Tiwani Contemporary‘s current exhibition titled “The Undiscovered Genius of the Niger Delta: An Unexpected Journey Into Chaos Told From The Perspective of Someone That Was Not There, 1799” features the work of American multidisciplinary artist; Umar Rashid. This is the first exhibition of the year at the gallery’s location in Lagos, Nigerian.
Umar Rashid’s practice revolves around documenting the complex, historical adventures of the Frenglish Empire, a fictional world superpower he created as a result of his deep fascination with the retelling of history, as well as how it is experienced. Rashid draws inspiration from the 16th-19th centuries during the period of Western European expansionism and uses visual fabulation – a blend of historical and contemporary vernacular that alludes to political, socio-cultural phenomena, fantasy, and speculative propositions – to creatively weave his imagination with the formal accounts of these periods. The combination of these different elements serves to question the concept of free will in terms of how we as individuals and as a community take responsibility for shaping the narratives and conversations that inform our experiences in the world.
The title of the exhibition “The Undiscovered Genius of the Niger Delta: An Unexpected Journey Into Chaos Told From The Perspective Of Someone Who Wasn’t There. 1799” is a reflection of the artist’s perspective and approach towards understanding and familiarizing himself with his kin, country, and continent which he had never physically visited before. With this new series, Umar Rashid seeks to challenge the notion of agency, thought, and self-determination that could have influenced both regional or global events for individuals during the 16th-19th centuries. In addition, he also questions the extent to which black and brown subjects were complicit in the unfolding of events that were caused by colonialism.
Taking inspiration from the song “1999” by the late American artist Prince, Rashid chronicles the journey of four individuals who in 1799 left the land that would eventually become Nigeria 98 years later. His portrayal of these individuals from different cultural groups; Fulani/Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, and Calabar/Efik involves them journeying to support the mercenary activity of Company Crocodile, a black military regiment of the Frenglish Empire. Through portraits and scenic paintings, the exhibition illuminates the personal thoughts and circumstances that influenced each of the individuals’ decision to enlist with the Company, as well as the experiences they encountered.
The Los Angeles based artist obtained his BA in cinema and photography from Southern Illinois University. He recently participated in the 2023 Sharjah Biennial 15 in Sharjah, UAE and MOMA PS1 in New York, US. His work can be found in the collections of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art and the Jorge Perez Collection at the Brooklyn Museum. Since 2020, Rashid has been represented by Tiwani Contemporary, and this exhibition marks his first exhibition in Lagos.