Adejoke Tugbiyele (b.1977, New York, USA) is an award-winning, queer, black artist. Her work often comments on human rights issues around the world, and her own identity as a queer woman of Nigerian descent. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York where she continues to make artwork and engage in advocacy projects.
Tugbiyele describes her practice as ‘hybrid’; reflected in both her approach to making and the physical forms that manifest in many of her works. On one hand, her practice is multidisciplinary; continuously ‘presenting alternative forms of expression that can be universally understood’. On the other, hybrid forms quite literally appear in a myriad of Tugbiyele’s drawings, sculpture and performance works. She explains: ‘Hybridity frees the mind from the boundaries and limitations of gender and sexuality, and from the human body in general. It takes us into the spiritual realm, where we can begin to imagine new ways of perceiving and being in the world. Hybridity also makes us more aware of the two-spirit nature of humans and therefore the potential ability to tap into different energies, spontaneously’. Sculptures such as ‘Drama’ (2018) play with the juxtapositions between natural and man-made objects, with (often androgynous) ‘bodily’ features such as the use of oil funnels for breasts, or gas pumps for hands, which are interwoven into a contorted, twisting form.
Some of Tugbiyele’s crafted objects enter into a performative practice which, she revealed, often operates as a way to ‘queer dominant spaces and narratives pertaining to race, gender and sexuality’. She further suggests: ‘Through performance the body can engage architecture with movement and begin healthy discourse on how space itself affects our psyche and imagination. Sometimes, the key to collective transformation is going beyond the first-skin of the body, into the second-skin’. Finally, she reminds us, ‘performance is rooted in the idea of transformation across cultures’.
This is perhaps best evident in a performance that took place at Somerset House in 2017 entitled ‘Shifting The Waves’. During this, Tugbiyele performed with the intricately woven work entitled ‘Love Boat 2.0’ (2017) which was bound to her back. In motion, the work comments upon ‘movement as a mode of survival’ and raises questions such as: ‘How are we affected by past and present migrations both physically and psychically, locally and globally? What lessons can the vessel teach us about resilience and courage in the face of threats to mind and body? How can we honor the strength it takes to shift, when transient spaces begin to feel more safe than the home itself?’. When eventually removed from her body, ‘the work is forced to perform as sculpture – the implication is not transient space but rather stillness – at rest, at home’.
As with ‘Love Boat 2.0’ (2017), many of Tugbiyele’s other sculptures are made from palm spines from West African brooms, which are often used across cultures as a symbolic act of cleansing negative energy from society. For example, Tugbiyele recalls that in contemporary Nigerian politics, one finds the waving of traditional brooms a significant symbol during an election period and in African-American culture ‘jumping the broom’ has often been used as a symbolic gesture at traditional wedding ceremonies to celebrate black love – and here, all variations of that.
Words: Adejoke Tugbiyele (she/her), Daniel Fountain (he/they)
Tugbiyele is represented by October Gallery and more information about the artist can be found here.