The New Art Exchange welcomes Anglo-Ghanaian artist Enam Gbewonyo to its space for her exhibition ‘Dellu‘. Running until 13 January 2024, the winner of the NAE Open 2022 exhibition prize unveils a showcase of textural works and cinematic performances that immerse the art gallery in an exclusive artistic ambience.
Enam Gbewonyo is a contemporary textile and performance artist who turns her art to notions of identity and, in particular, femininity, while highlighting the appropriateness and preventative value of craft. Curator and founder of the BBFA (Black British Female Artist) collective, she uses performance as an expressive tool and materiality to create living spaces of healing and orientation towards a positive place of consciousness to confront systems of coercion such as racism and sexism. The Anglo-Ghanaian artist’s work invites the public to face up to the realities surrounding the dark past of colonial heritage and the emotions arising from that period.
Recent exhibitions include Body Poetics at the GIANT Gallery in Southampton and Rites of Passage at Gagosian in London. His work has also been shown internationally, notably at the 58th Venice Biennale, Art X Lagos and the UNTITLED Art Fair in Miami. In 2022, Enam Gbewonyo was one of 16 artists selected for the prestigious Black Rock residency in Dakar, Senegal, founded by the renowned Kehinde Wiley. True to his artistic approach, his exhibition “Dellu” also addresses these various socio-political nuances. It is presented in two acts, each dealing with a particular aspect of her art practice.
Act I: Nude Me / Under the Skin
The first act of the exhibition consists of a series of pieces launched in 2016, exploring the relationship between black women and hosiery, tracing the history of this relationship back to its first interpretations as hosiery in the 18th century and its links to slavery and colonisation.
The works in this series have been loaned for the exhibition by the artist and TAFETA gallery, and also address the link between black women and the Windrush generation, when tights were part of their uniform. In this act, the contemporary artist addresses the level to which these women were, and still are, resilient, as well as the many ways in which they were subjugated while finding ways to escape this subjugation. Sustainability and dance, particularly ballet, are integrated into her work with reference to the racism in this field. Similarly, her use of used tights worn by black women alludes to the environmental impact of the tights industry.
In this first act, Enam Gbewonyo addresses the resilience and tenacity of black women, as well as the damaging effects of this period on their mental health. Through this wide-ranging selection of 2D pieces and her performances, she offers a serene space of healing to these battlers of history.
Act II: Dellu
“Dellu” in Wolof means “The Return“, and this second act of the exhibition comprises a series of works produced in 2023 and commissioned by the New Art Exchange. Act II also unveils Enam Gbewonyo’s most ambitious film work to date.
Her enriching experience at the Black Rock Senegal residency enabled her to explore the impact of French colonisation on the upheaval of Senegalese women’s lives from that time to the present day, while taking into account the traditional richness of this African country. The works in this act are therefore mainly inspired by her period of analysis, and she attributes a fundamental role to nature in her design.
The public will be confronted by the immersive settings of the rites performed in the performance film, and captivated by the colours found in the costumes and textural works. Like the works presented in the first act Nude Me / Under the Skin, the works in the second act Dellu seek to break the traumatic generational loop endured by women.