Taking an initial glance at the works of art that make up the Inside Out solo exhibition by Nigerian multidisciplinary artist Dennis Osadebe, it’s not easy to decide what strikes you first—the bold colors, the cartoon-like style or the solitary figure looking at you through an animated face mask.
Currently on display at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA) in Brooklyn, Inside Out is the museum’s first indoor show in 18 months since it temporarily closed its doors due to the pandemic.
The exhibition can be explored in person in the arcade-like installation or viewed virtually from home to interact with the bold world that Osadebe has created, with characters living ordinary lives that viewers can perhaps relate to.
Artist Dennis Osadebe at work in his studio
Comprising a virtual display of works across Osadebe’s career, the works in the show explore themes of isolation, safe spaces and identity with Osadebe’s signature post-pop Afro-surrealism. They feature the artist’s instantly recognizable flat planes, geometric shapes and vibrant colors, which are employed with the purpose of reimagining Africa as a futuristic environment, where change is possible.
With artwork given titles such as “Isolation” and “Home Alone”, it’s clear that the solitude and vulnerability caused by the coronavirus pandemic was an inspiration. Through the vivid and provocative imagery, the artist captures the way of living that has become the new normal today, from the multiple delivery boxes that tell the tales of too much online shopping to the plants that many of us have acquired in high numbers.
“Isolation” by Dennis Osadebe
The mask motif has existed in Osadebe’s work for years, fashioned after the traditional Nigerian face coverings worn at masquerade festivals, but this time around, it takes on a different tone. As the mask hides the face of the figure, it also masks the fear, anxiety or pain that the character—or the viewer—may be feeling.
The mask can also be seen as a form of armor that we wear to shield ourselves from the realities of life. Inside Out asks viewers to consider whether the masks we wear protect us from public harm or in private spaces, or what safe places really mean to us in the current environment.
“Still Life With Some Guy” by Dennis Osadebe
The exhibition is presented alongside “Playful Rebellion”, an interactive game created by the artist that merges visual art and gaming in an exploration of the power of play and its ability to forge communities. Designed to address police brutality in Osadebe’s native Nigeria, which sparked the #ENDSars protests in 2020, the game invites the player to attempt the task of catching a school bus while evading police officers. The game takes a simple act that is performed daily by schoolchildren across the world and highlights the challenges that many others face in the same regard.
Inside Out is on at the MoCADA Museum, New York until 13 February, 2022