Collecting Images at Frida Orupabo's First Solo US Exhibition

NEW YORK, United States - It was a fortuitous group exhibition curated by multi-hyphenate artist Arthur Jafa that led Frida Orupabo to Ming Smith in a show at London's Serpentine Gallery entitled Arthur Jafa: A Series of Utterly Improbable, Yet Extraordinary Renditions in June 2017. Almost eight months later, Orupabo is beaming at her first US solo exhibition hosted at Gavin Brown's Enterprise in Harlem.

Untitled, Frida Orupabo (2018) Photo Courtesy of Gavin Brown's Enterprise

Untitled, Frida Orupabo (2018) Photo Courtesy of Gavin Brown's Enterprise

The title of her show "Cables to Rage" is an apt starting point, one which Orupabo acknowledges herself is in reference to poet, essayist, and activist Audre Lorde's book of the same name completed in 1970. Lorde, writing in the American Deep South, filled her second volume of poetry with urgent works relevant in those troubling times as they are today in the discourse on racism and sexism in the United States. One key thematic undertone was this notion of 'painful birthing,' a concept Lorde later revisited in her subsequent works. 

Under Orupabo's hand, the continuation of this questioning of identity, womanhood, non-white womanhood, black womanhood, African womanhood and at the same time, motherhood and good motherhood is in kindred connection with Lorde. Using collected images from the internet, Orupabo pieces and puzzles together from her deep well profoundly prescient collages with a black woman as protagonist in varying states of being. 

Her work is sharp, precise, and almost scientific in its clarity, which offers a neat resonance with her academic training as a sociologist. Each image minces no words on its primary subject, but it is the deft hand of Orupabo that elevates each collage with an openness that allows the viewer to take it in wholly and develop their own perspective. 

She embraces the questioning her pieces bring forth, asking similar ones to Lorde. What does a black woman look like? What can a black mother look like? Breaking down societal and historical characterizations requires a deeply critical lens; Orupabo’s series confronts a common history (in its literal piecing together of disparate images of blackness), yet empowers the individual characters she creates in claiming their own stories. 

Jafa had this to say on Orupabo: "What I’m left with after continually encountering Frida’s Instagram thread (@nemiepeba) for the past several years is, this is nothing short of a mobile repository, a litany of residua, a voluptuous trail of black continuity, pyramid schemata as densely inscribed as any book of the dead, not so much an archive as an ark, a borne witness to the singularity that is blackness."

The transition of her historic digital renderings into these new physical forms is nothing short of a breathtaking output, one worth revisiting again and again. Now on view at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise until April 22, 2018.