For Art Basel 2022, Rele Gallery will present new paintings by Tonia Nneji from her series ‘Uncommon Lands, Common Grounds’ that further investigates the nature of commemorative religious fabrics. The works here explore the roles these objects play outside of familiar contexts and landscapes, considering the ways in which they transcend notions of place and belonging.
Fabrics serve numerous roles within religious societies in Nigeria— especially in pentecostal and orthodox churches — taking on qualities from the associative to the commemorative. They serve as markers of events and periods as well as tools of recognition, status and solidarity among members. Drawing from research and personal experiences travelling across parts of the West, the works in this series create imaginative scenes that examine the new meanings these fabrics take on in diasporic environments. In ‘Uncommon Lands, Common Grounds’, Nneji is concerned with exploring the movements of beliefs and religious identities across borders. She is particularly interested in the ways in which adherents of Christian faiths especially women, carry elements of their faith outside of their home countries/communities.
This conflation of cultures — between Nigeria and the West — raises questions surrounding the almost ironic transnational movement of religion and spirituality, considering that Christianity remains one of the major exports of colonisation. It explores issues of urban migration, the role of the migrant in the [re]propagation of ideology and the qualities of fabric as a vessel of ideas and histories. The works in ‘Uncommon Lands, Common Grounds’ also situate these fabrics as social objects of commonality and sameness against the often alienating environment of the diaspora. They serve as a testament to a marginal community existing in unfamiliar terrains. Nneji’s incorporation of textile designs from women and men organisations across parishes in the Catholic Church — of which she’s a member — as well as other Pentecostal churches in Nigeria serves as a reference to the movement of not only individuals across borders but also the echoes of community, one rooted in shared values and identity. The individual as a signifier for the many.
‘Uncommon Lands, Common Grounds’ is designed as a journey through spaces and cultures, presenting the viewer with scenes of transition and permanence, belief and community and the enduring nature of human faith.