Mowalola Ogunlesi’s BA graduate collection presented at Central Saint Martins in 2017 put the young designer on everybody’s radar. That particular collection was an unapologetic celebration of African masculinity and sexuality imbued with political outcry and an irrevocable urge to protest. Since then, the Nigerian-born designer has shown two collections as part of Fashion East, dressed the likes of Solange and Naomi Campbell, designed outfits for Nigeria’s World Cup team with Nike and stocked her treated leather pieces at Dover Street Market and Opening Ceremony. Now, the designer stages a chaotic installation at the Now Gallery in London until the 19th of January, 2020. Titled Silent Madness, it permeates the exhibition space with Ogunlesi’s Nigerian punk-inspired aesthetic.
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Located in Greenwich Peninsula, the newly evolving cultural hub of London, Now Gallery has over the years staged the series of open access, fashion-focused interactive installations, allowing London’s young creative forces to transform the gallery space into a truly immersive experience. “Creativity comes in many shapes and forms,” says Jemima Burrill, curator and cultural coordinator at the gallery. The aim of these multidisciplinary shows, she says, is to show that “when given the time, space and finance a fashion designer can create something totally unique in a gallery space.”

An ultimate playground for young artists, fashion designers and photographers, the gallery has collaborated with the likes of Molly Goddard, Charles Jeffrey and Richard Malone. “It is the best fashion voices that get heard at Now Gallery”, Burill adds. “They are given a space to design something other than clothes; they are given a creative space to really stretch in and come up with an exhibition which cuts beyond fashion.” From Charles Jeffrey Loverboys’s gigantic 3D creatures to Richard Malone’s wearable sculptures and Molly Goddard’s oversized curtain-like tulle dresses, the gallery allows the designers to transcend their usual roles and partake in the discussions of what ‘art’ can be.

Following Malone’s Rinse, Repeat – the exhibition that celebrated the designer’s creative process –, Ogunlesi, Burrill says, was an obvious choice. “Watching her last show both men and woman walked, both looking equally stunning, sexy and powerful. The way she made the models strut with authority and sensuality with clothes that truly emphasised them and gave them glamour and glory… There was no doubt in my mind that this was the woman I wanted in our gallery,” she says.
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The unapologetic expression of sexuality and emotion that fascinated the curator is translated and heightened through the exhibition. Now Gallery is her blank canvas and Ogunlesi is going all in. The gallery’s twenty-three-feet-high windows are swathed and draped with the designer’s signature print fabrics. A discoid structure loops over the enigmatic squiggle of black mass sprawled on the floor that materialises into a plinth. Black tar engulfs and swallows the punk ‘band’ in the middle, clad in audacious gimp suits and abstracted by Mowalola’s prints. Pointed boots clad in tar hover over the contorted bodies of the debunked band members.

The exhibition sees the gallery walls animated with a film – created for the occasion – directed by Aidan Zamiri that gives the viewer a rare entrance to Mowalola’s psychedelic realm. Hollowed out, tar-covered speakers project director and musician Finn Mactaggart’s flashy take on Mowalola’s unapologetically loud world. Upon entrance, the visitors are issued with a set of headphones and an MP3 player with a playlist allowing them to select their own soundtrack. “We want all to go away with a sense of not just understanding Mowalola’s standpoint but also give the audience the opportunity to create their own narrative”, Burrill adds.
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“Aren’t we all dealing with silent madness?”, the curator asks. “Isn’t that the kind we all can live with. The madness which is impossible to communicate and just lives within us.” Ogunlesi puts her silent madness on display, indulging viewers in colour, music and electrifying energy that bursts and splashes onto the gallery’s windows as the riot of colour.

The exhibition tiptoes the themes of bondage and broadens the young designer’s exploration of the discourse surrounding African sexuality, aiming to “disrupt and question preconceptions of normality.” “I hope we always disrupt the normal”, Burrill concludes. Because, what’s ‘normal’ anyways?
The exhibition Silent Madness by Mowalola Ogunlesi is on view until the 19th of January, 2020, at Now Gallery, The Gateway Pavilions, Peninsula Square, Greenwich Peninsula, London.
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