Modupeola Fadugba Nigerian, b. 1985


As a small child growing up in Togo, Modupeola Fadugba was terrified of the sea; its seemingly limitless depths and lack of boundaries perturbed her. The swimming pools that she encountered upon moving to the United States at the age of five felt less threatening, but she did not fully overcome her fear of water until faced with compulsory lap-swimming classes at boarding school in England, aged eleven. Teetering on the edge of the pool, reveling in the spectacle she was creating for her classmates, eventually she had no choice but to jump in. Her single lap, completed in a drawn-out two or three minutes, taught her that despite her misgivings, swimming was something that she could, and would, conquer.

Fast-forward twenty years, and Fadugba found herself once again teetering on the edge of a pool, this time in Ibadan, Nigeria, where she was spending time with her family. She had just decided to commit herself full-time to art, and was feeling nervous and excited. Her brother was diving from the highest platform, and Fadugba climbed up next to him, only to find herself terrified once more of the water. Diving in seemed like an impossible feat, but with calm encouragement from her sibling, she took the plunge. Applause rang out around the pool; people shouted “Leap for Nigeria!”

Fadugba remembers these incidents with amusement, but also appreciation for their role in her artistic development. She cites the popular motto to “Do something every day that scares you” (sometimes attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt) as a guiding philosophy, alongside the rhetorical reassurance, “What’s the worst that could happen?”. Yet more than maxims applied straightforwardly to everyday life, for Fadugba these are points of departure in a broader exploration of fate. Risk, agency, and the play of chance through people’s lives occupy a central position in her artistic consciousness; swimming pools, with their moving human and aquatic bodies, are a natural environment in which to explore them.

Fadugba’s “pool” works fall broadly into two series of paintings, Tagged (2015–2016) and Synchronised Swimmers (ongoing). In Tagged, swimmers, mostly young black women, forge through water in pursuit of a red ball. Their hair is piled in braids on their bobbing heads, and their bodies for the most part lurk indistinctly in the depths of the pool. The water itself glistens with gold or silver leaf, creating an oily-looking surface patterned with eddies and ripples; these waters are beautiful and beguiling, but quite possibly dangerous. Titles such as “The Race”, “Reach”, “Women and Children, First”, and “Buy My Lot/Marry Me Next” reveal the pool as a place of competition and struggle. Many of the swimmers project determination mingled with desperation as they attempt to approach the red ball floating just out of reach.

Excerpt from Essay by Dr. Evelyn Owen


Modupeola Fadugba (b.1985, Lomé, Togo) is a multimedia artist working in painting, drawing, and socially-engaged installation. Her works explore cultural identity, social justice, game theory, and the art world within the socio-political landscape of Nigeria and our greater global economy. The People's Algorithm—a game installation that fosters debate about how to improve Nigeria's education system—was awarded El Anatsui's Outstanding Production Prize and a 2016 Dakar Biennale Grand Prize from Senegal's Minister of Communication. Her most recent exhibition, Dreams from the Deep End, depicts swimmers exploring collaborative ways of being in the water together, set against the bleak backdrop of America's racialised—and oftentimes tragic—swimming history.

Art Fairs
Tagged: Proceed With, 2017