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Designer Duro Olowu’s exhibition of Dorothea Tanning and Irving Penn

PUBLISHED: 17:00 15 July 2016

Umaskhenkethe / Unomgcana Untitled #1 2012, by Nqaba Courtesy African Artists' Foundation

Umaskhenkethe / Unomgcana Untitled #1 2012, by Nqaba Courtesy African Artists' Foundation

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In an ecclectic show at Camden Arts Centre Nigerian fashion designer Duro Olowu curates photographs, fabrics and weavings that have caught his eye

A curious claim is made by Camden Arts Centre in the publicity for its latest exhibition Making & Unmaking, which brings together works by some 70 artists selected by Nigerian designer Duro Olowu:

“All are things that have been seen from the corner of Olowu’s eyes or link to images and ideas that have been lodged in his memory from childhood and travels.”

These artworks and objects range from Bauhaus tapestries to 19th century African trousers, from the Surrealist soft sculptures of Dorothea Tanning to a photograph by Tony Armstrong Jones.

Olowu describes their common thread as a “process of personal ritual experienced by artists in creating their work”.

Themes include beauty, gender, sexuality, innocence, the body and, perhaps most importantly, portraiture.

Olowu’s interest in apparel as an expression of identity is manifest in Horace Ové‘s aptly titled photograph Walking Tall.

It’s a back view of a spruce black couple, the woman sporting extreme platform-soled shoes, strolling - insouciantly their body language suggests - towards a predominantly white crowd on a London street.

The interest extends to artefacts in Neil Kenlock’s photographic portraits of British Afro-Caribbeans in the richly patterned interiors of their South London homes in the 60s.

Other exceptional photographs are the French artist Claude Cahun’s self-portrait, naked and masked, and a profile shot by American high-fashion photographer Irving Penn of a model in a delightfully dotty but unnerving feathered hat surmounted by a chicken’s head.

Olowu was born in Nigeria in 1965, studied law in England and later pursued a career in fashion, launching his eponymous label in 2004.

Previous exhibitions he has curated brought together discordant colours and patterns and combined antique textiles with his own bold fabric designs.

Innovative use of textiles abounds here, from clothing and furnishings created from large chequered woven plastic bags by Nobukho Nqaba to the Rorschach-like shapes made from fur gloves by Alexandre da Cunha.

West African printed fabrics are present in many forms, including the clothing of two figures by Yinka Shonibare, noted recently for his Fourth Plinth Commission, Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle.

But for many people the lure of Making & Unmaking must be a rarely seen group of weavings and wall hangings by Bauhaus artist Anni Albers.

These are juxtaposed with works by a younger generation of artists whose visual language draws on patterns of abstract forms repeated in waves.

Another engaging, eclectic exhibition in CAC’s programme strand of artist-selected shows.

Until September 18 at Camden Arts Centre at the junction of Arkwright Road and Finchley Road NW3. Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 6pm, Wednesday until 9pm. camdenartscentre.org

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