flowers and prayers (2014 - 2017)

The six works in Modupeola Fadugba’s Flowers and Prayers series share a beguiling aesthetic language and thematic approach that mark them as important counterpoints to—and developments of—her previous bodies of work. Without referencing any specific style, Fadugba draws from church architecture to create works that resemble painted stained glass windows in both their precise geometry and their otherworldly aura. Yet rather than offering moral and spiritual edification, Fadugba’s windows are more mysterious about their purpose. Like many of her works, they examine ideas such as faith, hope, and value, and probe the relationships between structure and flow, certainty and chance. They are also, as Fadugba attests, profoundly personal works. In the context of her wider practice, they offer a more pointed reflection on religious belief, and mark a development of her examination of figuration and selfhood.


Common to all the works in the series are the repeating lozenge-like shapes, often bifurcated by black lines, that stand in for the small panes of glass that provide the regimented geometric structural element of stained glass windows. To make each work, Fadugba first sketched out the pattern in pencil, then filled in the halves of each lozenge with colour. She describes it as a deliberative, therapeutic process whereby colours are chosen for their complementary qualities, resulting in a carefully constructed patchwork of doubles. The play of colour across the surface of each work—the repeated flashes of red or gold, interspersed with duller shades of brown and dusky pink—draws each together in a unified whole, that quickly refracts into its component parts upon close inspection.


The lozenges offer an ordered yet forgiving ground for the more sinuous, drifting lines and forms that emerge between and around them. In “Flowers and Prayers I” (2014), the diptych “Flowers and Prayers II” (2016), and “Flowers and Prayers III” (2016), stems topped with disc-like flowers twine their way across the pictorial space, introducing an organic element. In “Clouds and Prayers” (2017), fluid expanses of blue and gold dissolve into each other, suggesting heavens alive with drifting clouds and flashes of sunlight. Dispensing with natural forms, “Prayers I” and “Prayers II” (2016) rely on a pared-down arrangement of lozenges to convey a seemingly devout humility. Yet here, as in all the works in the series, Fadugba employs her signature burned paper and scorch marks to bring brittle drama and a sense of disturbance to the surface. The comingling of elements—here, air and fire—is characteristic of many of her works on paper. Through layers of acrylic, ink, paper, and thin air, Fadugba creates indeterminate surfaces that suggest interplay between vulnerability and strength, doubt and certainty.


Much of Fadugba’s work explores complex, weighty themes by folding them into situations involving individual, embodied protagonists. The swimmers of her Tagged and Synchronized Swimmers series navigate through the competing demands of the art market, creative authenticity, and economic independence. Audience members/participants who enter the game-installation The People’s Algorithm become enmeshed in the dynamics of Nigeria’s education system. Big ideas and abstract problems, such works imply, are often experienced on a personal level; correspondingly, individual actions can collectively impact on larger structures and questions. Fadugba’s interest in Chinese culture, and what she sees as China’s great success in channeling individual effort into collective force, informs her sense that personal actions and projects may (or perhaps should?) be part of something greater than themselves. Thus, her patriotic fervour and hopes for Nigeria’s future are expressed in works that celebrate cooperation and collaboration, and emphasize the role of “The People” over any higher, god-like power.


Flowers and Prayers represents Fadugba’s most explicit foray yet into the question of religion, which is so important to most Nigerians, but the series remains to a large degree inscrutable. She has spoken of her earliest memories of stained glass, which she first encountered as a decorative image adorning a scarf brought home by her father after a business trip to Addis Ababa. Featuring an Ethiopian Jesus with a neat afro and goatee, this “scarf-window” was framed as an artwork in her childhood home, and remains her most memorable example of a stained glass window. From this point of departure, and taken as a whole, Flowers and Prayers might seem to reflect the shifting role of religious faith throughout the course of a lifetime. From the little girl in “Flowers and Prayers II,” to the young woman in “Flowers and Prayers I,” to more recent works with no figures in them at all, Fadugba has explored a variety of interfaces with the spiritual, from the overtly personal and intimate to the more abstract, and has experimented with placing a female figure within these settings. The repeating flower motif with its long, winding stem likewise suggests themes of growth and renewal in the life cycle.


Yet flowers, for all their beauty and fecundity, also symbolize the decorative, the frivolous, and the impractical. And of course, flowers are fragile, and do not last forever. Are these works questioning or affirming the importance of faith and prayer? Or perhaps both? Does the sense of nostalgia—from the childhood memory of the scarf, to the crumbling edges of the burned paper, to the petals appearing to fall from some of the flower heads—stem from a fond recollection, or from a sense of loss, whether of memory or perhaps of faith? As this ongoing series develops, Fadugba will no doubt continue to gently tease out and examine these possibilities, her windows never offering a clear view but always enticing us to look.


Dr. Evelyn Owen, May 2017