Gagosian is pleased to present Rites of Passage at the Britannia Street gallery. Curated by Péjú Oshin, this exhibition features work by nineteen contemporary artists who share a history of migration.
Rites of Passage explores the idea of “liminal space,” a coinage of anthropologist Arnold van Gennep (1873–1957). In his 1909 book, after which the exhibition is titled, Van Gennep was among the first to observe that the transitional events of birth, puberty, marriage, and death are marked by ceremonies with a ritual function that transcends cultural boundaries. Highlighting this phenomenon in physical, mental, and spiritual arenas, Oshin’s exhibition challenges linear narratives through works in a variety of mediums, which fill Gagosian’s expansive Britannia Street gallery.
Rites of Passage is structured in correspondence with liminality’s three stages: separation, transition, and return. Each of these phases addresses the act of movement, not only through individual experience, but also in the broader context of community. The exhibition examines the status of postcolonial Black identity, specifically the “triple consciousness” experienced by members of the African diaspora when encountering counterparts who identify with local majority populations. The artists in the exhibition are further grouped together according to themes of tradition, spirituality, and place.
Welcoming viewers to the gallery is Elsa James’s Ode to David Lammy MP (2022). The work’s black neon text reads I AM HERE BECAUSE YOU WERE THERE, a powerful affirmation of placemaking that originates in a 2018 speech made by the MP in response to the Windrush scandal, in which British subjects—many of whom had arrived in the country from Caribbean nations decades earlier—were wrongly detained or threatened with deportation. The experiences of the Windrush generation also inform the work of Enam Gbewonyo, who investigates cultural history through the manufacture and manipulation of textiles. Patrick Quarm, too, identifies significance in fabric, uncovering the cultural reflectivity that lingers within batik material despite its highly commodified status. And Adelaide Damoah, for her part, explores colonial history by transposing texts and maps onto photocollages of herself and her mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and great-great-grandmother, thereby contesting outdated ideologies imposed on her familial narrative.
The exhibition’s spiritual theme emerges in works from Manyaku Mashilo’s Celestial Cartographies (2020–), a series of paintings in which imaginary characters move through abstracted cosmological landscapes that refer to African faiths and identities. In his tapestry, Victor Ehikhamenor stitches thousands of rosary beads to canvas and lace, cutting across history, memory, and belief to explore the role of religion and spirituality as tools for both survival and oppression. Àsìkò, in his photographs, recombines and extends various masquerade traditions rooted in Yoruba history and culture to explore how the representation of ancestral communities might inflect contemporary diasporic identities, while Julianknxx’s film installation considers the integration of liminality into Krio traditions as a waypoint between and construction of both local and global perspectives.
Finally, in the works of many artists in the exhibition, such ideas intersect with perspectives on the complex and consistent influence of place. Phoebe Boswell considers bodies of water as repositories of both painful historical experience and hope for the future—natural loci of healing, reclamation, and possibility—while Mary Evans employs pop-cultural imagery to examine the relationship between contemporary Britain and its imperial past through the lens of her own childhood.
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Rites of Passage
Rites of Passage, an exhibition at Gagosian, London, explored the concept of “liminal space,” a coinage of the anthropologist Arnold van Gennep, through the work of nineteen contemporary artists who share a history of migration. Here, Péjú Oshin, associate director at Gagosian, London, speaks with Phoebe Boswell, Adelaide Damoah, and Julianknxx about their participation in the exhibition and about the complexities of community, performance, truth, and identity.
Languorous undulations (in the temple of my familiar)
Alexandria Smith and Akwaeke Emezi take up themes of queerness, hybridity, and embodied memory in their respective visual and literary works. Here, Emezi responds to Smith’s painting Languorous undulations (in the temple of my familiar) (2022) with an eponymous piece of flash fiction.
Alexandria Smith Selects
Alexandria Smith has curated a selection of films that have influenced her practice for many years, as part of a series copresented by Gagosian and Metrograph. The program, on view in the theater and online from May 20 to June 2, 2022, features cinema exploring themes of loneliness through the prism of the fantastical; notions of family through spirituality; and the deconstruction of narrative through the disruption and manipulation of time.
The artist speaks with author Nalo Hopkinson about what it means to depict the body, the struggles to embark on new projects, and the contours of space and place in the creation of fiction and art.
Bodies of Water: A Confluence of Voices
An Evening of Readings with Phoebe Boswell
Friday, April 21, 2023, 6:30pm
Gagosian, Britannia Street, London
Join Gagosian for an evening of readings by Phoebe Boswell inside the group exhibition Rites of Passage at Gagosian, Britannia Street, London. Boswell is one of the show’s nineteen participating artists, all of whom share a history of migration, and her interdisciplinary practice explores subjectivity in the layered threshold between collective histories and possible futures. Embracing the fluidity of storytelling to unpack the cultural associations of water, she will share new writing from her 2022 writer’s residency at Whitechapel Gallery, London, based on research for recent and ongoing work. The artist considers the dichotomy of bodies of water as both repositories of painful historical experience and sites of renewal and hope.
Photo: Adenike Oke
Arachne: Rebirthing Dislocated Cultures
Thursday, April 27, 2023, 8pm
Gagosian, Britannia Street, London
Join Gagosian for an interactive performance with Adelaide Damoah inside Rites of Passage at Gagosian, Britannia Street, London, which features work by the artist, to mark the exhibition’s closing on April 29, 2023. Participants will be invited to visit the oracular cave of Arachne-Damoah and accompany this spider-human hybrid on a visceral rite of passage. This audiovisual journey, which features an original sound piece by Damoah and Liz Gre, will interrogate the history of colonialism with the intention of unlocking new modes of understanding.
Artwork © Adelaide Damoah. Photo: Femelle Studios, London
Emergency Paintings, Danger Paintings, Hazard Pictures and Seizures
October 5, 2021–February 5, 2022
Britannia Street, London