Emmanuel Osahor. I Have Been Thinking of my Mother’s Garden, 2021. Oil on unstretched canvas, Overall: 243.8 × 172.7 cm. Purchase, with funds from the Friends of Global Africa and the Diaspora, 2022. © Emmanuel Osahor, courtesy Nicolas Robert Gallery
On Level 4 of the AGO, two works on view offer up a poignant interpretation of this sentiment. I Have Been Thinking of my Father’s Garden (2021) and I Have Been Thinking of my Mother’s Garden (2021) by Nigerian-born Emmanuel Osahor are large-scale oil paintings cut from the same unstretched, unprimed canvas, hung delicately on the wall like tapestries. Look closely and you’ll see that Osahor applies lush greens, bright yellows, dusted roses and subdued blues in layers – thinning, dripping and splattering paint across each canvas. Recently acquired after Art Toronto 2021, these paintings join the growing collection of works as part of the AGO’s Arts of Global Africa and the Diaspora department led by Dr. Julie Crooks, including those by Bidemi Oloyede and Moridja Kitenge Banza, two other contemporary African artists with ties to Canada. Born in Lagos, Osahor immigrated to Canada over a decade ago and has since earned a BFA from the University of Alberta and an MFA from the University of Guelph. The recipient of the 2021 Plaskett Award, his work has been featured in solo and group exhibitions.
With their haziness and faint outlines, these works, along with others from Osahor’s ongoing series of garden paintings, immediately draw viewers in. Osahor’s gardens, though beautiful, are complex, mysterious, and even a bit uneasy. They are, in fact, abstracted cultivations evolving from his original photographs and imagined realms, underlined with a sense of tension. Oshaor frames the home garden as a sanctuary – a contested site for refuge from racism and systemic hostilities facing Black communities. As their titles suggest, each of these paintings is named after Osahor’s mother and father, allowing them to act as stand-ins for the recreational gardens that neither parent ever had or has time for. Further, Osahor echoes his own experiences as a Nigerian moving to Canada, grappling with and adapting to the Canadian ways of life. His artistic process of cultivating an imagined oasis parallels the process of tending to one’s real-life garden, or better still, the human impulse to care for oneself. These works evoke a longing to manifest something, somewhere better. “By prioritizing an engagement with beauty,” Osahor has described, “my paintings offer a space where one can be held in a space of care predicated by an experience of beauty. I have begun to see this engagement with the garden and beauty as a necessity for survival, and a precursor to thriving in the midst of today’s marginalization and systemic inequality.”
Emmanuel Osahor’s I Have Been Thinking of my Father’s Garden and I Have Been Thinking of my Mother’s Garden are both on view on Level 4 of the AGO. In Murray Frum Gallery, AGO visitors can also see Christ Pantocrator No 13 (2020) by Congolese-Canadian artist Moridja Kitenge Banza, as part of the installation Et La Lumière Fut (And There Was Light); another work from the Arts of Global Africa and the Diaspora Collection.