Art Review: ‘The Journey So Far’ by Konstanty Czartoryski and Adeniyi Olagunju

first_imgRound the corner is Konstanty’s work. There is something deeply, indescribably satisfying about his line drawings. They are intricate, delicate, but solid; his lines are perfectly placed. His work has a cartoon quality: facial and bodily features are exaggerated, goblin-like, or grotesquely distorted. In one drawing, a figure squats on the tip of an inescapably phallic creature, as if about to launch into the air. Jack-in-the-box meets sex toy, perhaps. A disturbing sexual theme runs though the illustrations – disturbing, because violent and distorted. Genders are fused, confused, anatomically. What looks like an umbilical cord grows out of the penis of a man into an indefinable beast. Adeniyi was a war photographer for the British Army in Northern Ireland. Next to ‘Adamu’ is a smaller, asymmetrical, black and white portrait of a soldier in London-Derry. His look is intense, his eyes narrowed, but not hostile. The image resists specificity – the soldier’s face is streaked with camouflage paint, the wedge of background is blurry, and all is cast in timeless black and white – he is the ‘universal soldier’, so to speak. by Griselda Murray Brown  Beside this is ‘Survival’, a colour photograph of a layer of rubbish strewn over grass in Isara-Remo, a town in Nigeria. On first glace, the objects look like strips of cardboard, bits of wood, but they are, in fact, mainly flip-flops. In the absence of a central focus, the eye jumps to the occasional coloured flip-flop, which punctuates the greens and browns. Adeniyi comments: “Isara is a society that just wants to survive for now. Everything in the image could be recycled, but lack of knowledge and the standard of living makes recycling difficult”. I felt an uneasy sense of guilt, as though the mass of flip-flops were the remnants, the hangover, of the generic beach holiday. Entering the exhibition space, I was struck by one of Adeniyi’s largest images, ‘mk Adamu’. It is a portrait of an old Nigerian destitute wearing a large straw hat, who, I am told, lives rough on the streets of Lagos, begging for food. Adamu’s face and hat are dead centre, and fill the frame: he looks out, yet resists engagement. The textures of his face are startlingly clear, his skin lined and wrinkled, his chin pierced with stubble of black, grey and white. There is an implicit dignity in his face. Quietly and without pomp, Adamu transcends his social place; his large straw hat becomes symbolic, evoking the haloes of golden light which crown religious figures in European Renaissance painting. The photograph won the ‘Outstanding Achievement in Photography Award’ (2007), from the International Society of Photographers. center_img In Konstanty’s work, precision of style jars against shocking, sexual content; a thrilling tension results. As if to enact this artistically, other media is played off the delicate pen. Garish yellow highlighter winds out of the mouth of a half-monster, half-human creature, like some noxious vapour. Flower genitalia are stuck over the mouths of an alien couple having (human) sex; these mouths seem to cry out in a vocal expression of sexual sensation. Georgia O’Keefe’s erotically suggestive flower paintings spring to mind. Konstanty’s work describes the mind in over-drive: its nightmare hallucinations; visions of lurking shadows of the self; sexual ecstasy and torment. ‘The Journey so Far’ brings together various media and diverse places. Adeniyi’s mainly large scale, colour photographs counterpoise Konstanty’s intimate line drawings. Almost subliminally, they bring each other into relief. ‘The Journey so Far’ is quietly powerful. The work touched an innate, buried sense of western guilt, and of sexual shame and revulsion, within me.last_img

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