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a gentle inoffensive trace

Vida Madighi-Oghu

Vida Madighi-Oghu

A gentle inoffensive trace is an installation that explores the entanglement of colour with space, line, and form.

A series of alchemical experiments permeate the space, observing colour as a medium for transformation, tinkering with aura, memory, and healing.

The installation is the result of an infatuation with a formless force that shapes the way we see.




What is a gentle inoffensive trace? For Madighi-Oghu, it is colour. Colour traces on top of matter. Colour moves across our world. Colour does not damage, corrupt or offend the objects on which it alights, but it does change them. We, in turn, are changed by colour. While Madighi-Oghu’s practice spans painting and printmaking, ceramic and installation, it is colour to which she returns, colour that’s obsessed her as long as she can remember. Specifically, Madighi-Oghu is interested in the ways in which colour behaves when it’s in a state of transformation. A previous series of oil monotypes on paper, Genesis in light speed, saw the artist attempt to capture how colour manifests when it moves through a prism, how subtleties of reflection and refraction can produce such radiant variations on the spectrum.


In this body of work, she continues her meditation on colour through a series of paintings on lining fabric. Experimenting for the first-time mixing pigment in its semi-raw form with linseed oil, Madighi-Oghu was seduced by the liquid consistency of the paint she was able to produce, leaving her with the question, “How do I make this liquid maintain its liquidness?” Oil paint on canvas can be glossy – juicy, even – but ultimately dries. How to capture the painting in a state of flow? Research into vintage Margiela garments fashioned from lining fabric provided something of an answer. Lining fabric is sheer, translucent, and light, almost weightless, providing the perfect base for colour to appear viscous in the three-dimensional world. The fact that lining fabric is most often used for the part of the garment that oughtn’t be seen – the delicate fabrics that brush up against their wearers’ bare skin – was an added benefit for Madighi-Oghu, whose works aims to visualise that which is not ordinarily visible.


Madighi-Oghu describes the process of combining lining fabric with handmade paint as alchemical. She grinds the pigments with a mortar and pestle, gold and bronze particles rising into the air like smoke. Adding the linseed, she transmutes solid powder to liquid colour. She adapts to unexpected chemical reactions between paint and fabric and improvises complementary colour combinations accordingly. By folding, draping, shortening, lengthening and wrapping the fabric around itself, she works with levity and gravity, light and shadow, to make the painting sculptural in a way that’s reminiscent of Sam Gilliam, a major source of inspiration. Performing a delicate balancing act between experiment and play, her intuitive and obsessive way of working has resulted in works that feel altogether prepositional, liminal, caught in the boundary between one state and another.


The inclusion of Nsibidi glyphs at various stages of the process drives this point home even further. Nsibidi is an ideographic writing system developed in Nigeria that has gradually fallen out of usage as a result of colonialism. The artist says that “Language that has undergone erasure is the only thing that can travel between worlds” and accordingly describes the glyphs as “residents of worlds that don’t make sense within ours.” Appropriately, Madighi-Oghu has hidden these subtle marks, these “creatures embodying words,” throughout the works. Painted-over, painted-under, and nestled in between folds in the fabric, these marks suggest the fungibility between worlds, the thin veneer between material and immaterial, matter and memory.


As for that thin veneer, Madighi-Oghu says that there was a story from the Bible that kept popping into her mind while she was working on the exhibition. It speaks about an angel who stirred a pool that would heal the first person to touch it. Madighi-Oghu found herself asking the question, “What would water that was blessed by an angel look like?” These rooms draped in fabric – some naked, other immersed in colour – approach that healing pool.

- Text by Vida Madighi-Oghu and Keely Shinners

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