“When Ruth Ige met Freedom”

with Ruth Ige

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At home in portraiture, figuration and abstraction, Ruth Ige is a Nigerian contemporary artist based in New Zealand. Offering an unveiled blackness as medicine to the African diaspora, Ige realises her escapist (but grounding) practice through painting. Titled Freedom’s Recurring Dream, her current exhibition at Stevenson Johannesburg is her very first solo in South Africa. Well received by the public, we look at the artist’s contribution to a multidisciplinary, love-based revolution.

During the 2019 edition of AfroPunk, feminist, marxist, activist and author Angela Davis addressed festival goers on How to Be a Revolutionary. After decades of defying the status quo at a systemic level, Davis called for a “creative, imaginative and multidisciplinary revolution” because one of the most fundamental parts of a revolution is sharing information that will conscientise the masses and transform passive civilians into activists. “The real work is not so much the demonstrations but in changing people’s minds and hearts,” she said. 

Described as exploring the “tradition of black imagination and black speculative fiction as an access point of emancipation, and its importance as a tool of healing, escape, resistance, empowerment and self-care,” Ige’s paintings heed the call Davis speaks of. 

Referencing her dreams, anticipations, prayers and petitions to access a semblance of rest, Ige makes layered, familiar but otherworldly, haunting yet alluring portraits of seraphic figures seen in a dreamlike haze. Maybe fractured reflections seen in moving water, the blue feathered yet fluid figurations float through the gallery.

As reverent as she is comforting, Freedom makes her way through the night. A first person document, the show’s twelve works are from Freedom’s perspective. Making her way through the night, Freedom encounters Black women. Whether in restful community with each other, basking in their own glory or embraced by their surroundings: here their rest is without repercussions. 

Not an ideal to be fought for, here Freedom is a parental figure, tasked with caring for Black people. Tending to our wounds, affirming our desires and guarding our hearts, this foreign take makes a simple argument: the  idea that freedom is earned is alarmingly false. 

Rooted in a contrasting reality however, Ige’s depictions are charged with the unsettled, longing, tense and fatigued energy characterising many diasporic navigations.

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Ruth Ige. Don't hide your glory, 2022.
Acrylic on canvas. 122 x 122cm. (© Copyright 2022, STEVENSON. All rights reserved)