Rosa-Johan Uddoh: Star Power

24 November 2022 - 14 January 2023

Workplace | 50 Mortimer Street, W1W 7RP


Opening reception: Thursday 24 November, 6 - 8pm

Exhibition opening hours: Tue – Sat, 10 – 6pm


Workplace is pleased to present its first solo exhibition by multidisciplinary London-based artist Rosa-Johan Uddoh, which follows her acclaimed institutional debuts ‘Practice Makes Perfect’ at Focal Point Gallery in Southend-on-Sea and Bluecoat in Liverpool (2021); and the recent publication of her homonymous first book. For ‘Star Power’ Uddoh continues her investigation of Black representation in history and popular culture. Through a series of new collages, an interactive installation and a fifty-five minute long film, the artist discusses what it means to make history and to be excluded from it, and the impact this has on one’s self-esteem and personal development.


The works in ‘Star Power’ are populated by a multitude of figures that oscillate between being symbolic representations of historical and religious characters and real people with lived experiences. It is at this threshold that Uddoh’s practice sits, as she investigates the problematic relationship between tokenisation of Black people and identity formation.


‘You can go ahead and talk straight to me’ is a continuation of a body of work in which images of Balthazar (one of the three Magi and a Christian Saint) are, with the help of researcher Nasra Abdullahi, extracted from paintings across historical periods and geographical locations to be rearranged into friendship groups. Through this process, Uddoh is allowing Balthazar to escape the isolation associated with being the only Black character of importance in Christian iconography whilst also highlighting that the Black figures behind the artistic imagery were real sitters. This is a testament to early African immigration into Europe, a phenomenon often overlooked in mainstream history. The work’s title is a quote from a Toni Morrison lecture about the function of racism, and the denial of the existence of Black life, as a distraction from direct self-expression.


This push and pull between ‘real’ and symbolic representation, carries throughout the exhibition. In ‘Cultural Field’, Uddoh’s most ambitious film to date, directed by Louis Brown and Jos Bitelli, it manifests in the form of a football match in which twelve female, non-binary & trans footballers, activists and performers compete under fictionalised roles such as ‘Tenant’, ‘Colonialist’ and ‘Small Farmer’ for two opposing teams: Anti-Capitalist United and Capitalist City. The football match becomes a humorous and symbolic take of the history-old power struggle for land in the UK. At the same time its unscripted result, which was a reflection of the true personalities and abilities of the individual players, exemplifies the playful and collaborative approach of Uddoh’s works and her attempt to capture the fine line between the real experience versus the roles that we perform.


With special thanks to the collaborators who helped produce the work in this exhibition:

Louis Brown & Jos Bitelli (East London Cable), Nasra Abdullahi, Jessie Krish (commissioning curator of Cultural Field) and Rosemary Uddoh.


Thanks also to generous support from: Space Studios, New Contemporaries, Arts Council England, Central Saint Martins and Liverpool John Moores University.


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