North Texas Daily

University alumna featured in Dallas exhibit exploring spirituality

University alumna featured in Dallas exhibit exploring spirituality

University alumna featured in Dallas exhibit exploring spirituality
September 07
12:09 2023

Nigerian-born university alumna Atinuke Adeleke is just trying to make sense of the world.

Through every sculpture and piece of jewelry, she tells a tale of her evolving identity as an immigrant, a mother and an artist. Now, she has an origin story to tell – not just hers, but all of ours. 

Adeleke teams up with Dallas-based Pan-African artist Omar Aspirilla to explore the intricacies of human spirituality and inner divinity in their exhibit “Who is God?” Located in the Daisha Board Art Gallery, the exhibit tells a new type of creation story by branching out from the spiritual conceptions pre-established by organized religions.

Nothing about Adeleke’s work is random – the creation process is often a means to resolve an inner struggle. Everything, from Adeleke’s technique to the materials she employs, is faithful to the plans drawn in her sketchbook. 

Of all Adeleke’s pieces in the gallery, her most difficult work to create was a wall panel called “Ogiri Iranti.” The creative process alone took nearly two years, but Adeleke remained steadfast because she felt its story needed to be told.

“It kept moving and changing, and the idea kept growing,” Adeleke said. “Eventually, it was the last semester of my third year […] and I sat down with it and I was like, ‘Okay, I think this is it.’”

The panel uses copper-plated, 3D-printed wooden figurines to symbolize aspects of her experiences. A glimmering chameleon symbol juts out of the panel, representing the adaptability required of many immigrants. Hovering at the forefront is a galloping cheetah, denoting Adeleke’s acceptance of self.

At the front of the gallery lays “Aworan,” a table-like sculpture shaped like a tree bark cell. Adeleke’s works span many forms, from jewelry to fibers, but wood remains a constant medium.

Almost every one of Adeleke’s pieces is rife with symbolism and references to traditional Yoruba beliefs. “Aworan”’s pale yellow rings that circle the sculpture’s flat surface mimic the appearance of a tree stump, a nod to each human being’s layered existence and the inherent connection between God and all creations. 

The exhibit is the brainchild of Nickolas Gaines, Daisha Board Gallery’s chief curator. While studying at a conservative, white seminary in Chicago, Gaines found that much of his Black Pentecostal family’s religious practices were demonized by his instructors. It was not until he traveled around the world as a chaplain in the U.S. Army that he realized there were a myriad of ways to think of God and spirituality. 

Gaines’ said his intention for the exhibit is to push Black people to rethink whatever spiritual worldviews they have been taught in exchange for exploring their own relationship with the divine. As curator, Gaines designed the exhibit to tell the creation story through the lens of a Black woman and man.

“I want people to have an opportunity to examine and deconstruct, apply what works and throw away what doesn’t,” Gaines said.

Adeleke’s own self-examination is what pushed her toward the art scene to begin with. She started off with an undergraduate and master’s in law, but started an adornment brand a few years after moving to the U.S. Within 10 years of operating the business, Adeleke was featured in New York Fashion Week, Kansas City Fashion Week, CNN and FOX TV. 

Though “Who is God?” was scheduled to end Sept. 16, the gallery extended the exhibit’s opening dates until the end of the month, partly to gain more foot traffic. Gallery owner and New York City native Daisha Board handpicked Adeleke for the exhibit after encountering her at an art fair. Impressed, Board reached out to Adeleke as soon as the gallery had an opening. 

“[Atinuke’s work is] powerful, powerful, strong, very much rooted in her culture and her history,” Board said. “There’s so many different elements of seeing a Black woman creating […] a sculptural piece that has so much dimension and meaning behind it.” 

The opening ceremony of “Who is God?” took place just months after Adeleke received her MFA in Studio Art, a feat she found incredibly surreal. 

“I think for me, the show was the universe telling me, ‘Good girl, you’re on the right path,’” Adeleke said. 

Featured Image: Omar Asprilla (left) Atinuke Adeleke (middle) and Nickolas Gains (right) pose outside of the the Joule Hotel at the Daisha Board Gallery in Dallas, Texas on Sep 2, 2023. Alaina Jones

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Hana Musa

Hana Musa

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