain. Together, the three artists create moments of solitude, introspection, and a pleasure that emerges from wandering into an elsewhere that is not quite known. (Cervenak, Sarah. Wandering: Philosophical Performances of Racial and Sexual Freedom. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014.)
LOLA AYISHA OGBARA is a Nigerian American conceptual artist from Chicago, Illinois. She earned a BA from Columbia College Chicago and an MFA from Washington University in St. Louis. Her practice explores the haptic consciousness through handbuilt sculpture, racialized voyeurism via states of looking/seeing, and transcendental sonic experiments. Ogbara has exhibited in art spaces across the country including The Luminary, Kavi Gupta, Kemper Museum, Mindy Solomon Gallery, and Kristen Lorello Gallery. She has also received residencies, fellowships and awards from Alfred University, Arts + Public Life at the University of Chicago, the Coney Family Fund, the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events and many other institutions.
Ogbara is currently based in Chicago, Illinois and working as a curator for the South Side Community Art Center.
About the Artist: Sasha-Kay Nicole
Born and raised in Downtown Kingston, Jamaica, Sasha-Kay Nicole advocates for the protection of Black Femmes in Jamaica. Through a very reflective, performative and experimental practice she exposes issues of gender-based violence including sexual and domestic violence. Revealing the painful realities of the lives of womxn and girls living in Jamaica, experiencing unhealed traumas, bloodshed, death and profound loss of femininity. Sasha-Kay Nicole has exhibited artworks in a few exhibitions in the Caribbean namely, La Practica at New Local Space (2021) in Kingston and Cafafair (2022) in Barbados. In 2022 she was invited to create works for the groundbreaking global research on the invisibility of Black girls called the Sight Black Girlhood project, an international collaboration between the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia) USA, the University of Johannesburg South Africa, and New Local Space in Kingston Jamaica.
About the Artist: zakkiyyah najeebah dumas-o’neal
zakkiyyah najeebah dumas o’neal makes work to further understand how the specificity of her own lived experiences are connected to historical and contemporary movements that involve embodied knowledge production. She explores this through social portraiture, video assemblage, collage, drawing, and found images.She seeks to reinforce a different kind of gaze (and gazing) which she processes through empathy, desire, love, queer identity, family, intimacy, illegibility, and poetics. Within her projects there’s an overlying theme of trying to make sense of what and who she belongs to across time, location, and space. Ultimately, she intends for her work to encourage ways of being and feeling beyond the systems we inhabit.
zakkiyyah has been included in numerous group exhibitions and has had several solo exhibitions at Mana Contemporary, Blanc Gallery, Indiana University, and South Bend Museum of Art. Her work has been presented in various forms at Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, NADA, The Art Institute of Chicago, The August Wilson African American Cultural Center, Chicago Humanities Festival, DePaul University, and Harvard Graduate School of Design to name a few. She has also curated exhibitions at spaces such as Chicago Art Department, Blanc gallery and Washington Park Arts Incubator at the University of Chicago. She was recently a 2021 Artist in Residence at Arts and Public Life at University of Chicago, a 2021 Artist in Residence at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN, and a 2022 3Arts Gary & Denise Gardner Fund Awardee. She is currently a FACE Foundation Laureate Awardee, in collaboration with Villa Albertine (2023-24). zakkiyyah is also a Co-founder of CBIM (Concerned Black Image Makers): a collective of Black artists, thinkers, and curators that prioritize shared experiences and concerns by lens based artists of the Black diaspora.
About the Curator: Gervais Marsh
Gervais Marsh is a writer, curator and scholar whose work is deeply invested in Black life, concepts of relationality and intimacy. They received a PhD in Performance Studies from Northwestern University and are currently a Helena Rubinstein Curatorial Fellow with the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program. Recent curatorial projects include All of Living is Risk at the South Side Community Art Center and To be pained is to have lived through feeling with Canada NY. They are an editor with Ruckus Journal and their writing has been published in several books and exhibition catalogs including Denzil Hurley (monograph), Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art, and online art publications such as Hyperallergic, C Magazine, and Brooklyn Rail. They grew up in Kingston, Jamaica, a home that continues to shape their understanding of self and relationship to the world.