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she would see
limbs of lucy
backs of chairs
holding the mirrors up
that reflect odd
aspects of lucy.
For its next solo show, Kupfer is turning into a living room. Complete with chairs, curtains, lampshade, mirror, flower vase and table, Abi Ola invites us into her private world of patterns and portraits. Through a compulsive use of emojis, traditional West African fabrics, photography and British floral designs, Abi Ola’s works are a collection of personal chapters on identity, self-preservation, familial connections and pictographic forms of communication. Her paintings, textiles and sculptures rely on the relationship between shape and colour, from which she creates complex rhythmic structures drawing on simple, systematically repeated patterns. However, in her case, repetition does not function as a study or a tool used for emphasis or depuration purposes, but as a form of distortion or distraction.
In her photographic self-portraits and moving image works, Abi often appears eating in patterns – sometimes bananas, sometimes marshmallows. The photos are taken by the artist’s sister in her garden, bedroom or living room. “Taking photographs at home is also a way for me to invite the viewer into my world and private space, while also keeping them at a distance using the filter of the camera”, she says. There are many different ways in which Abi’s family is brought into the work. She often uses photos of her aunt and female family friends as references for her paintings. In Bouquet 1 and Bouquet 2 (2022), the floral designs are inspired by dresses worn by her mother. Different patterns represent different family members and their personalities. Finding patterns or archetypes within the family becomes another means of examining the constantly reflective aspect of our understanding of the self.
Abi’s figures are mostly faceless, sometimes they even appear to be headless, such as in A Window to My Reflection 1 (2022) and A Window to My Reflection 2 (2022). “I want the viewer to see themselves in them”, she explains. However, despite the surfacing of many faceless textile figures in her works, there is no shortage of faces in Abi’s practice: screen-printed emojis invariably populate her signature patterns. Emojis are translated emotions. They contribute to the semantic content of our digital messages by helping us communicate in a simple, easily conveyable way. However, the outsourcing of our emotions to tiny yellow faces can also be a form of deflection; emojis are echo-makers, often trapping us in repetition and distortion, or likes and unlikes, such as in her poignant I’ll Be Your Mirror (2023).
Good mirrors are not cheap, says Audre Lorde, it is a waste of time hating a mirror or its reflection². By lining the gallery with canvas and turning her world of patterns back onto us, the artist invites us to face up to our own image in her portraits and living room. Whilst the echo of emojis cannot but distract the message, the mirror distorts the image – hers, her subjects’ and ours. Abi Ola could be hiding behind her mirrors but she is also reflecting outwards.
¹ Lucille Clifton, “if mama / could see” from Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir, 1969-1980, 1987
² Audre Lorde, “Good Mirrors are Not Cheap” (1970) from The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde, 2000
Abi Ola (b. 1996, London) is an artist living and working in London. She graduated with an MFA from the Slade School of Fine Art (2021), and has a BFA from Goldsmiths (2019). She was recently granted the New Contemporaries Award 2022. Her solo shows include Kaleidoscopic Bodies (2022) at Frans Kasl Projects, in Eindhoven, Netherlands, and All Are Gone The Old Familiar Faces (2022) at Flatland Projects, Bexhill-on-Sea, UK. She had a group exhibition at Rawlinson & Hunter alongside the Ingram Prize alumni, and a group show at Christie’s, London, as part of the Good Eye Projects Residency, both in 2022.