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Ukoha-Kalu brings Saffron in the desert to Lagos


After her residency in Dubai, UAE was truncated by the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this year, Yadichinma Ukoha-Kalu returned to Nigeria for a solo show titled, Saffron in the Desert, which opened November 19, to December 3, 2020 at kó Gallery, Ikoyi, Lagos.

The new gallery, kó, says Ukoha-Kalu is showing fresh body of work initiated during the artist’s residency in Dubai. She was in UAE as “kó’s representative for Art Dubai’s 2020 artist-in-residence programme.”

Despite her residency in Dubai being cut short, Yadichinma, according to kó has further developed the project for this solo exhibition. “Ukoha-Kalu’s artistic practice centers on explorations of line, form and boundary, which she expresses through a variety of media including painting, drawing, sculpture, and film.” In its gallery statement, kó explais how the artist often creates landscapes on paper made with combinations of abstract elements and textures. Her work, it was noted is “influenced broadly by a mix of artistic movements,” just as she “uses research and documentation of everyday life to instruct her work, resulting in exploratory experiences taking place in real and imagined spaces.”


Excerpts from kó Gallery’s statement: “Her work exposes the skeletal process of creating, where the audience is invited to witness and explore the themes of discovery and change.

Saffron In The Desert uses saffron spice as a metaphor for psychological healing and hope.

“During her residency in Dubai, Yadichinma explored the Diera market and was drawn to the ubiquity of saffron spices, which she used as inspiration and as a material. Saffron ranks as the most expensive spice in the world and is fondly called “the gold of spices”. Exploring the indomitable quality of its golden-yellow essence, Yadichinma uses this raw material to apply to her paintings of landscapes and environments. Yadichinma uses the analogy of this pigment to examine the relationship between gold and the “golden moment of opportunity”, the opportunity we have to turn the seemingly barren spaces of our minds into regenerative spaces. Through this process, she begins to allow herself to fill these spaces with her own imagined beings and objects, reflecting on the private space of human emotions.


“Yadichinma experiments with a variety of materials, including saffron, spray paint, watercolour, transparency paper, and canvas, alongside sculptures made of Plaster of Paris and a plexiglass installation that was laser-cut at the Tashkeel Studios during her residency in Dubai. These plastic shapes served as stencils that are used in many of her paintings. Yadichinma uses colour as a guiding framework to represent her emotional states. As a form of therapy, the dominant colors of red, yellow and black could suggest burning, fire and rage. Her use of tracing paper further alludes to the fragility of the present.”

“Alongside the materiality of saffron, Yadichinma creates an indecipherable alphabet that is used as a reoccurring motif within the series. Yadichinma highlights the commonalities with drawing and language, creating a system of pictorial signs that are put together as scrolls of text. She refers to these elusive texts as “epitaphs”, a symbol of loss, memorialisation, and transiency.

In Mercury in the Ninth House, Yadichinma draws a self-portrait, its title referencing her astrology signs. The Venus-like figure is depicted in a conventional sculptural pose, floating and illuminated with a saffron-orange hue, possessing an aura of power. In the series of sculptures titled Emotional Landscapes, Yadichinma depicts amorphous shapes that suggest an abandoned archaeological relic, a reminder of the cyclical processes of time and renewal. Yadichinma explains: “A desert can so easily offer qualities of barrenness and hopelessness, but also respite, if one looks hard enough.”


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