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Tiwani Contemporary presents Umar Rashid: The Undiscovered Genius of the Niger Delta

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LAGOS | 12 MARCH – 13 MAY 2023 


Umar Rashid, Life is just a party and parties weren’t meant to last. A Frenglish corvette engages with a Portuguese Frigate off the coast of idyllic Aotearoa. Simultaneously, Te Wheke-a-Muturangi and a Manaia spring from the waters in the shadow of the mountain and the former attacks both ships, whilst the latter sets upon the frigate. The Frenglish manage to inflict heavy losses on the Portuguese and escape in a rowboat hoping they can return. 1799, 2023.Acrylic and mica flake on canvas, 213.4 x 182.9 x 3.8 cm

Press Release: 1 March 2023 

“Everyone that is alive is complicit in one’s own misery”. Umar Rashid 

Tiwani Contemporary is delighted to announce Umar Rashid: The Undiscovered Genius of the Niger Delta. An Unexpected Journey Into Chaos Told From The Perspective of Someone That Was Not There, 1799. Tiwani’s first exhibition of 2023 in its Lagos space, the presentation coincides with Umar’s residency in the city as part of Tiwani’s collaboration with Guest Artists Space Foundation (GAS), Lagos.

Rashid’s deep engagement with how history is retold, shared and experienced led him to become the cosmographer of his own fictional universe, chronicling the exploits of the Frenglish Empire around the globe in paintings, sculpture, moving-image and literature. The works are contextually grounded in the period of Western European expansionism during the 16th-19th centuries, and he imaginatively interferes with the formal accounts of what we know of these periods in his use of visual fabulation – a simultaneous mix of historical and current day vernacular that references political, and socio-cultural phenomena, fantasy and speculative propositioning. The interplay works towards questioning the concept of free will: How do we as individuals and members of families and communities take responsibility for the construction of the narratives and conversations that structure and inform our experiences of the world? To what extent are we the true authors of our own destinies? 

Umar Rashid, I was dreaming when I wrote this. Forgive me if I go astray. The song of the four companions begins in the Sahel in the presence of the marabouts. Pandora comes from the north. The Harmattan approaches and beckons the storms and wars to come. 1799 (detail), 2023. Acrylic and Pearl Mica Flake on Canvas, 182.9 x 182.9 x 3.8 cm

The title for the show, The Undiscovered Genius of the Niger Delta. An Unexpected Journey Into Chaos Told From The Perspective Of Someone Who Wasn’t There. 1799 describes the artist’s estranged position and approach to understanding and building familiarity to the kinship groups, country and continent he descends from as a process of orientation in a country he’d previously never physically been to. In this new series of twelve works on canvas, Rashid questions what forms of agency, thought and self-determination could individuals have experienced during the 16-19th centuries that could shape regional or world events for better or for worse? To what extent are black and brown subjects complicit in the formation of the world-shaping events that colonialism enacts? 

Umar Rashid, She did it for herself. Reina (birthname unknown) was a wealthy widow from Calabar [abbreviated title]. 2023. Acrylic and Ink on Canvas, 55.9 x 76.2 x 3.8 cm

Rashid uses the lyrics and structure of the song 1999, by the late American musician Prince, to pace the trajectories of four protagonists, who in 1799 leave the land that would eventually become known as Nigeria 98 years later (in 1897). He imagines individuals from the Fulani/Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo and Calabar/Efik cultural groups embarking on journeys that support the mercenary activity of Company Crocodile, a black military regiment of the Frenglish Empire. The exhibition includes portraits and scenic paintings that shed light on the personal thoughts and circumstances shaping each person’s decisions to enlist with the Company and what they’ve witnessed. 

Umar Rashid is an American multidisciplinary artist who lives and works in Los Angeles. He received his BA in cinema and photography from Southern Illinois University. Recent shows include Sharjah Biennial 15, Sharjah, UAE (2023) and MOMA PS1, New York, US (2022-23) and his work is included in the collections of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art and the Jorge Perez Collection, Brooklyn Museum amongst others. Rashid has been presented by Tiwani contemporary since 2020; The Undiscovered Genius of the Niger Delta. An Unexpected Journey Into Chaos Told From The Perspective Of Someone Who Wasn’t There. 1799 is his first exhibition in Lagos. 

For further information, press images and interview requests, please contact: 

Orla Houston-Jibo – 

About Tiwani Contemporary 

Founded in London in 2011 by Maria Varnava, Tiwani Contemporary represents international contemporary artists from Africa and its diaspora. To celebrate its 10-year anniversary, in February 2022 Tiwani Contemporary launched a purpose-built 2,000sq ft space on Victoria Island, Lagos. Today, Tiwani has a year-round programme of solo and group exhibitions in each location. 

Alongside its programme of 10-12 exhibitions per year (across both sites), Tiwani Contemporary collaborates with G.A.S, Yinka Shonibare’s Foundation to offer residencies in Lagos to artists from Tiwani’s roster of represented, associated and exhibited artists. The gallery aims to contribute to the arts ecosystem in Lagos through its programme of exhibitions, talks and publications. Internationally, Tiwani Contemporary participates in the world’s most exciting International art fairs from Frieze London and Art X Lagos to The Armory Show, New York, and Art Basel Miami Beach, as well as presenting a lively Viewing Room programme at these fairs, at Cromwell Place and online. 

Umar Rashid 

Rashid’s recent shows include: Sharjah Biennial 15, Sharjah, UAE (2023), MOMA PS1, New York, US (2022-23), Cokkie Snoei, Rotterdam, NL (2022); Almine Rech, Paris, France (2022); Half Gallery, New York, USA (2021); Blum & Poe, LA, USA (2021); Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, USA in partnership with The Huntington, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, USA, (2020); University of Arizona, Tucson, USA (2018); University of Memphis, Memphis, USA (2017); Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, USA (2014); Wellin Museum of Art, Clinton, USA (2013); the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey, Summit, USA (2013); the Nevada Museum of Art, Reno, USA (2013) and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver, USA (2012) . 

His work is included in the collections of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art, Jorge Perez Collection, Brooklyn Museum, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, the Progressive Collection, 21C Museum, the Nevada Museum of Art, and the Wellin Museum of Art amongst others.

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