March 25 - April 29, 2023
From Fort Works Art:
“FORT WORKS ART is pleased to announce artist Michele Tejuola Turner’s first solo exhibition in the North Texas region, TEJUOLA: LINES OF DESCENT. This exhibition is a retrospective with works spanning a period of over four decades and will be an intimate display of around a dozen gourds, each one recounting personal and collective narratives. Lines of Descent opens on Gallery Night, Saturday, March 25, 2023, with a reception from 12:00 PM to 9:00 PM, and will be on display until Saturday, April 29, 2023.
Tejuola does not fit into any established categories within the art world. Her chosen media is American gourds and African calabashes, which are carved, and hand-painted with narratives of ancestry relating to the African and African American experience. She elevates this traditional craft above that of just an artisan into one of an artist. This is done through her intricate and sophisticated figuration coupled with design elements that together create a visual vocabulary that transforms the craft into fine art.
At the heart of her work, Tejuola is a storyteller. She does not shy away from any subject material and directly addresses issues dealing with diaspora, race, motherhood, and femininity. She explores the intersections of her identity, her ancestors, and the stories of people who could have been her predecessors. Tejuola’s commitment to the organic vessels as her medium displays her devotion to maintaining a connection with her cultural heritage, highlighting “the land and stories that inspire [her].”
Influenced by her early exposure to African culture at the African American Community Center in Atlanta, her ideas began to formulate. Through dance, music, and other various classes at the center, Tejuola met many individuals who would prove to be her mentors in their teachings about their African heritage and culture. She was exposed extensively to the Yoruba priesthood and the dancing and singing that she experienced during the initiation ceremonies had a profound effect on her and the stories that she wanted to begin telling. Her fascination with African myths and folktales began to be explored through her carving and painting of the gourds. It was her way to understand the stories she was hearing in order to create her own personal references to remember.
Tejuola explains the inspiration for these pieces. She says, “Stories drive me. My early work was inspired by stories from West African religion and mythology. In recent years, my focus has shifted to sharing stories that connect to my ancestral past and capture my experiences as an African American woman…”
Seeing that the arduous task of drying the gourd properly to carve, and the physical strength necessary to carve this substrate exists, it is typically dominated by male carvers of the craft. Tejuola is a diminutive figure with an internal roar that is seeking attention for these works and these stories. She has had to find a way to work around this limitation in order to refine her designs and create the depth she seeks in her art. She has achieved this by using an electric tool that gives her a truly unique signature in her carving process, allowing her cuts to be both deep and delicate. After the images and words are engraved to her satisfaction, Tejuola uses acrylic paint to create further dimension and intricacy, pushing her ideas and stories to completion.
In announcing Lines of Descent, Fort Works Art owner & director Lauren Saba stated, “The intensity of Tejuola’s work and rich storytelling can only be understood by looking at these works physically. They have a tactile nature that you want to touch and explore, but instead must remain separated from, only allowed to serve as an observer and a student of her stories. She does not shy away from difficult subject matter and where the audience might relate to some of the themes, most of the stories her work is telling are things many people would rather not discuss. Her ultimate end is to have the world not forget her ancestry.”
Tejuola has had an impressive museum exhibition history, including a major solo exhibition in 2002 when the St. James Museum was reopened as The Cameron Art Museum. She just completed her second show with the Museum in 2022 and is held in their permanent collection, as well as other major museum collections. Her work in the expansive Mott-Walsh Collection will be shown alongside some of the most notable artists whose intercultural experiences have permeated their art in remarkable ways in late 2023.
Showing her work in Fort Worth at FWA will be the first time for the artist to work with a commercial gallery and have her works offered to the public.
About the Artist:
Michele Tejuola Turner was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, the child of two Southern emigres. After graduating from the renowned Cass Technical High School in 1974 and the College of Art and Design in 1978, she worked in retail advertising and designed catalogs and other collateral for department stores. While working in Atlanta, she became intrigued by West African culture and stories and the connections she saw to her own story as a descendant of enslaved West Africans.
In 1993, Tejuola was one of eleven recipients to receive the prestigious Arts International Travel Grant which gave her the opportunity to travel to Nigeria and Ghana, Africa. While there, she was instructed by elder gourd artists, studied Islamic techniques, and was surrounded by the Yoruba culture, all with the goal of learning the various functions of the gourd.
Tejuola’s works have been shown in context in Museum shows with artists including Kehinde Wiley, Beauford Delaney, Omar Victor Diop, Awol Erizku, Jacob Lawrence, Christopher Myers, Ebony G. Patterson, Howardena Pindell, Alison Saar, Yinka Shonibare, and Mildred Thompson, among others. “
Reception: March 25, 2023 | 12–9 pm
2100 Montgomery Street
Fort Worth, 76107 Texas
(817) 759-9475Get directions