By Gareth Stevens

Many would forgive Nancy Odufona for politely declining the opportunity to prepare a one person show at BlackShed Gallery. After a tough academic year, she recently landed her first teaching job at a local college and, as many will understand, this comes with stress and a heavy workload. This did not deter her. Nancy tells me that she has always liked a challenge and elaborated to say that she would have felt disingenuous if she had shelved her own artistic practice to teach others how to be creative. 

Nancy moved to Hastings when she was thirteen and has lived here for sixteen years. After graduating in Fine Art at Goldsmiths University in 2014 she experienced post course malaise which triggered a period of deep reflection. Whilst studying for her degree her work had explored the relationship between the performer, audience and the stage and whilst subsequent work would develop her approach of combining sculpture, ceramics, arranged objects and performance, it began to be more preoccupied with what she describes as “the fear of the stage”. Her work became more about the creative process itself and the attendant fears and anxieties that can be experienced when planning and preparing work. 

Most visits to exhibitions involve walking around a functional space and looking at the framed rectangles of paintings or prints – or moving around singular sculptures on plinths or the floor. Nancy’s show at BlackShed goes way beyond the obvious in that it combines multiple projected films, sound, spoken word with impressive large scale sculptures that all but fill the space. 

Nancy explains to me that she was drawn to the idea of cultivating the gallery space, of treating the preparation of her show more like solving a landscape design problem, rather than just hanging pictures. It is important to her that the exhibition should be a more immersive and sensory experience and, having seen the show in preview, I can testify that she has achieved this admirably. 

Like many of us, Nancy gained solace and psychological strength through regular walks along the strand line during lockdown. The idea for the work initially came during a walk at Fairlight beach. The way that being by the sea could bring about a much more contemplative head state began to fascinate Nancy and she began to ask herself “how could I bring this into a gallery space.” She tells me that her regular walks by the sea became like rituals of purification and replenishment and she began to recognise the deep need to pause … to do as the old adage says ‘Don’t just do something, sit there’. 

Describing the mental and emotional state she felt when by the sea as an “island of calm, that invites you to do very little”, she explains that she began to consider these liminal seaside spaces as “belonging to everyone, yet no one”. The show itself recalls Japanese Zen Gardens and invites us to think about the whole process of artificiality – the show may be immersive, but the means by which the work was made are clear in plain sight. 

I urge you to pay a visit to this show as I believe it has the power to increase the dominion we have over our internal landscapes. 

Nancy Odufona’s show ‘Pebble Island’ runs at the BlackShed Gallery from 17th October. For more information see theblackshedgallery.org.uk 


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