‘Not On The Menu’ is a new digital work by Gloria Ogunyinka. Accompanying the commission is an interview with the artist.
Can you briefly introduce this commission?
As a direct response to the pandemic, people did the first thing they could to make themselves feel better: consume everything around them. Whether this be watching everything on Netflix, buying clothes and shoes, hell – even running stores out of toilet roll; it’s very clear that society has an issue with consumption. However, it has always had an issue with consuming, and the pandemic simply brought this to light. In this series, I aim to create a world in which consumption has been pushed to its limit, shown through minimal, digital renderings which create a dystopian reality.
Does the theme of unsustainable consumption reflect your research interests prior to the pandemic? Going back to just before Covid took hold, what were your key interests then?
I’ve always been interested in sustainability, more importantly how each individual chooses to define what 'ethical sustainability' is to them. When first going to university, I knew I wanted to be a fashion designer that ran her own business, but as I learnt more about the fashion industry I realised that I was hesitant to actually sell the clothes that I made, as I felt personally responsible for another garment being added into a pile of rubbish sent to landfill. Once you’ve made something and someone has bought it, you have no control over what someone does with it, if they choose to keep it forever until they can’t wear it anymore or if they choose to wear it a couple of times before getting rid of it completely, and I didn’t enjoy that part of it. I guess, before Covid took hold my key interests were in communicating themes I felt were important that I had learnt more about throughout my research. I normally consider my work as 'off on a tangent' work, as it will normally be a result of a tiny thing that has come up during my research that I’ve just ended up running with.
What might be a clue about the future world you imagine in this piece? There is an absence of habitable land in sight, and the debris carried along on the water seems eerily pristine.
When making this work, I imagined a world after all the destruction had taken place. I feel like stereotypically, when you imagine the 'end of the world' you kind of imagine it in 3 stages – where we are at now, then sudden really dramatic tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, and then my work is the final piece – the silence. I kind of imagine a world where there’s nothing but water, and little symbols of a humanity now lost. No humans, no animals, no nothing, just free flowing oceans that are strange in colour. The entire premise of the piece is about how we as a society, or those that are in power, continue to take part in irreversible destruction and that it’s too late to stop climate change, and instead we have to try and do what we can to limit some of the worst effects of climate change. I feel the world that is depicted is supposed to look beautiful, to juxtapose how dark the concept actually is – a world in which we cease to exist purely through our own actions and ignorance.
This digital work marks a new venture in your practice. What was the experience like of working with different processes, and do you have plans to develop this strand of work?
It’s funny, I always think back to A-Level Fine Art where I was absolutely against working on Photoshop as I didn’t understand it and didn’t want to learn how to but when I got to University, as soon as I learnt a little more about it I couldn’t stop and ran with it all throughout my degree, using Photoshop to create some of my digital prints that are dotted throughout my work. I started looking at a means to work digital after the pandemic hit and I felt it wasn’t safe to be going to and from my studio until the world had a better understanding of how bad COVID was. I do really love Photoshop and I love how quickly you can adapt your work, so when I got the hang of Blender a bit I really threw myself into it and tried out as many tutorials and freehand work as I could. I did think that this was going to be a medium I dabbled in briefly, but I can definitely see digital work being a huge part of my practice for the time being as I really explore the relationship between the physical and the digital. I do still make physical garments and I have quite a few crochet pieces that I haven’t shown, but I believe as my work progresses I am going to continue exploring digital work and hopefully look more into VR as that is something I wanted to look at originally when I started my residency at OUTPOST, but didn’t get the chance to.
Photo Credit: Andrew Gooding
You trained in fashion, and founded the menswear label GLRGNYNK, with the debut collection SPOT THE REAL THUG. Can you tell us a little about this and your use of fashion as a medium?
So I graduated from Norwich University of the Arts with a BA Hons in Fashion, where my menswear collection 'SPOT THE REAL THUG' was selected to be shown at London Graduate Fashion Week which was amazing! My collection originally started by listening to a poem I was introduced to during an English class during my GCSEs called ‘Half Caste’ by John Agard (2005), which is inherently a poem about the problematic nature of the phrase 'half-caste'. More specifically, it was the words "yu mean when Picasso mix red an green is a half-caste canvas" that really stuck out, it made me think how when you put it like that, it really brings to light how absurd the phrase 'half-caste' is, yet at 22 people still looked dumbfounded when I explained why you shouldn’t say it! It lead me down a path of textile design, using incredibly bright colours in my garment that were made out of photographs taken during important parts of my youth – a mother/daughter trip to Japan, a photograph of me and my siblings dressed up for Halloween and so on. It reminded me of other sadder points of my youth as well, where I felt I lacked a voice due to some, not all, of my peers questioning how much I could be 'offended' by certain phrases, due to 'not being black' or 'not being white'. It’s obvious how wrong these phrases were, but back then, whilst growing up it was really confusing to articulate those thoughts.
Photo credit: Flora Judy
When beginning my research, I looked into both of my parents’ backgrounds including photos of them when they were young. With my mother’s side of the family being very very big Liverpool fans, I started looking at football kits throughout the years which eventually lead me to football hooliganism in the 80s. This lead me to find an article called 'SPOT THE REAL THUG', which depicted images of two people dressed completely different to each other and 'taught' the reader how to spot which was the football hooligan, and which was your average football fan. In the article, it said: "can you tell the violent thug from the true soccer fan? The bovver-booted model on the left looks ready for a punch-up but the casually dressed model on the right is wearing the new disguise. And he is the real villain.” I feel this struck really interesting parallels for me as to how white men (who have actually committed crimes) are always shown on the media with family photos of them saying that this is 'really out of character' whilst Black men do not get this luxury, even if they haven’t committed a crime. Historically Black men have been painted out to be thugs/criminals for how they dress, even though if a white person dresses the same they aren’t given these descriptions. I felt like with my collection, I wanted to design clothes and invite the audience to spot who the thug was, but my intention was actually for the audience to ask themselves why they’ve decided this person is a thug – how can you guess someone’s character based on how they’re dressed? The definition of a thug is a violent person, especially a criminal. Often, people have called the police on Black people for doing nothing but being Black, and it’s ended up in the deaths of these innocent people (Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner). When asked 'who is the thug?', well that depends on you. If you genuinely feel like you can tell which person is a thug simply based on how they are dressed, then maybe the thug is you.
Photo credit: Flora Judy
I know that literature has often been an important catalyst for your work - in the past you've cited Aldous Huxley, Kafka and Golding’s 'Lord of the Flies' as touchstones. Was there a book, a text or another work that kept you company while working on this commission?
Whilst working on the commission I was gifted Murakami’s 'Kafka on the Shore' (2002), and I was really interested in the symbolism of the shore being the borderline of one's conscious and unconscious mind and how Murakami feels that we are all living on the borderline. I think in sitting back and watching how society functions as well as looking inward and reflecting on how I play a part in society, it has been really interesting to understand that people tend to walk on this tightrope of what they want to do vs what they feel they have to do, especially in response to the pandemic where everyone has felt the 'normality' be snatched from under them and that we didn’t have a guideline of what it is we should be doing. It reminded me of my favourite book series as a child called ‘Gone’ by Michael Grant (published 2008-2019), where the premise is one day everyone over the age of 15 disappears, and the first book is about the teenagers finding it incredibly fun having no adults around, eating dessert for breakfast, playing video games and not having to go to school because there’s no teachers. However the second book, 'Hunger', takes a darker turn where time has passed, there’s still no adults, but there’s a lack of food, children are starving and all the food they did have has now spoiled. It reminds me of society, how we think we have it all together but one little change can send the world we know into chaos, and very quickly we will learn that we cannot survive on our own.
Your practice has developed over the years through fashion, fine art and the digital realm. Was there a work of art or artist, or designer, who made you want to be an artist, or influenced your multi-disciplinary approach?
GO: I’m yet to meet a designer that doesn’t say Alexander McQueen wasn’t a huge inspiration for their work but he really was! I think throughout my practice I had the luxury of seeing his Savage Beauty exhibition at the V&A Museum (2015) several times, as well as continuing to learn about him through Adam Wilson’s book 'Alexander McQueen: Blood Beneath The Skin' (2015) and the McQueen documentary ('McQueen', Ian Bohôte & Peter Ettedgui, 2018), I feel that these intimate conversations about his work and his personality taught me so much about what McQueen was like as a person. I fell in love with his work, but I realised that he was so much more than just a fashion designer, he was a creative director, a set designer, a costume designer, and more simply, a multi-disciplinary artist and that is what drew me to his work as a whole.
During my studies, I also learnt more about Pyer Moss, when I came across his collection in 2016 which aimed to force those in the fashion industry to be aware of the issues of police brutality, showing the horrifying last moments of Eric Garner who died at the hands of a police officer. I was really inspired about how he used his platform to force a conversation that people that weren’t directly affected didn’t want to have and it definitely opened my eyes to other ways of having conversations through an art form.
About Gloria Ogunyinka
Gloria Ogunyinka is a menswear fashion designer and multi-disciplinary visual artist. After showcasing her graduate collection 'SPOT THE REAL THUG' at London Graduate Fashion Week 2019, she has since shown her work at MK Gallery as well as being offered a residency at OUTPOST Studios, in which she showcased her fine art piece, 'The Boys Will Be Their Own Undoing' at the joint exhibition, Doors of Perspective. Her work continues to encircle the concept of an individual's interconnection with society, and the incessant contradiction and juxtaposition of what an individual wants to do, contrailing with what is expected of you. Her work conventionally takes on the incarnation of one's self-interrogation of the great existential question by use of mediums including textile design, video, garment manipulation, as well as curatorial techniques to pose the question: why do we do the things we do, who influences us and how?