Piloya Irene: There is Hope in the Tears of Separation

Zodongo Bar & Restaurant, Gulu, Uganda
26 Nov 2022 - 10 Dec 2022

Piloya Irene, Memories in Store, Series I, 2022. Courtesy of the artist.

Piloya Irene, Memories in Store, Series I, 2022. Courtesy of the artist.

Like trees, humans can also suffer from transplant shocks, from violent uprootings from their homes. The Loboyo-born artist Piloya Irene takes inspiration from trees in their ambivalences, their sense of shelter and their fragility to whither. For the exhibition There is Hope in the Tears of Separation the artist explores barks of trees as an entry point to connect her own biography involving displacement and disconnection across three generations in her immediate family.

Her interest in using tree fibers is informed by distant yet vivid memories of her childhood. Specific memories became more present as the artist searched for tree barks in Ghana, where she currently resides. For this exhibition, Piloya combines Kyenkyen from Ghana and Lubugo from Uganda in search for both: shelter from traumatic experiences and the longing to (re)connect to the world.

As Piloya introduces acid onto the barkcloth, she makes tangible the destructive effects of war migration and exposure to extreme environments and how it has impacted mental states. With focus on the histories of origins of both barkcloths, the artist creates works layered with intimate chronicles of recollections of home, missed heritage, refuge and a longing for the familiar. The works thus eloquently weave together personal memories and political uprisings, as Gulu city is tainted with the tumultuous 1980s era of Uganda’s so-called Kony War‘ that led to recruitment of the largest child soldiers’ army by the Lord’s Resistance Army; historical turmoil that forced Piloya to leave Gulu at the age of seven, in 2000.

The exhibition There is Hope in the Tears of Separation features five artworks by the artist through which she renders visible the political tensions, the fragility of absences and presences, of destruction and recollection:

State of Fear are 130 bleach drawings on Lubugo whose continuous self-destruction counteracts the idea that the mind protects itself by banishing moments of trauma – while, at the same time, they allude to the minds´ neuronal capacity to adapt to new environments.

Yesterday is Gone are 60 prints of archival images on Kyenkyen paper. This collection re-imagines the idea of a home through the depiction of domestic and familiar spaces that are interlaced with private images of the artist and her daughter.

The installation Beyond Transparency documents the reaction between sodium hypochlorite and barkcloth, while the viewer listens to a monologue sound piece that grapples with the state of unconsciousness, in which one’s mind escapes from the body. A transparent container consists of sodium hypochlorite reacting on the barkcloth fabric throughout the duration of the exhibition time lapse. The installation is an experiment to allow for these processes to be experienced in real time and space.

In the video work Face on Fire the body performs what it means to confront the past; the staring gaze of the artists evokes a sense of the present blinking at the viewer. The artist explores the fragility and strength of the human condition under volition. The video work Nightmares of the Bottom is a suggestive and symbolic reflection and narrative of the artists’ connection to what she imagines to be home, building from trees and photographs of her home in the village.

Piloya Irene´s conceptual works invite the viewer to find glimpses of hope in the sorrow of shared histories of displacement and (be)longing, to search for fertile grounds to cure the effects of violent separations and uprooting.




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