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No Wahala

No Wahala
signed and dated 'Joy Labinjo Sept 2019' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
78 7/8 x 59 1/8in. (200.3 x 150.2cm.)
Painted in 2019
Tiwani Contemporary, London.
Private Collection (acquired from the above in 2019).
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Newcastle, Baltic Art Centre, Joy Labinjo: Our Histories Cling To Us, 2019-2020.
Special notice
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent. Cancellation under the EU Consumer Rights Directive may apply to this lot. Please see here for further information. This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

Brought to you by

Tessa Lord
Tessa Lord Director, Senior Specialist

Lot Essay

Included in Joy Labinjo’s first major solo institutional exhibition at Baltic Art Centre, Newcastle, in 2019, No Wahala is a vibrant large-scale example of her distinctive figurative practice. Against a pink backdrop bedecked with abstract plant forms, three figures—a man and two boys—stare out of the canvas. Their suited attire, complete with buttonhole flowers, suggests an excited moment of anticipation before a wedding: the work’s title translates as ‘no problem’ or ‘no worries’ in Nigerian Hausa. Raised in Dagenham and Stevenage during the 1990s and 2000s, Labinjo draws upon her dual British and West African heritage, depicting scenes inspired by her family’s photograph albums. Intimately observed amid bright, semi-abstract interiors, works such as the present explore themes of memory and belonging, asking how family traditions, race and culture combine to shape our identity. Labinjo has risen to critical acclaim in the past few years: awarded the Woon Foundation Art Prize in 2017, she featured in the Royal Academy’s 2020 Summer Exhibition, and will reveal a new public mural—commissioned by Art on the Underground—at Brixton Station later this year.

Labinjo takes her place within a celebrated generation of young black figurative artists, including Tschabalala Self, Kudzanai-Violet Hwami and Toyin Ojih Odutola, as well as Lynette Yiadom-Boakye and Njideka Akunyili Crosby—both of whom she greatly admires. Though inspired early on by painters such as Lucian Freud and Jenny Saville, whose influence is apparent in her candid human observations, Labinjo’s practice took flight when she began to research the 1980s British Black Arts Movement during her degree. Feeling isolated among a largely white student population at Newcastle University, she found particular affinities with the work of Sonia Boyce, Claudette Johnson and Lubaina Himid, and their engagement with themes of racial identity. Labinjo realised that her parents’ photos—documenting family gatherings, life events and relationships over a twenty-year period—offered her a rich springboard for exploring black subjects in everyday settings. Though her practice is not explicitly political in tone, she responded to the Black Lives Matter movement last year with a series entitled The Elephant in the Room. Examples of her work already reside in institutional collections, including the UK Government Art Collection and the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

Paintings such as No Wahala are born from a complex working method. ‘I’ll begin by flicking through a photo album and from that I’ll get quite a few ideas’, explains Labinjo. ‘Next, I’ll scan or photograph all the photographs that have caught my interest into my laptop and go from there. I’ll look at them on the computer and experiment with composition and colour. Cropping and layering the parts I’m really interested in’ (J. Labinjo, quoted in ‘Morley Gallery Presents Joy Labinjo: Belonging’, Alt A Review, January 2018). The artist also looks to other digital sources, scouring Instagram, Flickr and her own camera reel for inspiration. Once her composition is assembled, she sketches the image directly onto canvas before picking up her paintbrush, often using brightly coloured household paint alongside acrylic and oil. The result, as demonstrated here, is a visual language that sits somewhere between fiction and reality, capturing the fragmentary process through which we come to discover our sense of self, and our place in the world.

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