Mixed media on waxed envelopes
The last interview, oil on canvas, 23x18cm
I know that music leads the way to romance
So if I hold you in my arms, I won’t dance
And that’s why I won’t dance, why should I?
I won’t dance, how could I?
I won’t dance, merci beaucoup
— I won’t dance, Fred Astaire, 1935
In the framework of Limassol Art Walks 2023, The Island Club presents I won’t dance, don’t ask me, a solo exhibition by Annabelle Agbo Godeau.
Through a constellation of paintings on waxed paper envelopes, the exhibition negotiates the notion of “racial ambiguity” and its correlation with gender, focusing on the concept of “passing” and connected racist trope of the “tragic mulatta”: a female character of ambiguous racial background who “passes as white”, developing a conflicted sense of identity and eventually meeting an unfortunate, or even tragic, fate.
The classification of people and populations of mixed ethnic and racial backgrounds has evolved differently around the world, often in connection with the institution of slavery. The southern US states, Caribbean islands and several Latin American countries developed distinct terminologies for referring to people with mixed ethnic and racial backgrounds, and some of these terms were exported to Europe, often with pejorative connotations. Such classifications have also been codified in literature and film through various fictional tropes, most prominently that of the “tragic mulatta”. Tracing back to 19th-century American literature and making a key appearance in books such as Nella Larsen’s Passing (1924), the trope is most famously employed in film in John M. Stahl’s Imitation of Life (1934) and its subsequent remake by Douglas Sirk (1959).
Imitation of Life comprises Annabelle Agbo Godeau’s primary reference in the new series of paintings presented in I won’t dance, don’t ask me—a patchwork of images and text which, rather than aspiring towards a clear understanding of what it means to be “in-between”, seek out a multitude of ways of dealing with the quest of defining oneself.
Container (1), Oil on PVC, 200x130cm
Container (2), Oil on PVC, 200x130cm
Ziegfeld, Oil on canvas, 22x14cm
La théorie du cygne noir, développée par Nissam Taleb, s’applique à un événement
hautement improbable, défini par trois caractéristiques principales : Il
est imprévisible ; il a un impact important et ce n’est qu’après son avènement que
l’on tente de lui apposer une explication qui le rationalise.
« Before the discovery of Australia, people in the Old World were convinced that all
swans were white, an unassailable belief as it seemed completely confirmed
by empirical evidence. The sighting of the first black swan might have been an
interesting surprise for a few ornithologists (and others extremely concerned with the
coloring of birds), but that is not where the significance of the story lies. It
illustrates a severe limitation to our learning from observations or experience and
the fragility of our knowledge. One single observation can invalidate a general
statement derived from millennia of confirmatory sightings of millions of white
swans. All you need is one single (and, I am told, quite ugly) black bird.»1
Les oeuvres présentées dans La théorie du cygne noir proposent deux
scénarios ambigus. Sont représentés ici un objet et un geste a priori ordinaires qui se
métamorphosent à travers le geste pictural. Certaines parties de l’appareil de plongée
prennent un aspect calligraphique, d’autres se muent en formes anatomiques. De
manière similaire, l’ombre chinoise du cygne dépasse son initiateur pour prendre une
vie propre et dérouter le regard.
1 Nissam Taleb, The Black Swan : The Impact of the Highly Improbable, 2007
Catfish, oil on PVC, 230x130cm
Red herring, oil on PVC, 100x90cm
Irma Vep, oil on PVC, 230x130cm
Color chart, oil on PVC, 200x130cm
Painting, historically regarded as the ‘royal road’ of artistic practice, has over the centuries meant that the art form, alongside drawing, served as a foundation for artistic education, where such education was available. The history of western art pedagogy in colonised places across the world often reveals that the colonial government’s rule was indirectly played out in how formal artistic pedagogies were organised. The recent calls for decolonial education around the world – fuelled by the Black Lives Matter and other affiliated movements, as well as the pandemic – have inspired reconsiderations of the human condition and the politics of care. At the same time, these social movements have coincided with a new rise in representational painting that has been critiqued, in the words of artist Olu Oguibe, as “jolly, no-worries, all sunshine and flowers, ebullient wealthy middle-class representation of Blackness...”
The ‘t’ is Silent operates adjacent to this renewed emergence. Departing from the work of Jenny Montigny in MDD’s collection and Oscar Murillo’s Disrupted Frequencies, this exhibition focuses on artists and works that record time differently, works that are about painting or that think through the medium of painting as a form of journaling – of working things through and of learning anew.
“The artists featured in this exhibition face history and the present by embracing ‘trouble’ and a kind of ‘paining’ that forces one to decide, in a time marked indecision. Where objects disappear, they are replaced by feelings and energy; where they appear they are being dissected in order to uncover another world of possibilities.” – Gabi Ngcobo
A work of fiction, Oil on canvas, 60x50cm
The repentant Magdalena, Oil on canvas, 60x50cm
The Venus effect, Oil on canvas, 60x50cm
Paola, Oil on canvas, 60x50cm
Gender Reveal, Oil on canvas, 38x28cm
Too good to be true (1), Oil on canvas, 23x18cm
Point of terror (1971), Oil on canvas, 23x18cm
Mon oeil, Oil on canvas, 23x18cm
Inferno, Oil on canvas, 23x18cm
Peeping, Oil on canvas, 100x80cm
Hausu, Oil on canvas, 100x80cm
Old erotic magazines from the 60s and 70s, movies, extracted ﬁlm stills and found footage serve as the basis and source of inspiration for her paintings. Being drawn to very staged and artiﬁcial appearing images and scenes, it is no surprise that the color blue remains dominant in many of her paintings. Her choice of colors mainly represents the night and artiﬁcial light, creating a cinematographic atmosphere that can easily be associated with a certain kind of loneliness and mysterious mood.
Godeau’s work circulate around ideas of femininity and identity, challenging the terms as the clearly deﬁned binary concepts that society views them as. The paintings for Too good to be true deal with the perception of the other and the act of self-dramatization, resulting from consumed content and learned ideals. Whether it is a painting of a woman literally trying to wash out her eyes from the advertising and images she has consumed, or a painting of a piece of paper with a catchy slogan aimed at selling photographs of women—Godeau holds up a mirror to society with a humorous wink, questioning its notion of femininity and womanhood and critiquing the truncated portrayal of women in the mass media, which often reduces them to something consumable.
By citing these images, playing with clichés and placing them in new contexts and relations, Godeau also reﬂects on her own gendered gaze and interest in the representation of women and invites the viewer to do the same.
– Amira Hartmann
How do you want her ?, Huile sur toile, 130x100cm
Die eiserne hand, Huile sur toile, 130x100cm
Destination finale, Huile sur toile, 100x75cm
Proper insertion, Huile sur toile, 16x24cm
Prothese, Huile sur toile, 24x16cm
Sans titre, Huile sur toile, 24x16cm
Good hygiene, Huile sur toile, 16x24cm
Photos : Philip Frowein