Abdul Sharif Baruwa

Galerie Grita Insam

In one of the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, a little girl climbs down a well. Down below, where everything looks identical to our world, she enters the service of Frau Holle, the mythical figure who makes it snow on our earth by beating and airing out the feather pillows. Down below is also up above. The switch between the two spheres is only natural.

Precisely this curious model of the world was evoked by the young artist Abdul Sharif Baruwa, who was until recently a student at Vienna’s Akademie der Bildenden Künste in the studio of Gunther Damisch. This was his first solo exhibition. Under the title “Welcome,” Baruwa exhibited Holzhäuschen (Small wooden house), 2002; Flügelwerkstatt (Wing workshop), 2002, a studio constructed of simple wooden planks for the production of paper angel wings; and various other objects and drawings. A model of the Wing Workshop had hung from the ceiling at the academy’s open-studio show last year. Here, realized at full scale, a wooden scaffolding supported a glass vitrine, wings attached to its sides. A little house the size of a one-man tent rested on wooden pallets and contained a mattress housed by a roof structure. Wings were attached to the exterior walls. Above, a video showed Baruwa in a “wreath of lights” made of metal and strands of lights. Aura, 2003, is what the artist has called this gleaming wreath, set next to the house, twinkling.

All of these elements seem to promise a story that nonetheless doesn’t yield us its secrets. It is like the logic of the fairy tale: Below is simultaneously above. A video played from the roof instead of inside the wooden tent, which in turn sat on a drawing of a town house instead of in a yard. The objects do have wings. Even a T-shirt on the wall was equipped with them. A small box on the wall, on the other hand, displayed cards identifying various birds, while the wreath of lights somehow made one think of angel wings.

With a framed text and a childhood photograph, Baruwa provided us with a bit of autobiographical information right as we entered the exhibition: He was born in London in 1975, the child of an Italian mother and a Nigerian father, but he grew up in the mountains of Tyrol. Apparently it’s important to him that we know this—though it doesn’t help us in understanding his sculptures. Baruwa developed the objects, he told me, “on the way to a situation that I wanted to configure.” The young artist has, fascinatingly, been able to do exactly that, for these “situations” are rigorous in their “below is above and vice versa” perspective. Here a private world has been created that hides a vast territory: Immediate needs such as housing and clothing are combined, as in a fairy tale, with supernatural elements—all rather inexplicable, and given wings.

Sabine B. Vogel

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.