But First, We Must Cleanse Our Palates
What will we eat today that we haven’t eaten before? How might we be fed in a way that engages not just the palate but activates all five senses to heighten an immense and imminent pleasure – one which we have denied ourselves for so long whilst watching others revel the fullest spectrum of emotion possible, whilst settling for a much quieter, less tasty, and cheap thrill? Each Adelaide Damoah work is akin to the satisfaction felt when remembering a wholesome meal. The taste and the feelings that return to you periodically, during the middle of the day, whilst eating something mundane to keep you going or in the quiet of the night when you can’t sleep and the moon shines fully, gazing at you through the delicate lace that covers your window, reminding you that joy does exist and that you have experienced it. There is much that food offers us. Aside from its nutritional qualities, food is a point of social and cultural and even spiritual connection – through its absence and the act of fasting.
The act of abstaining or denying oneself tangible food in favor of achieving a heightened spiritual clarity. A clarity that enables us to look deeper within and tell ourselves the truth about who we are and who we hope to be. Let us explore the concept of denial, which is often at the forefront of the Black experience. We have, historically, and still till this present moment, experienced the denial of equality, opportunities, being believed, rest, the ability to be angry without fear of it being weaponized as a threat, joy without limits, and a pleasure that is for our gaze and our gaze alone. For our suffering has become a delectable meal for others whilst poisoning us slowly and without mercy. There is often a pressure for Black artists to create work that centers on themes of pain, suffering, and trauma – and it is not to say that this is not part of the human experience, but this expectation to produce such work, constantly, can rob them and us of the tenderness that they deserve to feel. As an artist from the African diaspora, there is an inherent complexity
Moonlit Power (2021); Pigment and ink on canvas; 190 x 200 cm
within Damoah’s work. The reconciling of the histories that exist within her and are retold and relived in the context of harsh climates. Western shores that politicize her body to afirm it as radical, thus stripping it of the joy that it harbors. Her body as the physical manifestation of the collection of essays, edited by Akwugo Emejulu and Francesca Sobande, To Exist Is to Resist (2019). As a black woman to be in a position, such as Damoah, where she is experiencing pleasure through her own body, is an act of resistance in itself. An act of radical joy.
Her body as griot, as stylus, as paintbrush. The colors used in this body of work differ from Damoah’s usual choice of reds, blues, and gold, which speak to various points of reference. The joy that she derives from hues of blue seen in the works of artists such as Lisa Brice and Yves Klein and are calming and cool like a tall glass of water to reds, which run and trigger images of blood and the violent legacies of colonialism, to the gold that speaks to the rich history of the Gold Coast, Ghana, her country of origin.
Instead, we are embraced by an exciting array of juicy colors that you can almost certainly taste, hear, and feel. A palette reminiscent of sherbet sweets – hot and coral pinks that Damoah delighted over as a child, citrus yellow and lime greens. Sweets that are synonymous with a joy that is pure and untainted as they are rooted in a childlike desire, a childish pleasure, which is free and capable of surrender. Desires that, as adults, we deny ourselves of as there is much that dictates what we can and what we can’t have. Things that we know we are ‘not supposed to have’ but crave and so grant them in low quantities and in secret. Damoah’s paintings offer a level of intimacy – the repetition of hands through the work feels like her offer to hold us whilst simultaneously beckoning us to take pause and look at how it is that we hold ourselves – and a level of care that cannot be found in external sources as it is harbored deep within us. It is us. The poetic nature of the works offer an insight into Damoah’s writing practice, which is deeply personal and so emerges through these nuggets that remind of Nikki Giovanni’s “A Poem on Friendship”:
We are not lovers
because of the love
but the love
We are not friends
because of the laughs
but the tears we save
I don’t want to be near you
for the thoughts we share
but the words we never have
I will never miss you
because of what we do
but what we are
“A Poem on Friendship”
Each line as a statement of fact, but when together a narrative that tells of our hopes to preserve intimacy. A baring of her soul which is often heavy due to the responsibility of feeding everyone else. What we feed ourselves spiritually and emotionally is just as important as the physical. These works serve as an amuse bouche to help us make sense of the contradiction that life is. Can we change our diet without guilt? A reminder
that without experiencing pain, we cannot possibly know what pleasure is and that pleasure can and does exist beyond the erotic. A prompt to live fully and an outward declaration of visibility asking us not to ignore ourselves. Take this as an invitation to explore all that we suppress in the name of that which has been projected on to us, and so does not belong here. Listen to yourself and surrender to demands of your mind, body, and soul.
It‘s 3 a.m. and One of the Most Intense, Spiritual, Divinely Feminine, Creative, Sexual Experiences Just Happened in My Brain While I Slept off the Pain (2021); Pigment on canvas; 153 x 102 cm
Péjú Oshin is a British-Nigerian curator, writer, and educator based in London. Her work explores liminality in culture, identity, and the built environment through working with artists, archives, and cultural artefacts to create and further explore shared experiences across a global African diaspora.
Péjú has a history of supporting young and emerging artists and cultural producers through her work at Tate, The Barbican and the Wellcome Trust, and others. She is an Associate Lecturer at Central Saint Martins, having taught on courses in the Fashion and Culture & Enterprise departments. She is the author of Between Words & Space (2021), a collection of poetry and prose, and was shortlisted for the Forbes “30 Under 30 Europe” list in the “Arts & Culture” category in 2021.
Péjú currently works at Tate as a Curator for Young People’s Programmes. She is co-chair of Tate’s BAME network and Chair of the Trustees of Peckham Platform.
To view/download the full catalogue also featuring an essay by Peju Oshin and an exclusive interview with Damoah and Sakhile Malthere of Sakhile & Me, please click this link.