Leo Asemota: The Avatāra Suite


TAFETA, United Kingdom

07.10.2015 - 03.11.2015

Artist: Leo Asemota



The exhibition consists of a set of six hard ground etchings on overpainted photographs, that according to the artist, completes Count Off for Eo ipso, a live art work staged in the Tate Modern Tanks in 2012. The performance was conceived as a prologue to Eo ipso, the last component in The Ens Project, an artwork Asemota has assiduously been working on since 2005. Combining, as its conceptual basis, the Project’s evolution with Tate’s conversion of architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s Bankside Power Station, the performance enacted hiː, the completed alternating lifecycles in the transfiguration of The Handmaiden, a creative being central to Eo ipso; hiː is a concept in the Edo people of Benin’s cosmology of birth and reincarnation.


These new etchings, which are also the artist’s first, are based on his photographic work Avatāra from Count Off for Eo ipso. In Sanskrit, avatāra describes the purposive ‘descent’ of a soul in bodily form on earth; in the English language “avatar” is the materialization or embodiment of a person or idea. Asemota’s characterisation of the famed architect, who he uses as an avatar for The Handmaiden are depicted within these prints, as traces of key moments in the performance when the creative being engages with the materiality of a previous lifecycle: palm oil, orhue (kaolin), iron, brass, coal and coral, rendered in the colours of the overpaint in each print in the set. These materials remain key to the evolution of The Ens Project, retaining multi-layers of significances and memories in time, condensing matter, actions and imagery present in the Project.


Leo Asemota | The Avatāra Suite is organized by Inês Valle in close collaboration with the artist as part of a series of public presentations on The Ens Project in the lead up to Eo ipso. The Project is originally founded on three sources: Nigeria’s Edo people of Benin’s rich culture of art and ceremony and their time-honoured Igue rite to the Head; Victorian Britain’s history of invention, exploration and conquest in which the sacking and looting of the former Kingdom of Benin is of interest; and the essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, by the German cultural theorist Walter Benjamin (1892 – 1940). The Ens Project to date comprises three phases: First Principles (2005 – 2008), The Handmaiden (2009 – 2012) and Eo ipso, which began in 2012 and is ongoing.




Leo Asemota (born in Benin City, Nigeria) lives and works in London. The artist has exhibited widely in solo shows, group shows and performances some of which were held at the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (2014), the British Museum, London (2013), the Contemporary Rooms at EoTLA (2013), Tate Modern (2012), Justina Barnicke Gallery, Toronto (2012), New Art Exchange, Nottngham (2011), Centrum Beeldeende Kunst Zuidoost, Amsterdam (2010), Metal, Liverpool (2010), Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam (2009), Autocenter Berlin (2009), Book Art Bookshop, London (2009) St. Paul’s Cathedral, London (2008), Bodhi Art, New York (2008) and National Portrait Gallery, London (2008).


Benjamin, Benin and Britain: A Diamond Jubilee Discussion, a symposium on The Ens Project was held at the British Museum in 2012.

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