The Journey of the Underdog

Adjani Okpu-Egbe

9th October – 22nd November 2014

PRIVATE VIEW: Thursday 9th October 2014  6:00 – 9:00 pm

Knight Webb Gallery will present THE UNDERDOG, a solo exhibition by Cameroon born artist Adjani Okpu-Egbe at 1:54 The Contemporary African Art Fair at Somerset House, 16th-19th October 2014 stand G1B.

Simultaneously, the gallery will host a solo exhibition of Adjani’s work at its Brixton premises –
THE JOURNEY OF THE UNDERDOG, autobiographical paintings of Adjani’s personal journey as an ‘underdog’.

“One of the most captivating Afro-Expressionist painters of our time” (Sky Vox Africa 2013)

The Gallery will show ten major paintings by Adjani including his largest to date (image above) painted onto four door panels. The work features a self portrait over looked by the giant red fish-like presence of his father, who is faced with a deadly black snake. Other works will include a symbolic painting of the black heroin Mary Seacole who in 2004 was voted the greatest black Briton; and a triptych of contorted female figures in the legendary Mansa Musa’s Harem.

Feelings are Adjani’s most recognizable subject matter. Often using materials as a metaphor for these emotions, items such as bubble wrap and ‘Fragile’ packing tape are used to describe someones delicate state of mind. Through painting onto found objects such as doors, table tops and freely incorporating collages of pill packets and ephemera from his army days, Adjani has the ability to expresses the depression he has suffered at times. He uses the painting process as a healing tool, sharing his emotional experiences with a candid and refreshing honesty.

Cameroon, where Adjani grew up, is often referred to as the melting-pot of African culture. He ran away from home at 14 and abandoned school when he was just 16. Nevertheless, he managed to study and pass his exams and secure a place in The University of Buea. He was later in the British Army for five years, serving in the Middle East. The artist’s cultural disposition together with his academic background (Adjani studied Archeology and History of Political Thought) lead him to question his surroundings. He is eager to recount the challenges he has encountered on his journeys, as a relevant voice, especially to minorities, the disadvantaged or as he prefers to call it, ‘The Underdogs’.

‘The Underdog’ is often associated with an individual or group of people whose socio-political and or cultural disposition is regarded as an inclination towards underachievement. I tend to look at the strength in every weakness and in the case of ‘The Underdog’, that strength spurs them on towards the realization of their goals. This strength may partly lie in the very complacency of their labeler who is often influenced by lack of foresight.

I look at the philosophy of ‘The Underdog’ as an ephemeral psychological label that can be peeled off with motivation, confidence and the determination to succeed. I know of many people who through sheer resilience and unwavering dedication have gone a long way to shrug off the ‘Underdog’ label. Renowned examples are J.K Rowlings’ success after quietly writing the Harry Potter series in cafes and libraries, Nelson Mandela’s defeat of apartheid from prison, and Cameroon defeating defending champions Argentina during the opening game of the FIFA World Cup in 1990 and making it all the way to the quarter-finals. Finally, of course, the biblical battle between David and Goliath serves as a perfect summation and one does not need to be religious to understand it.

The paintings in this exhibition are the stories of an artist who navigates cultures to document the socio-political and economic plight of ‘Underdogs’ anywhere and the naivety of some of the privileged ‘top dogs’ everywhere.”

“Having worked with Adjani since 2012, I have been moved and surprised by his natural ability to recount stories through the medium of paint. Nothing in his work is arbitrary, even painting onto bubble wrap seems reasonable to me now!” Rufus Knight-Webb, Director of Knight Webb Gallery