Emmanuel Awuni: I Know why the Caged Bird Sings / 23 June - 5 August 2023
Emmanuel Awuni (b.1993, Accra) has titled his solo show with Copperfield after Maya Angelou’s 1969 text of the same name, and it is fitting that his first notes on the exhibition came in the form of lyrics or poetry. Angelou, herself a poet, has so well encapsulated the idea of non-violent resistance and growing self-worth through expression, not just in her text but in her title alone that Awuni can extend it to think further about culture, objects, music, people and heritage. While sound and music are at the core of his work, in his own terms, any repressed or muted expression no matter the medium ‘sings’ against the bars when undefeated.
The cage forms a conceptual framework for the show as well as a literal framework, serving as a hanging system for the works. The use of the cage here speaks about far more than human incarceration, though the threat-made-visible here serves as a tangible reminder of that kind of suffering. Cultures, objects and artefacts have their own voice too for Awuni and he considers what theft, displacement and recontextualization does to that song. If the extraction of an endangered tiger and its housing behind bars is justified as being as much for its own protection as for interest then perhaps the traditional museum is a zoo for culture. For every object that is on display, hundreds if not thousands are in cases and crates in storage in their own kind of solitary confinement. Awuni’s own selection of objects and sculptures protrude from iconic blue packing foam in tray frames around the space, some having loosed themselves onto the floor. Some are hand made by the artist, informed by identity and ancestry, while others are evocative found objects that speak of museology and cultural biases. Whether rightly or wrongly, necessary or otherwise, a museum crate is quite literally a padded cell.
While one current in his solo show is more defined, sculptural and recognisable, the other is flying free. Gestural emotive paintings seem to express not only what Awuni feels but the potential of ‘unchained’ objects returned to their heritage – considering perhaps more than the effects of those objects on people but the effect on the objects themselves.
In these works colour has its own symbolism and Awuni unpacks this through poetry.
Oh Black, Black, Black
If you're no colour then what are you?
Spitting fire into dark cages of our mind unlocking spaces to ancestral dimensions
Salvation from unfolding colours charged with fire
sinking into the bottomless pit of darkness
Greens soft like dreams
Swept by the tears of nature
Laugh because the sun gives and take
Seeing through the split tongue of a serpent
Look back, scars from back draw how I walk
Green & purple feel how I be
I be a breeze, A cool cool breeze
A breeze like the unrestrained joy at anything that could fly
Black. Black like the decay in the back of her tooth but she kept the space clean as Jesus clothes
Blue. Blue of a peacock.
A bird that can’t fly because it’s got too much tail
All that jewellery weighs it down.
Red. Blood is thicker than water
The exhibition runs Wed - Sat, 12 - 6pm
23 June until 5 August 2023
Please email for further information and images
b.1993, Accra, Ghana
Lives and works in London, UK
Royal Academy schools
Goldsmiths, University of London BA Fine Art
Walk, Pipeline, London, UK
Lamps, Sundy, London, UK
Hammer, Harlesden Highstreet Gallery, London, UK
Hive instinct, Kunst Museum Solingen, Germany
Short-term pleasure, Long-term pain, Public Gallery, London, UK
KaplanKaplan, Copperfield, London, UK
Exhibition 28: Emmanuel Massillon and Emmanuel Awuni, PM/AM, London, UK
Various Others, Nir Altman, Munich, Germany
RA schools show, Royal Academy Arts, London, UK
Heat, Sadie Coles HQ, London, UK
Reclaiming Magic, Royal Academy of arts, London, UK
Winter/Summer exhibition, Royal academy of arts, London
solo show, online
House of Togetherness, Harlesden highstreet Gallery, London, UK
Premiums, Royal Academy of Arts, London, UK
Goldsmiths degree show, London, UK
Jack Goldhill Award - Sculpture