Damilola Onosowobo Marcus | a smooth mode of distortion - Bubblegum Club

Damilola Onosowobo Marcus | a smooth mode of distortion

I have spent the past year complaining about the figure. Okay, perhaps complaining is not the right word — being critical about the figure.

Thinking about figures of life, figures that bewitch and figures that enrage. I approach the figure with suspicion — questioning why it is that so many faces of so many Black people are being drawn, photographed, painted and circulated at this moment in history.

Now and then, I come across figures that feel life-giving causing my suspicion to melt away. 

Damilola Onosowbo Marcus; Untitled, 2021.

Damilola Onosowbo Marcus; Untitled, 2021.

I’m thinking about a series of oil paintings by Nigerian artist Damilola Onosowobo Marcus.

Marcus’ images portray the lived experience of her protagonists through unhurried and shadowy brush strokes — a sensual utterance of regular happenings of our lives.

Each portrayal functions as a conduit for narrative, an archive of feeling and remembering or at least pointing us to ways of feeling and remembering. 

Damilola Onosowbo Marcus; Untitled, 2021

Within these works, spatial connection is articulated through a sense of closeness — between the figures in the frame, the figures and the objects, the figure and the viewer.

Writing on the work of South African artist Marlene Dumas, Emma Bedford notes that for the artist, “notions of intimacy relate not only to loving and relationships, but critically to questions of painting.” Similarly, Marcus’ painting exude a sense of quiet closeness where intimacy is not only experienced but also functions as technique.

Perhaps her acute awareness of how bodies relate to space and to each other is a result of understanding of spatial relations — Marcus received a BA in Architecture from the University of Lagos, coupled with an MSc in Environmental Design.

Damilola Onosowbo Marcus; Untitled, 2021.

Over and above the content of what is depicted is the question of medium and style. Marcus’ work can perhaps be read within a long tradition of portraiture painting. As an artform, portrait painting encompasess representation through which the face and its expressions are predominant.

In Marcus’ work, the opposite is true. Representation exists and yet it is rendered opaque — a slight tilt of the head downwards as a woman assists a child cutting a cake, another child with a blue dress is visible in the background.

Her facial features are undefined and yet her smile remains visible — large, warm and infectious. Through this smooth mode of distortion, the composition is rendered malleable. It allows us to reflect on the different ways in which visibility can be — and should be — complicated.

Damilola Onosowbo Marcus; Untitled, 2021.

Damilola Onosowbo Marcus; Untitled, 2021.

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