Looking to explore her relationships and interactions with the Black women who have shaped her, Afiwa Afandalo, ‘24, created art pieces in the likeness of herself and her grandmothers.
Afandalo’s solo exhibition, “L ɔ l ɔ̃ ƒ e N y a w o (Narratives of Love),” debuted at the Lehigh University Art Galleries (LUAG) Lab on Jan. 31 and will run until May 26.
“I want people to see the work that I do, but also see the people that made me possible,” Afandalo said.
Born and raised in Togo, Afandalo said titling the show in the native language Ewe felt right for expressing themes of family, love and nostalgia in the exhibition.
The main focus of the show is what Afandalo calls “The Trio,” a self-portrait bracketed on both sides by portraits of her grandmothers.
Afandalo said she first began working on the project as a way to process the passing of her grandmother. She said her grandmother felt close yet distant to her because they did not get the chance to get to know each other on a deep level.
In both “Because of you…A Love Letter to My Grandmother #1” and “Because of you… A love letter to my Grandmother #2,” Afandalo clothes her grandmothers in photographs of her family.
Afandalo said her multimedia artworks were inspired by Nigerian-American artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby, who uses both painting and photography in her art to tell a larger story.
“I merged the photos with Togolese fabric, which is usually worn during moments of joy and celebration, to show that we are their legacy and we are proud of them,” Afandalo said.
She said the women in her art were made faceless because the pieces are about all Black women. She said she wants other people to be able to see themselves in her work.
“(Afandalo) really understands the power of the feminine and the Black feminine voice and how much it needs to be heard and how beautiful it is,” said Deirdre Murphy, assistant professor of Art, Architecture and Design and Afandalo’s mentor.
Afandalo began drawing after being gifted a sketchbook from her uncle during her senior year of high school. She said she enjoyed having an interest outside of her academics.
Looking to improve her drawing skills, she took Drawing I as a freshman, where she met Murphy.
Afandalo said Murphy has helped her explore her passion for art, both in and outside of the classroom. This semester, Afandalo is working as a teaching assistant in Painting I.
Murphy said she tries to expose students to art that reflects their experiences so that they can find courage and validity in their own voices.
“Showing Afiwa Black artists, and specifically Black women artists, has really been a priority for me,” Murphy said.
Murphy took her class to the art gallery’s “Young, Gifted and Black” exhibition in spring 2022, which Afandalo said influenced her work.
Afandalo said she was drawn to the free and easy-flowing form of Tunji Adeniyi-Jones’s “Blue Dancer,” which inspired the color palette and figure in her self-portrait, “I am…”
Elise Schaffer, LUAG’s coordinator of museum experience and access, said she saw Afandalo’s work during a visit to Mountaintop Campus but didn’t meet Afandalo until Murphy’s class visited the galleries.
“I had suggested to her that if her project was something she wanted to follow through with, the exhibition space could be a really good fit,” Schaffer said.
She said the LUAG Lab functions as an interdisciplinary project space that encourages creativity and imagination. After receiving approval from gallery staff, “Narratives of Love ” opened as the third project to be shown in the space and LUAG’s first solo art exhibition.
Y Lam, ‘24, said Afandalo’s art is warm and familial.
“Her work is so rich and vibrant,” Lam said. “When you’re surrounded by it, you can pick up on all the feminine energy and themes of family.”
After May 26, “Narratives of Love” can be seen by appointment between May 26 and Aug. 10.
Afiwa will also hold an artist talk event on Feb. 24 at 12 p.m.