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Barry Yusufu, "In Loving Memory of Love"
Barry Yusufu, "In Loving Memory of Love"

Barry Yusufu, "In Loving Memory of Love"

7 - 28 September, 2023

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Time & Location

07 Sept 2023, 11:00 – 28 Sept 2023, 13:00

Africa First x Gordon, HaPelech St 6, Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel

About the Exhibition

View the exhibition video

Africa First X Gordon are pleased to present Barry Yosufu's second international solo and first exhibition in Israel, "In Loving Memory of Love", at the Tel-Aviv Gallery. Barry is one of Nigeria's pre-eminent painters of the current generation. Over the past year, he has worked meticulously to produce 9 impressive works for this show, several of significant scale. In this body of work Yosufu moves on from pure portraiture to more complex interior scenes, alive with human interaction. The works are gentle and full of sensitivity, emanating character, charm and elegance.

Artist Bio

Barry Yusufu, born and raised in Nassarawa State, Nigeria, is an autodidactic painter specializing in the medium of oil. His professional career as an artist began in 2017, a period he describes as a "deep search for a purpose to do more." From a journey of purpose to do more, Barry Yusufu found his voice through art. Growing up with a child's curiosity, he had always wondered why the art he was surrounded by did not include people with an identity like his. Barry's art seeks to tell the stories of "his people's identity and socio-cultural history. His works seek to explore these dialogues while discovering more authentic and identical ways to represent his subject. Strength, hope, vulnerability, brotherhood, culture, and history speaks through Barry Yusufu's works.

Curatorial statement

There is a stuffy room in a corner of your mind. The door is locked, has been for ages, but the window is always cracked open, leaving just enough room for a visitor to climb inside.

Barry Yusufu — a Nigerian artist — squeezes his fingers through the gap and opens the window, releasing a portal of sunlight and fresh air. Strewn about the room are objects that activate memories: a beaded necklace floats in a river of dust on a splintered table; a father’s watch, frozen at a quarter past two, hangs limp from the doorknob. It’s a treasure trove of memories killing time.

“Where did all the love go?” Yusufu ponders as he traces the room with his fingertips, the skin of his hands imprinted by the shape of paintbrush.

For his second solo exhibition, “In Loving Memory of Love”, artist Barry Yusufu presents a series of eight paintings portraying the quiet intimacy of everyday moments. Yusufu harnesses the mysterious current of his nostalgia to untangle a philosophy vast in scope yet cloaked in memories of his life in Abuja, Nigeria. By accessing a particular memory, Yusufu suggests we can tap into a universal experience of love.

Living amidst the political strife of Nigeria during the tumultuous 2023 election, Yusufu tapped into a new form of artistic expression. “An idea is like a burden,” Yusufu said. “It stays with me until I let it out.”

Choosing to focus on the singular details of his memory — the small moments of closeness that often go unnoticed — allowed Yusufu to unearth something bigger. “There’s a time your mom hugged you, or a time when your dad took you to school, it forever remains with you, and you can never part ways with it. These experiences of love are scattered deep in our memory,” Yusufu said. “And we can always connect to them.” 

The paintings have a timeworn quality with the inherent charm of an heirloom object. What is expressed is not a portrait of memory, but an attempt to grasp the ethereal yet omnipresent feeling that is love.

In Don’t worry I’ll fix it for you, for example, a woman helps fix a friend’s hair tie before a party — a moment of closeness nearly unnoticed. Two close friends have an unexpectedly deep conversation in A heart to heart before we step out, representing the catalytic release of emotion within relationships of love.

“The only reason we were put here on this earth,” said Yusufu, “with all these differences, whatever they are, is to learn how to love each other.” The series, then, tows a tenuous, nearly paradoxical line: the nostaligic pinpoints portrayed are so often experienced that they are frequently overlooked or forgotten. But for Yusufu, this is where love lives.

“In Loving Memory of Love” is a play on words: a memory of love, the act of loving memory, and a mourning of memory. When understood as a phrase, it’s assuming a mourning, that love is somehow dead. It’s both a guilt trip, and a soft and sweet command to return to memories of love lying latent within us all. “People might say I have love!” Yusufu said. “Oh, you do? Then go out and show that you have love every day.”

Text by Tess Gruenberg

View Works 

Artist Statement

My art speaks, not only for me but for people who were silenced long ago. I am absorbed by the intricate characteristics that determine society's social and individual identities.

Using oil paint, I reconstruct identities with forms and figures by revealing characters buried deep within the ruins of misrepresentation. This slow drying medium allows for revaluation and revelation, an allegory for rebuilding our collective socio-cultural identities. Presenting my subjects with bronze skin refers to African royalty, connecting the reclamation of our identities with the restitution of cultural and historical objects.

With my art, I am constantly challenging viewers of my work to look beyond the distractions and perceived norms by exposing the uniqueness of my subjects. I am less interested in creating for aesthetic purposes and focused on breathing life into misplaced history, re-telling, and re-documenting our existence, devoid of misrepresentation.

Read more about the Africa First x Gordon Collaboration

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