October Gallery presents a new exhibition of works by Alexis Peskine. This will be his first solo exhibition in London.
Early on Peskine was exposed to questions of identity with his mother coming from Bahia, Brazil, an area with a predominantly black population who struggle under a system designed to keep them from power, and his father the son of a Jewish refugee who fled from Russian persecution during the Second World War. Channelling this rich background through his work, he explores both the Black Experience and the world of the refugee, forced to exist between fixed boundaries of state and identity.
Growing up in Paris, Peskine speaks of witnessing institutional racism and a severe lack of multi-cultural representation in the media and public sphere. His practice, reflective of this, focuses on the complexity of themes impacting people from the African Diaspora. His signature pieces are large-scale portraits rendered by the painstaking process of hammering nails of different lengths and diameters, with pin-point accuracy into wood to create breath-taking composite images. The base of each work is made of wooden planks stained with coffee and earth giving a silhouette to each portrait. Then by embedding the differently sized nails at precisely controlled depths, Peskine creates a three-dimensional contouring to his images. Finally, gold and silver-leaf overlays colour the heads of the embedded nails, adding further subtle qualities to the intricately organised optical illusion.
The use of metal hammered into wood as a primary medium makes conscious reference to the Minkisi “power figures” of the Congo Basin, those spiritually charged objects whose traditional function was to protect and ward off evil spirits. Peskine’s approach is conceptually charged, he adopts the use of the nail as an object, which holds this power and represents transcendence by its ability to perforate and destroy but also build and create. Often viewed as inconsequential and banal, the nail is a highly important device and by adorning it with metallic leaf Peskine gives it life, making it visibly significant, noble and resplendent. Metaphorically connecting the nail to the Black Experience, the figures he depicts portray strength, perseverance, self-possession, with an energy startlingly reminiscent of the power figures of the Congo.
Born in Paris, in 1979, Peskine obtained a BFA in Painting and Photography at Howard University, Washington, DC, an MA in Digital Arts at Maryland Institute College of Arts in Baltimore, and when awarded the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship, he continued at M.I.C.A. to complete a further MFA Degree. He has participated in many international fairs and exhibitions, including the 3rd Black Arts World Festival and the Dakar Biennale, Dakar, Senegal; Addis Foto Fest, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Frieze New York, Pulse Art Fair, New York, Miami Art Basel’s Prizm exhibit, Miami, USA; Biennale Internationale de Casablanca, Morocco; AKAA (Also Known As Africa) and Afriques Capitales, La Villette, Paris, France; and 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, London UK.
Okore’s practice explores these subjects of ephemerality and transformation. Her intricate works contain rich textures, and reveal extraordinary manifestations of colour and formations, often resembling organic elements in nature, such as roots, veins, and flora. Each visceral sculpture is created through various repetitive and labour-intensive techniques, like teasing, twisting, dyeing and sewing, applied to natural materials such as cheesecloth, burlap and paper, which only serve to further accentuate these natural elements. Okore is deeply disturbed by how human activities are contributing to climate change, aggravating and interrupting the natural cycle of life. To juxtapose these worldly energies she weaves the Igbo adage, Ụkwa Ruo Oge Ya Ọ Daa, through her work capturing a collective human experience that is imbued with images of renewal and regeneration. Yet everything has its season and everything has its due. And not even the breadfruit high up on the Ụkwa tree can escape the rule of life.
Nnenna Okore is a Professor of Art and department chair at North Park University, Chicago. She has a BA in Painting from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and both an MA and MFA from the University of Iowa. Okore is a 2012 Fulbright Award recipient and has exhibited internationally. Her works have been featured in several important exhibitions such as Second Lives: Remixing the Ordinary, Museum of Arts and Design, New York; We Face Forward, Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester; Africa Africans, Museu Afro Brasil, Sao Paulo and When the Heavens Meet the Earth, The Heong Gallery, Cambridge. Most recently she had a major installation Sheer Audacity, exhibited at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, USA.