Bringing the self to new dimensions, Bunmi Agusto, a Nigerian artist based in London enshrines her background and consciousness in dark and ethereal realms that she dubs “within." The works reveal an allegory occurring in a world only perceived by the self, continuous and ever-changing. A graduate of Ruskin School and a recipient of the Mannsfield Ruddock Art Prize, Agusto was named one of Bloomberg’s new contemporaries for 2023. Her talent for innovation and the translation of her lived experiences have seen her star rise in a short amount of time.
Amongst the figures, colours and geometric patterns, Agusto captures the inner workings of the mental development of an individual as well as recounting experiences through the lens of her paracosm. Reflecting on her development, the artist’s vision laces with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of Good Health and Wellbeing.
“The Within” showcases a plethora of aspects that combine to form a cultural and psychological depiction of a metaphysical world. The works use several muted colours alongside detailed figures completing tasks and wandering through the plains seemingly trying to reach a higher land. A recurring motif is the inclusion of braided hair as a prominent component of several pieces such as her work on Apparitions fly past Umbanda. The braids in this case represented a sense of both familiarity and centeredness. The pencil-drawn columns of braided hair from a womb-like shape represented the childhood development of the artist.
One of Agusto’s earlier works Introspection Within The Mental Landscape was done during her relocation to England. The difficulties a young individual may face in an unfamiliar land in which isolation may negatively affect the mental health of those who feel excluded through their circumstances. Often the self may become strained when exposed to a new culture and societal expectation. The artist demonstrates the desire to have a strong grasp on one’s identity and solidify that sense of self by continuing to remember and repurpose those thoughts.
“I felt the need to find a sturdier sense of self since I now lived in an even more vastly multi-cultural country, so I ended up going through family archives and my memories to further understand I thought I was in different contexts,” said Agusto in an interview with CassArt.
Lagos remains a location near and dear to the artist, the city is often referenced in her work as a location that contributed to the mental development that is captured in works like Ceremony in a collaborative exhibit with Chukuwudubem Ukaigwe the artist’s developed a story in light of the protests that had occurred due to public outcry for an end to police brutality in early 2021.
The piece is an allegory describing the oppression which young Nigerians are expected to bear nearing its breaking point. The painting depicts the joining of two fictional peoples representing the traditional and the current individual. A connection between these two is formed with the dreams of the latter with them awakening enlightened and having a better understanding of both themselves and the society they exist in.
Escapism is the main theme of these works, when attached to the terms “hybrid” and “alien” one can connect with the fantastical, cultural works of Agusto. The reflection of the psyche is the chaos of its growth as it weaves memories and concepts both current and ancient. The works reveal a comfort that at first appears unfamiliar yet deeply personal.
Bright colours mixed with dark and washed-out tones allow even more subdued tones and textures to stand out. The braids are always done in pencil as posed to the rest of the painting giving every work depth that reflects the artist's journey and self-development, it also acts as a metaphor for the inside of the artist's mind in which many people wander the Within and become a part of the artist’s world as they traverse the great plains of braids, lizards and spirits.
Agusto’s pieces are a refusal to be disconnected by space, the works assure the audience that connection is a matter of the mind and not where someone is located. Many immigrants living in the diaspora struggle to cope with new cultures and environments they are not acclimated to, the artist provides them with a message that this bond is not something they can lose.
At the crossroads of mental health, diaspora and escapism her art has shown to all living outside their homelands that home remains in the head.