On Becoming a Star…: Yétúndé Olagbaju @ pt.2 Gallery, Oakland
pt 2. Gallery is pleased to present On Becoming a Star..., a solo exhibition by Yétúndé Olagbaju (they/them). For Olagbaju’s first solo show with the gallery, the artist presents paintings, sculptures, drawings, and video that explore their ongoing relationship to Mammy, the pair’s forceable approximation, and the liminal space the two occupy. Exorcising pages from a 1997 book called “Black Collectibles: Mammy and Friends”, Olagbaju exhibits their process in the insurmountable work of liberating Mammy. Olagbaju traverses Mammy from her exhaustive cultural, political and racial manifestations and situates her as nebula through colorful gradient lifeforms that challenge the viewers perception of Mammy’s legacy in an imagined world where she is constantly reflecting back to herself.
On Becoming a Star... highlights Olagbaju’s entrypoint to a meditative practice of healing which began in 2016 after being called a Mammy in undergrad; sitting with the resemblant constitution of their bodies, mannerisms, and what’s perceived to distort what is known. The artist’s engagement in this practice of intuitive embodiment is seen in previous works like For Edmonia (2020-present) and Clean (A Closing For Nancy Green) (2020).
Static imagery of Mammy is set in motion through obscured views of her image where she is the magician. Mammy duplicates herself, obstructs your view, disappears, reappears, and is sometimes personified through Olagbaju’s self. Olagbaju imbues their canvases with an energetic vigor and personal likeness where Mammy refuses to be placed or fixed - actively rejecting the burden of caretaker or the unmoving family heirloom.
On Becoming a Star..., is the first public introduction of sculptures into Olagbaju’s practice. Mammy is transformed into a bust cast in bronze. A fluid thumbprint in the place of facial features activating Mammy beyond what can be discerned in a knowable world. Situated amongst large canvases, the sculptures provide a 3-d view of the many forms Mammy encompasses using masterful magicianry.
Olagbaju engages Mammy in a different kind of work; a labor that honors the worlds she’s built and the tools she’s used on her journey. Spiders and their webs, seashells, stars and interstellar containers act as a core of care for a figure who is often the caregiver. Mammy is rendered active and her presence is contained within vibrant multicolored calabashes.
As Olagbaju explains, they are “sifting through the burden of self-sacrifice”, in their process to acknowledge the breadth of Mammy’s legacy. —Taylor Brandon