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Welcome to the website of the October Gallery, the first London gallery to exhibit cutting-edge contemporary art from around the planet and leading pioneer of the Transvangarde - the shape of things to come.

Exhibitions

2000

Rendering Visible: - Contemporary Art from Benin
15 November 2000 - 27 January 2001
Benin is known as the 'cradle of voodoo.' This exhibition, following that of contemporary art from Haiti, highlighted both the traditional art of Benin still surviving into the present, and the many exciting young artists who are starting to forge impressive reputations abroad, with work that includes everything from masks made from recycled jerry-cans to disturbing but highly emotive installations utilising discarded dolls.
Catching The Spirit - Representations of Vodou Spirits in Contemporary Art from Haiti
11 October - 11 November 2000


Known as the 'cradle of voodoo' this exhibition, following that of contemporary art from Haiti, will highlight both the traditional art of Benin still surviving into the present, and the many exciting young artists who are starting to forge impressive reputations abroad with work that includes everything from masks made from recycled jerry-cans to disturbing but highly emotive installations utilising discarded dolls to give telling commentary upon the human condition of the present.
Contemporary Art frm Nigeria
14 October - 7 October 2000
A special exhibition to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Nigerian Independence exhibiting the wide range of the work by Nigerian artists. These include artists such as Twins Seven Seven, Chief Z. O. Oloruntoba, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Osi Audu, Jimoh Buraimoh, Emmanuel Taiwo Jegede, Tunde Odunlade and Abiodun Anako. 
Tantric Visions - Contemporary Art of the Tibetan Tradition by Padma
6 September 2000 to 30 September 2000
Chief Z.O.Oloruntoba - The World Is My Village
28 June - 29 July 2000
Born in Ogidi-Ijumu, Nigeria, the artist, Chief Z.O. Oloruntoba, sensed from an early age that he would travel widely and see very much more of the world than his native Kwara State. Knowing little beyond the life of the rural African village in which he found himself, the young Oloruntoba, as a twelve year old boy, first commanded the attention of his family and the village elders on account of a talent - recognised and valued throughout the African continent - for powerfully lucid and seemingly clairvoyant dreams. Those early dreams, deeply inscribed in memory and subsequently recorded and published by the University of California Press as King Marapaka's Dream, foreshadowed the fundamental elements of Oloruntoba's later work. There followed an amazing outpouring onto canvas and paper of the evocative images glimpsed in the spirit-world that his dream-self inhabited.

Marapaka's Dream is a picaresque series of adventures into the 'realm of ghosts,' where the young man encounters a variety of spirits, both aggressive and benign. It is a meandering tale of apprenticeship in and acquisition of the healing arts of medicine and of initiation into and eventual mastery of real-world magical powers. Oloruntoba's dream-story, like his art, paints a vivid picture of that mysterious other-world that parallels our own, providing a privileged vantage point from which to survey the richly-articulated world-view of the Yoruba tradition.

Directed by the spirits to decorate a juju house (a medicine house that is the central site for village festivals) and taught other painterly and musical skills by his ghostly helpers, the precocious twelve year old took his first tentative steps along the path of a unique artistic career. One day, in 1949, while working on a painting, he saw a very strange 'ghost' racing by at great speed on a metal horse! This ghost was of an abnormal colour and with features unlike any he'd ever seen before. The 'ghost,' a British Baptist missionary passing by on a bicycle, having noticed the young boy daubing bright colours onto a fine kaduna cotton cloth later returned for a closer look, and Oloruntoba's first acquaintance with a white-man flowered into a relationship that during the Sixties led to an exhibition, and the development of a market for his work, in London.

Perhaps it was similar guidance from the spirit world, which brought about a chance meeting in a Nigerian hotel with the great American saxophonist Ornette Coleman. Amazed by the vitality of Oloruntoba's vibrant canvases, Coleman was instrumental in taking him to the United States for a spectacularly successful series of exhibitions. Again, that association blossomed into a long-lasting friendship, and the jazz musician joined a select list, including Queen Elisabeth II, David Rockefeller, Mohammed Ali, Michael Manley, Bill Laswell and others, who have collected Oloruntoba's work.

Chief Oloruntoba works using traditional methods and materials to evoke the phantasmagoric world of spirits and its interactions with the human world. His early work included many beautiful batik-like prints that used wax, vegetable dyes and sometimes ink, on both rice-paper and kaduna cloth. Larger scale works, such as those stage-sets and backdrops he produced when working with the Theatre of All Possibilities troupe in Fort Worth, Texas during the Nineties, are executed on more weighty canvases, as are the brightly coloured compositions in intricately applied silk thread. These silken 'yarn paintings' produce an intensely textured surface whose varied patterning recalls the brightly coloured agdabas worn by men in many parts of West Africa.

Whatever the medium used, however, over a career now spanning some forty years, the treatment of his many themes and subjects has remained constant, and work from Oloruntoba's hand is immediately recognisable. Principally this work depicts the spirit world: representations of visitors from beyond, ranging from gods of the Yoruba pantheon, Ogun, Shango, Mamiwata, etc., to those ghosts, spirit helpers and ancestors who occasionally take a keen if passing interest in human affairs. At the other extreme are tableaux treating of the everyday world, showing life in the rural compound, from the animals that are an integral part of that equation, the birds, cattle, great cats and elephants, to the ordinary villagers themselves. Society is often represented by the dancers, drummers and musicians who in the presence of the medicine men and priests gather at festival-time to give thanks to their ancestors and, within the traditional temples, perform the appointed rites that maintain the balance of proper relations between this world and the beyond.

The most common of all Oloruntoba's devices is also his most simple; a series of triangles, squares and circles arranged in rows to represent the village, and by extension its inhabitants. In My Village, each house is composed of differently coloured threads; some are identified by whorls and spirals, others by their distinctive doors, the whole economically suggestive of the variety in uniformity that characterises human society. This descriptive icon of Village as the defining centre of human activity becomes the ground against which all other scenes in Oloruntoba's universe take place, with elephants, oxen, ostriches, men, demons and gods all shown parading before a schematised background of village huts. Similarly, the Flute Player that UNICEF used on a 1993 card to represent Africa, blows his instrument in front of a village backdrop, providing a powerful image both of the community from which he comes and which he represents and the people and audience for whom he plays. Even scenes such as that of Traditional Abalish for Protection, showing worshippers in a temple setting surrounded by offertory candles and other fetishes, can be seen to contain the village huts which symbolise the remaining members of the group, for all such religious festivals imply the participation of the entire community.

Besides the obvious representation of reality, an Oloruntoba painting, may however have other functions not included in that particularly western notion. Many are designed with specific purposes in mind: protecting the possessor, warding off malign influences, emblems of good luck or even as curative of specific ailments or weaknesses. Here, the African artist Chief Oloruntoba assumes a higher role than his western counterpart; that of medicine man and tribal shaman. For Oloruntoba, each painting is created in response to a specific question, need or problem and contains its own active spirit. Thus works with titles such as For Harmony, Protection Against Jealousy, and Against Sickness are objects to bring down power and invoke the powerful protection of positive forces from the other side. It is for this reason that such paintings are created with vegetable dyes made from herbs andthe roots of traditional plants, their curative effects being dependent both upon the distinctive colours resulting and upon their inherent herbal properties.

'When western medicine fails,' the artist says, 'many African people return to me for guidance, and after consulting with the oracle I create a therapeutic work especially for them. Sometimes this treatment includes the ingesting of herbs and plants similar to those with which I make their painting. The painting is a visible manifestation, a "spirit" of the treatment they must undergo to heal themselves. Painting, you see, like music, also, has strong magical powers.'

© Gerard A. Houghton, May, 2000  
Michelle Molyneux - Field of Visions
24 May - 24 June 2000
A graduate of the Royal College of Art, Michelle Molyneux is the pioneer of an inventive collage technique that uses 'out-takes' of photographic prints carefully layered to create swirling visions of phantasmagoric power. 
Journeys Around an Extrardinary Planet
28 February - 24 March 2001

 

   
October Gallery, 24 Old Gloucester Street, Bloomsbury, London WC1N 3AL Tel: + 44 (0)20 7242 7367 Fax: + 44 (0)20 7405 1851