The official-artistic career of Frida Orupabo developed out of the digital world of algorithms: she was working as a social worker for sex workers and victims forced into prostitution when Arthur Jafa came across her Instagram account @nemiepeba three years ago. It is certainly not a convenient aesthetic that operates Orupabo's feed and that ultimately led her to the Venice Biennale in 2019, but rather a relentless confrontation with omnipresent historical and simultaneously contemporary sociological problems: gender, racism, post-colonialism, violence, identity. Since 2013 the Norwegian-Nigerian artist has collected almost archivally authentic visual evidence distributed in popular media, amongst them photographic and film records of colonial violence and images of women. The imaging sources are multi-faceted; they imply the establishment of an eternal flow of norms yet at the same time dismissing them. Orupabo decodes this ambiguity in her artistic work and scrutinises the existing images constructed by art history, science, pop culture and colonialism, not without evoking others at the same time. She integrates the public image into the self-image and addresses herself to her own origin just as much as to the moral and ethical failures of humanity.
We see a hen mounted on the wall of the exhibition space, made movable by means of paper clips, independent of the status of its vitality. It is a symbol for ritual and sustenance, abstracted from the immediate frame of reference of humans, who since time immemorial are accustomed to subjugate life forms without a second thought and to exploit them for their own good. This hierarchic compulsion does not even spare members of their own species. It is mostly such monochrome works that Frida Orupabo offers to us in the exhibition spaces. The complete denial of colour is thereby not based only on the lack of colour of the archival material or on aesthetic expediency, but instead is deliberately deployed in order to filter and manipulate fundamental essences and intensities. In a six-part photo work, the artist directs our sight from seemingly abstract patterns from nature towards the unsparing documentation of an injection, that appears even more concrete in dialogue with the visually and cognitively mild abstractions. In this, we feel ourselves reminded of the fact that mankind has only ostensibly freed itself from nature; it continues to dominate via aspects beyond our control, such as disease. The human coping mechanism for this disempowerment from the outset has always been religion: the mediating question between mankind and nature, "Jesus?", reminds us not least of the enforced conversion to Christianity in large areas of the colonial territories.
In addition to black/white, there are also impact-suffused colours such as an intensive red an uncompromising, active colour that additionally activates the subjects of the works as well as the performativity inherent in them. The colour accompanies us through the entire space and leads us to a large-scale photograph of a man, revised into a negative. His hat in his hand, he smiles at us in a friendly fashion and one cannot avoid wondering what his story might be. Even without an answer one feels connected to him, and experiences the search, frequently revisited by Orupabo, for the relationship between foreign identity and one's own identity. The fact that this relationship in many cases is not at all comfortable is demonstrated by a video work installed on the floor: due to the placement, the viewer is forced to look down on the groups represented there. This metaphorical staging of perspective taxes our con-science; as in involuntary agent, one becomes a protagonist of an unavoidable situation of discrimination.
In her works, Orupabo introduces almost untold yet ubiquitous narratives that unite the various dimensions of time and reality with one another. This multidimensionality is based not only on the appropriated visual material; instead, Orupabo's works far rather constitute their own proper time that relates to consensual perception. They compel one to look, and return it generally unequivocally; they inscribe themselves irreversibly on our memory and grasp at the collective (un)known. They trigger individually electrifying, emotional chains of association, independent of the personal socio-cultural background; the sum of these chains ultimately coalesces in the works into an unending reception platform that is not dissimilar to the internet. Frida Orupabo's work is timeless, constantly changing, reflecting not only the ephemeral exhibition spaces but also more permanent ways of thinking.
(Teresa Kamencek, 2020, translated by Sarah Cormack)