Yusuff Aina: Eniyan: Escape Room

Retro Africa, Lagos, Nigeria
06 Jul 2023 - 06 Sep 2023

Yusuff Aina, Eniyan: Escape Room, installation view, 2023. Courtesy of Retro Africa Gallery.

Yusuff Aina, Eniyan: Escape Room, installation view, 2023. Courtesy of Retro Africa Gallery.

Retro Africa Gallery presents Eniyan: Escape Room, an immersive exhibition that delves into the intricate voyage of Yusuff’s artistic practice, encapsulating the depths of his emotional exploration and the potent influence of self-discovery, this exhibition invites spectators to navigate the intricacies of vulnerability, resilience, and the relentless pursuit of personal growth. Through a captivating dialogue between the artist, Yusuff, and the viewer, this exhibition serves as both a therapeutic exploration and a call for collective introspection.

Yusuff’s profound realization of his own emotional struggles was catalyzed by the unprecedented circumstances brought forth by the COVID-19 pandemic, which compelled him to embark on a period of deep introspection and self-reflection. As the world came to a standstill, confining him within the parameters of his apartment and presenting him with financial obstacles alongside an abundance of time, he seized this opportunity to embark on a transformative inward journey, questioning the very motivations and aspirations that propelled him.

During this period of profound introspection, he began confronting deeply ingrained doubts and insecurities, many of which had eluded his conscious awareness. The impact of diminished self-esteem, depression, and anxiety gradually came into focus, revealing the emotional complexities that he unknowingly carried within himself. Through his paintings and installations, Yusuff endeavoured to articulate the struggle to attain authenticity and liberate himself from societal expectations that had exerted influence over his artistic output in the past.

The exhibition showcases four distinct rooms, each adorned in colours representing different states of mind and emotions that Yusuff encountered throughout his mental health journey. The blue, yellow, white, and red rooms serve as visual metaphors, allowing visitors to connect with their own unique emotional landscapes. The entire floor, covered in gravel painted to match the colour scheme of each room, serves as a tactile reminder of the profound connection between our mental states and physical surroundings.
Yusuff sheds illuminating light on the significance of adversity and the transformative potential inherent in arduous experiences. he shares his belief that the most profound growth emerges when confronted with challenging circumstances, particularly for individuals who possess unique talents and gifts to bestow upon the world. Eniyan: Escape Room endeavours to explore the concept of evolving through hardship and the importance of embracing introspection and personal evolution.

Yusuff’s artistic odyssey led him to question the motivations underlying his creative choices, evoking a desire for a more dynamic and genuine mode of self-expression. He reflects upon his past works, recognizing that while his paintings captured facets of his identity, they failed to authentically convey the depths of his inner self. Through his artistic process, his aspires to amalgamate the essence and substance of his creations, symbolizing the integration of his authentic self within his art.

The title of the exhibition, Eniyan: Escape Room, draws inspiration from an animated Avengers narrative from the series What If and the film series Escape Room, which sparked Yusuff’s realisation regarding the significance of choice, influence, and surmounting life’s challenges even in closed spaces. Eniyan is equally derived from the Yoruba word for people, signifying the overarching theme of the exhibition—the exploration of humanity. It invites viewers to contemplate the complexities and nuances of human existence. The concept of the escape room serves as a metaphor for navigating challenging and potentially harmful situations, encapsulating the artist’s desire to transcend external factors, self-doubt, and the intricacies of the human psyche. The exhibition explores the artist’s pursuit of personal goals, the longing for human connection, and the aspiration to ensure the well-being of others, all while seeking a deeper understanding and acceptance of one’s own emotions.

Yusuff’s personal relationships played a pivotal role in his emotional journey. The dialogue unveils his experiences within romantic relationships that tested his vulnerabilities and evoked anxiety. His encounters in the past and thoughts on love left indelible marks on his psyche, leading him to a period of self-imposed isolation. Nonetheless, during a subsequent residency, he discovered solace, experiencing a sense of tranquillity and self-discovery.

The intention, however, extends beyond the artist sharing his personal story; his ultimate goal is to create a space where viewers can find reflections of their own experiences and emotions. By immersing themselves in the exhibition, visitors are encouraged to confront their own desires for escape and self-discovery. It becomes a shared therapy experience, inviting individuals to delve into their own complexities, doubts, and aspirations.


An exhibition curated by Dolly Kola-Balogun for Retro Africa at Art Twenty One.






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