Monilola Olayemi Ilupeju
Published by Archive Books
In collaboration with Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien
Printed at Bianca & Volta
Designed by Kyla Arsadjaja
In honest, crystallizing language, Monilola Olayemi Ilupeju reckons with her changing Body and the afterlife of trauma within the tangle of race relations, sexual politics, and family history. Earnestly collages texts from the artist’s transdisciplinary practice, modeling different lenses through which to navigate the social and emotional dimensions of Body dysmorphia, girlhood, and longing. Across all, Ilupeju celebrates embodied writing for its self-transformative power and for the gentle revelations made possible through its sharing. She welcomes the reader into her world and her Body as she attempts to escape what she terms “the house of hard distorting mirrors” and move towards joy, presence, and connection. Along this journey, she finds a way into self-recognition that is prismatic—multivalent and refracting.
“I look up to Black women who aren’t afraid to die so I became a machine for dismembering fear,” writes Monilola Olayemi Ilupeju in her audacious autoportrait, Earnestly. Through Ilupeju’s writing, photographs, and paintings, we are taken into the place that is often denied existence: the interior life of the Black woman. A place that holds not just the friction of joy and pain but also confusion, desire, embarrassment, humor, anger, curiosity, orgasms, the grotesque, and the perseverance to be seen as one who contains multitudes. In other words, to be seen as a person. In Ilupeju’s sharp and specific recounting of her own personal history, I feel not only let in, but validated in my own experience as a Black femme person. Often, I am ashamed to admit that I am afraid to rest because of the nightmares that haunt me. Earnestly not only comforts my feelings of shame and terror, but reminds me that there is a way to find dreams once again.”
“It is hard to reckon with the vehicle that propels us through life—the one that bears all our first and last times, and everything in between. This body, a deep well we hardly know the depth of. There is no world in which another would be able to look in the water and discern the number of stones at the bottom or the waves that ripple under the surface. Mine are different from yours. But that doesn’t matter. Ilupeju’s texts beckons us to gaze only at the surface, at the murky reflection of our own faces in the waters of her body. She tells stories of the stones in ways that reveal universally felt moments of triumph, deep sadness, euphoria, and ultimately perseverance, leaving me with a haunting thought that we share more kin than we do differences. It is a text that eases my loneliness, warms my walks home, and shows me more of myself.”
“Ilupeju’s writing brings forth matters from the belly. Every line cuts crisply yet resists easy reductions of some of the most difficult, human experiences. There are facts in biographical texts. There are truths when we tell narratives of our pasts. We are complete without either. Earnestly asserts that one can hold the beauty, the agony, the gore, the regret, and the endurance of the everyday without settling for safety or security. It is a text that will stay with me as a marker for the validity of not knowing.”
I send my deepest thanks to Chiara Figone and the Archive Books team, as well the Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien team for the wonderful gift of support for this publication and the accompanying exhibition Hands Full of Air, which was on view at Galerie im Turm last year. Thank you to my superstar editor Corinne Butta and my book designer Kyla Arsadjaja who created such a stunning visual home for these texts, and to all of my friends and mentors for their support in helping me bring this book to life. So, so, so grateful for all of you.
Cover image: Mirrors, 2019, digital photograph.