Boys’ Quarters Project Space is proud to present The Afterlife of Forgetting by Port Harcourt-based artist and Boys’ Quarters alum, Johnson Uwadinma. This show continues Uwadinma’s explorations surrounding the idea of collective memory and cultural forgetting which he sees as endemic in Nigeria. This show opens just after the 50th anniversary of the Biafra war, a momentous and calamitous event that has been commemorated by Nigerians in characteristic muted fashion. This anniversary presents us with an opportunity to reflect upon our relationship with history, an urgent and ever-present matter that is the driving force behind the work of Johnson Uwadinma.
In the first gallery we see a weighty and almost alien organism infesting the space. Resembling both a coffin and an arc, Uwadinma uses cassette tapes – an abandoned format – as an object that embodies our mechanism for forgetting – to create this coffin arc. But it is a coffin that lies on top of red earth, symbolising the impossibility of truly burying memory. An arc that has run aground and cannot sail. The ribbon within the cassettes are used as a material to draw on the wall and connect to the un-interrable coffin/arc. The cobweb pattern on the wall are a symbol of neglect and yet they are also homes. Homes where absences live. Buried memories are living objects in themselves and can never truly be obliterated in Uwadinma’s view.
The idea of the body and the home is further developed in the paintings. Looking from left to write these stunning works help us understand where memory lives but also how they move inside us. Johnson’s signature strategy of breaking up the corporeal figure with colored, textured segments lay bare the complexities and the stories that make up the spiritual and historical self. This strategy implies that they are animated and alive despite the graphic voids that exist around the bodies. Voids that are rendered by magazines and newspapers whited out. And yet the text persists, reminding us always of what was said and done. This “void” is not empty. It is pregnant with inescapable facts. The image on the right where the body is flying in a skyscape talks about the relationship between information and agency amongst other things. The body suspended in an environment where history may or may not matter. An ambiguous agency. Is the figure free or falling? Alive or dead? In this world or the afterlife?
The entire show speaks of modalities of memory. Bodies, movement, burial and the impossibility of escape. Memory can be cognitively forgotten but the facts never disappear and can never be fully buried and forgotten. They live and speak in the body. They challenge agency and forever affect the cultural and personal imagination.