Adeniyi ‘Niyi’ Olagunju holds a National Diploma in General Art from Yaba College of Technology, Lagos and a BA Fine Arts (Hons) degree from St. Anne’s College, University of Oxford, UK,with concentrations in Art History, Studio Art,and Visual Theory.
He was one of the privileged few to benefit from an Oxford University scholarship, which he received in the years 2006 to 2009.He then attended Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, US, where he obtained an MA in fine arts, with specialisation in sculpture. Before taking his degree in Oxford, Niyi served with the British Army from 2002 through 2006, with service postings in Basra, Iraq, and Northern Ireland.
Olagunju’s contemporary appropriation of the traditional Baga Nimba shoulder masks of Guinea continues his exploration of global trade and what he describes as the "commoditisation of everything.” The sculptures are bisected vertically and each half is cast in metal and reconnected to the original wood sculpture. In the case of Baga Nimba (Gold),the metal half was cast in bronze and hand-gilded in 22 carat gold leaf.
This series questions the value system driving the continuing growth in the sale of traditional African artefacts. Baga Nimba sculptures, while originally made and used for specific tribal functions, are now collected for their monetary value alone based on Western ideas of provenance and rarity.
Olagunju’s, normally large scale installations are made from the pods of Ekpiri seeds, which in their everyday use, are typically strung together to create anklets worn in Igbo traditional dance.
Stringing these seeds together in rows, the artist either paints or gilds them in various precious and semi-precious metal leaves to conceal the earth tones of the objects. Minimalist invocations of dynamic subjects, the works in this series demonstrate Olagunju’s interest in reconfiguring historicized matter.
Reminiscent of the aesthetics of El Anatsui, these works are more organic and are rooted in traditional dance and music, hence the waved installation.
THE CONGO SET
Olagunju’s contemporary appropriation of traditional African sculptures continues his exploration of global trade and the “absolute commoditization of everything”.
The sculptures (usually shown alongside preparatory sketches) are bisected vertically and have their internal surfaces primed and coated in metals mined from the region from where they are originally sourced.
The project questions the value system driving the continuing growth in the sale of traditional African artifacts, which although originally made and used for specific tribal functions, are now ultimately priced, based on provenance and rarity. The use of precious/semi-precious metals also draw attention to the multiple relationships that can emerge from the exploitation of natural resources within the African continent and its impacts on people and their cultural legacies.
SIGHTS & SOUNDS
Following on the success of the Ekpiri Series, Olagunju's latest works from the Sight and Sounds series see the glass "cookie jars" fashioned after traditional musical instruments called the sekere. Re-creating the gourds originally used for the percussion instruments as hand-blown glass, the threaded seeds, which generated a rattling sound, have been embellished with gold and copper leaves.
This continues the artist’s recent endeavour to shift the focus from aural to visual in the artistic spectrum.
STRUCTURES OF TRADE
A collection of various wood-based installations, a genre that has always intrigued the artist and one that he has explored since his college days at Ruskin School of Art, Oxford University. Using discarded wooden-pallets, the sometimes large-scale installations reference global trade, and as a subtext, its effect on his continent of extraction - Africa.
Sometimes combining the wooden pallets with other objects like painted basketballs in carefully staged compositions, the artist alludes to the endless narrative structures of these materials in their re-contextualized forms. The pallets speak of global trade, import/exports and the attendant trade imbalance common to various sub-Saharan countries vis-a-vis the developed economies. Basketballs on the other hand point to the globalization of culture to the detriment of poorer states and the commoditization of talent and endeavor, with virtually the same effect.
Using recycled pallets, which are coated in vibrant colors, the individual pieces have something of the Mondrian about them, albeit in 3D, and the use of vivid colors, when not directly lifted from specific national flags, is attributable to the artists West African cultural background - rich in a diverse and vibrant tradition of textile making.
As the artist explains: My current use of discarded materials and vibrant colors are symbols of my dual African-European identity, the art is an attempt to bring these distinct cultures closer.