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An artwork made from paint depicts green vegetation and a cloudy blue sky.

Emmanuel Osahor: For a moment

Infused with transnational poetics, the work of Nigerian-born artist Emmanuel Osahor centres on tensions of place and displacement. Coalescing in lush paintings of gardens, while the spaces he depicts are constructed, they are not imagined. Each work emerges from his own photographic snapshots of encounters with these nurtured natural spaces, recapturing his fleeting experiences by grafting and reconfiguring the images – processes that become clear in the overt layering within the collages that inform his paintings as well as the mark making of his etchings with their echoes of tiers and torn edges.

Acutely attuned to the precariousness of relationships to home, to ownership, to land, and to belonging produced by migration, for Osahor, the garden is a space that speaks to not only the universality of hope and the search for safe refuge, but to ongoing colonial practices that intensify cultural marginalization and environmental degradation. As such, he contends with the complexities and contradictions inherent in both histories as well as art histories, engaging practices of abstraction that lead to representation in ways associated with Western landscape traditions that have historically eclipsed and erased diverse spatial knowledges and practices. His paintings are created through a simplification of compositional elements in the photographs, delineating dynamic fields of colour through multiple washes of thin oil paint that are then interlaced with gestural drawing and precise moments of representational painting.

The images of idealized sanctuaries that result do not distill or resolve these contradictions, rather building on Elaine Scarry’s writing on beauty as a necessary component in the cultivation of care and social justice. Evoking the intricacy of his experiences of each site as opposed to their direct representation, Osahor’s visual terrains also embody criticality, capable of bringing attention to the realities of marginalization and inequity. For a moment of global ecological, social, and political upheaval, his work offers a catalyst for the contemplation of new kinds of value as we rethink our relationships to land, to place, and to each other.

Image detail: Emmanuel Osahor, For a moment, 2021, oil on canvas, 182.9 x 228.6 cm. RBC Art Collection.

University of Guelph School of Fine Art and Music logo

This exhibition represents the culmination of two years of focused work in the University of Guelph’s Master of Fine Arts program. The Art Gallery of Guelph’s annual exhibition of a graduating MFA student is presented in conjunction with the School of Fine Art and Music at the University of Guelph.

About the artist

Emmanuel Osahor

Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Emmanuel Osahor moved to Edmonton, Alberta, in 2010, graduating with a BFA in Art and Design from the University of Alberta in 2015. Currently completing his MFA in the School of Fine Art and Music at the University of Guelph, his work has been featured in multiple solo and group exhibitions at venues including The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery, The Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto, The Art Gallery of Alberta, SNAP gallery, and The Works International Festival of Art and Design. Representing Alberta, Osahor was the provincial winner of the BMO 1st Art Competition in 2014 and received an honourable mention in the RBC Painting Competition in 2018.

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