Navigating the status of postcolonial Black identity, especially the triple consciousness felt by members of the African diaspora when encountering counterparts who identify with local majority populations. This is what Gagosian's Rites of Passage exhibition, on view starting from today at Britannia Street in London until April 29th, is all about. Curated by Péjú Oshin, it is not only a walk-through art, which is justifiable as it displays the works of no less than nineteen contemporary artists, but a walk-through life. Ultimately, whilst each piece of work carries with it its own idiosyncratic story, all of these are woven around and inevitably bound together by their artists shared history of migration.
Rites of Passage, in turn, works to both come to terms with and artistically envisage the notion of ‘movement,’ by bringing these lives all together under one roof, hence the idea to structure the exhibition around the concept of liminality, along with its three stages: separation, transition and return. The works envisaged by Enam Gbewonyo, for example, are catalysed by the experiences of the Windrush Generation. Pieces by Adelaide Damoah, through her superimposing of texts and maps onto photo collages of her mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother, explore the legacy of colonialism.

Introducing visitors to the space is Elsa James’s Ode to David Lammy MP (2022), brought-to-life by the artist in response to a speech given by the member of Parliament in 2018 which addressed the Windrush scandal, the installation immortalises one of its most memorable lines “I Am Here Because You Were There.” Said by Lammy in response to Windrush, which amounted to the unjust detainment and threatened deportation of British subjects – many of whom had arrived from the Caribbean.

Dotted throughout the vast, industrial-style building are other must-see artists, grouped by themes of tradition, spirituality and place. Patrick Quarm, for instance, looks to uncover the cultural reflectivity which lingers within batik fabric despite its highly commercialised status. Julianknxx navigates the interweaving of liminality into Krio traditions and Phoebe Boswell reflects on the idea of bodies of water as archives for both painful, historical experiences and future aspirations. Not to be missed are also Patrick Quarm’s mixed media Make you no see, Make you no hear, Make you no speak series (2022), Àsikò’s Pillars at the Port (2022) and Nengi Omuku’s Eden (2022).

These works all collectively seek to traverse ethnographer Arnold Van Gennep's concept of liminal space along with the observation in his 1909 book, after which the exhibition is titled, that significant life events such as birth, puberty, marriage and death are all fluidly interwoven, and stamped by ritualistic ceremonies which transcend cultural boundaries. Perhaps what imbues this exhibition with a sense of dynamism is the fact that we are almost provocatively encouraged to step from one culture into another. Victor Ehikhaemenor’s Rosaries, for example, grapples with the notion of religion and spirituality as both tools for survival and tools of oppression. Whilst Manyaku Mashilo’s Celestial Cartographies (2020) introduces us to a series of paintings depicting fictional characters travelling through pensive cosmological landscapes which touch on African faiths and identities.

Ultimately, the words tradition, spirituality and place not only tie this exhibition together but move with us through life, from our cultural traditions to our spiritual beliefs and nationalities. What makes Rites of Passage a must-visit, is that it takes these ordinary words, and through the lenses of very different artists, turns them into ones not only worth thinking about, but extraordinary ones worth seeing.
Rites of Passage, is now on view until April 29th at the Gagosian's Britannia Street gallery, London, England.
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Pillars at the Port, 2022. © Àsìkò. Courtesy the artist.
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Nyɔŋma (Ten), 2023. © Adelaide Damoah. Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd. Courtesy Gagosian.
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Ode to David Lammy MP, 2022. © Elsa James. Photo: Lucy Dawkins. Courtesy Gagosian.
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Eden, 2022. © Nengi Omuku 2023. Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd. Courtesy Gagosian.
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Make you no see, Make you no hear, Make you no speak, 2022. © Patrick Quarm. Photo: Chris Gardner. Courtesy the artist.