Global Detritus & Artistic Renewal: Abdulrazaq Awofeso OUT OF FRAME At Ikon

Writer Harry Croxford / Photographer Jessica Whitty

Abdulrazaq Awofeso is a Nigerian artist and sculptor. He utilises the potential of a seemingly innocuous form of object intimately tied to globalised trade: the pallet. More precisely, he uses the scavenged wood from pallets, lathered in striking and saturated hues of acrylic paint, as his medium.

Awofeso’s work situates itself within a nexus of themes: the migration of capital and its waste by-products, the comparatively restricted migration of peoples, and the community identities behind such processes of global circulation.

His approach is restitutive, additive – pallets are broken apart into fragments, then sawn, sanded, reshaped. This deconstruction that leads to construction is a feature of Awofeso’s work, and it foregrounds the relationship between communities and material.

In Awofeso’s art, identity emerges in sanded, painted, figurations reminding us of the human behind the often-abstract processes of exchange, logistics, transport, and so on.

And Awofeso’s work itself is, likewise, global. Prior to his move to Birmingham, Awofeso exhibited at the Dakar Biennale (2016), STEVENSON Cape Town (2016), and, more recently, Museum Arnhem (2020), among others.

He now brings his work to Ikon. As part of their Arrivals programme, running between 10 June and 29 August, Awofeso’s solo exhibition OUT OF FRAME is spread across the familiar second floor of the gallery and unifies thematic strands concerning global waste, communities, and identities.

In the piece, ‘Komole (Bridal Train)’ which is painted on scrap wood, four figures emerge from a background of wooden planks.

Staples visibly stitch these boards together, serving as the background to four figures, emotive and joyous. These sutured boards are painted over in vivid display. Awofeso manages to capture a dynamism through this playful collation of hue and flowing form, informed by his incessant curiosity about others.

This curiosity is most tangible in the works ‘Komole’ shares a space with: ‘Do You Know Who I Am’. Question or statement? The work’s title prompts us to consider the thirty-one portraits, and the identities of those depicted that scatter the walls.

The viewer is met with a selection of many-coloured portraits, richly saturated colours – ochres, deep reds, violets – line the rest of the gallery in variegating fashion. Still acrylic paint, still on pallet wood. However, no longer are the boards themselves visible. The staples are still there across these many faces, but the wood is shaped and smooth.

These portraits are individual, characterful, and they originate from Awofeso’s past interactions during his return from Lagos to Birmingham in 2021. On this trip he, and his fellow passengers, were held in Amsterdam following the UK bans on arrivals from Nigeria due to Covid-19.

He restores identity and character to the government’s reduction of these individuals to statistics, mere potential risks. As the title of the exhibition indicates, Awofeso’s artistic gaze is on that which is considered ‘out of frame’.

Each figure is therefore, importantly, named. One ‘Headmistress’ smirks at the viewer, her teal goggles and shirt complementing the vivid yellow of her complexion. Another, ‘Blinder’, who dons an ochre suit stares out from beneath his flatcap – a figure those from Birmingham are sure to recognise.

And ‘Robert the Optimist’, his two-shade shirt recalling that of the La Sape’s noted by Awofeso as a cultural influence. He looks out contentedly, embodying his cognomen.

I suspect, here, that the most powerful thematic counterpoints arise when viewing Awofeso’s portraits. Once aware of the material, the pallet wood, and the background to these portraits – one can’t help but contrast the differing forms of migration here.

Our experience of goods on shop shelves is, often, like manna shorn from their origins, the many borders crossed, actors involved, and the circumstances of production are overlooked, they are almost miraculous. In this apparent instantaneity of the imported goods, it is all too easy to forget this complex supply chain and, consequently, of the identities and faces involved.

It is here Awofeso’s work explicitly conveys this undercurrent, juxtaposing that of a free and cross-border migration of goods and capital, with that of the border restrictions nation states place on the migration of peoples.

It is notable that one portrait dons a face mask, a reminder perhaps of another consequence of globalisation.

Vibrant colours reflect vibrancy of character. In ‘Skhothane’, for example, drawn from Awofeso’s appreciation of Skhothane subculture, we find plentiful figures on plinths. Again, vibrant colour captures the bashful jubilancy of these characters. Skhothane emerged in post-Apartheid South Africa, where groups of youths destroy valuable material commodities in extravagant dance battles – destruction, turning commodity to waste via performance art, therefore becomes fundamental for affirming the status and identities of these groups involved.

Finally, to one of Awofeso’s most iconic pieces exhibited here: ‘Avalanche of Calm’ – the culmination of this exhibition. The viewer finally arrives at an expansive scattering of miniature figures under the lush blue of the clouds above. Three thousand figures occupy this space, each constructed from this self-same wood; here behind material we have crowds.

From portraiture, to figural forms, to the mass crowd of these anonymised figures – OUT OF FRAME is a vivacious meditation on globalisation. It is concurrent waste products and artistic reappropriation on the faces, place, and cultures behind the abstract flows of global markets.

Awofeso’s OUT OF FRAME is on at Ikon until the 29 August and is free to attend. For more information visit:

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