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The Language is in the Drifts


Curated by Luther Konadu  |  December 2, 2023 - February 18, 2024 

Craig Love, Mercedes Maduka, Ehidiamen Ojeaga,

Shaylyn Plett + Janelle Tougas, Moneca Sinclaire

Beginning with the loosely devised theoretical prompt, ‘material ambiguities’, this exhibition sought to engage and position six artists’ works as ‘material-based’ practices. This simply means giving prominence to the “material” characteristics in their work as a point of entry into it. Some of these artists’ work can merely be experienced as paintings, sculptures, etc. However, this exhibition context allows a possibility to think it through as ‘material-based’ by concentrating attention on the haptic vehicle that gives shape to their respective practices. 


Particular interest is given to material-based practices that, all at once, tether between forms and points of reference or inhabit multiple mediums. In this way, the resultant art object can be thought of as constituting a composite identity and as such, dwelling in a liminal, malleable space. The use of materials in each artist's work here acts as agents of process, structure, and as a signifier. 


The Language is in the Drifts is an opportunity to think about the art objects assembled as falling out of linguistic and interpretive certainty as they come to us as a coalescing of discrete parts. The materials that make each object are never inert or passive. They waver out of binaries. They are tacit archives and linger within a kind of representational indeterminacy. 


The participating artists include: 


Craig Love

Mercedes Maduka

Ehidiamen Ojeaga 

Shaylyn Plett + Janelle Tougas

Moneca Sinclaire

Mercedes Maduka’s contribution here, titled 'Journey Mercies' (2023), is centred on a mass-produced, cheap, albeit durable, spacious zipper plastic bag. It is often in blue or red checkered patterns. The bag is easily collapsable, reusable, and multi-purpose. It has evolved to be frequently depended on as luggage by many travellers. It is especially recognizable in West Africa and across the continent, more broadly in market centers, in public transits or even in refugee encampments. Throughout the global south, this same bag reappears as an accessible means of securing personal possessions and, to a discursive extent, fragments of cultural memory over the course of migratory journeys. In West Africa, the bag is known by the name, 'Ghana Must Go'. This name is linked to the post-colonial inter-regional political dynamics between Ghana and Nigeria, both former British colonies. Ghana Must Go was the verbal tag of sorts used during a mass and rapid expulsion of undocumented Ghanaians living in Nigeria seeking economic opportunities in Nigeria’s then burgeoning oil economy. During the wide-sweep deportation, the Ghanaian migrants relied on these bags for their journey back home. To this day, the Ghana Must Go bag is seen as socially inferior, a signifier of the underclass. It is a tool that has often been associated with unscrupulous politicians for cash theft; it has been commonly seen in drug busts and, on the other end, used by asylum seekers and stateless persons during border crossings. In the West, however, the recognizable Ghana Must Go design pattern is appropriated by fashion brands like Balenciaga as part of their apparel collection. Here, Maduka makes a hand-painted, paper mache facsimile of this contentious object. Her copy of this already over-copied object serves to freeze and, as such, monumentalize its complexities as a shorthand for the fragility and precarity of migrant lives with an ever-unstable relationship to the notion of a home. This bag, in many ways, becomes that very tenacious and affordable container for whatever they have from their past as they traverse the journey ahead. 


Maduka’s luggage sits on a low plinth in proximity to Ehidiamen Ojeaga’s large-scale fabric collage suspended from the ceiling. Ojeaga’s installation feels like a heap of fragments, albeit meticulously held together. It's a contained disarray. It can be considered akin to the migratory identity Maduka is often interested in her work. This identity is one at a perpetual fork between cultural identities–the ones they have to leave behind and the ones they adapt along the way, all patched together and assembled in a piece of portable plastic luggage. Ojeaga, like Maduka, is of Nigerian cultural background, and the connection to hybrid identities feels apt in the coalescing of parts in their works. Ojeaga’s textile composition is made of discarded materials and ones donated to him. It is hand-sewn with very little intervention to the fabrics. Although it is a contained disarray, it is, nonetheless, intricately orchestrated. There is detailed attention given to merging patterns and textures–with the language of painting in tow—to arrive at an architectural stage-like curtain, already layered with its own narrative. It has its functional possibilities as a curtain cultivated from meagre means but also as a formal exercise. This relationship between utility and form is one Ojeaga pursues in his previous works, and he extends this here as well in his other sculptural piece, Rack. It is a deliberately designed cherry wood and metal drying rack the artist built to contain collected scrap textile materials. It keeps the fabrics organized and wrinkle-free but in the same token, it is a sculptural unit, an art object. 


Shaylyn Plett and Janelle Tougas’s collaborative project for this exhibition, like with previous works, also oscillates between functionality and formal and material investigation. This project is responsive and adaptive to the basement space of the gallery. The project starts with a sconce for the dimly lit preexisting light fixture in the basement space. Their material choice for this is standard gypsum drywall. To make the material function like a sconce, they carve shapes to emit light out into the space. To make it look less like a mere drywall, they take it a step further, making it more sconce-like with intricate pattern work.  They then augment the sconce motif over other light fixtures. These scaled-up sconces, which become architectural, reflect the height of the basement walls. The meticulous pattern they chose for these elaborated sconces references the commonly used Manitoban architectural building material, Tyndall stone. Several institutions, including the Winnipeg Art Gallery, make use of this material. The artists references a one-to-one scale of the WAG’s facade’s Tyndall stone texture. In so doing, they collapse the visage of one art institution into the basement of another emerging one operating with a forward ambition albeit within limited means. 

Moneca Sinclaire, who is a member of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation in Northern Manitoba, has been cultivating her art practice in recent years outside of her work as a researcher at the University of Manitoba's environment and geography department.  Her contribution to the exhibition follows an ongoing series of painted driftwood she collects through her daily walks. She cleans them, dries them out, sands them down, and adorns them with filigreed patterns of colour. With every found piece of material gathered from the natural world, she offers tobacco, sage, or her hair in return. It's a gesture of thanks and reciprocity for taking Mother Earth’s kids, as she describes. It's a teaching she grew up with and continues to practice in her art practice. The ornately patterned transformations are also a reflection of this act of reciprocity to the natural world’s abundance it supplies us. The results of her work, which are equal parts sculptural, installation, and painting, emerge from intuitive and immersive flow states through her daily dedication to her practice. Sinclaire is also contributing a collection of dolls she initially made as ceremonial gifts to her mother and aunties, who are residential school survivors. They are offerings and tributes to family and ancestors whose childhood was stolen from them. The materials are all salvaged/recycled. This means of working is central to her practice and her way of being carried forward from her family/ancestors, whom she calls the original environmentalists she takes after. 


Craig Love’s painting works also amalgamate on its surfaces, bits and bots the artist discovers as he moves through his locality and the larger world beyond. In this way, the paint that is prevalent in his work, integrates with the miscellaneous materials Love comes across. His paintings can feel heaped on with errant marks, smears, texture, suggestions of a representation, text, numbers, and of course, bits of found objects, making the surface relief-like.  He envelopes our eyes with a complexly layered picture plane to traverse. His contribution here is limited as it barely gives us an indication of his larger evolving corpus. However, it gives some glimmers about it. It features some paintings defined by their textual elements, some puzzle-like wall text, and, atypical of his work, the closest I’ve seen the artist come to a semblance of discernible representational composition in the piece Dream Kitchen. 


It is my hope that this exhibition reflects not only the many effective ways these artists employ various materials as intermediaries for their practices. More importantly, beyond that, it is a small reflection of the range of artists from different perspectives the city has and the compelling ways they express themselves. 




Craig Love is a Winnipeg artist whose primary concerns are painting and language, investigating how their contexts may overlap.


Ehidiamen Ojeaga is a Winnipeg-based artist with interests in furniture and textile design. He often explores the boundaries where the functional purpose and formal structure of objects can be blurred. Ojeaga holds a BFA from the University of Manitoba.  


Mercedes Emeka-Maduka is a multidisciplinary artist passionate about exploring themes of migration and displacement through her work. With a personal history of migration, Maduka draws on her own experiences to create powerful and thought-provoking pieces that challenge and inspire viewers. Maduka's work often incorporates recognizable travel plastic bags, which she refers to as "Ghana must-go bags," as a symbol of her personal journey and the journeys of others who have left their homes and communities. Through art, Maduka seeks to bridge cultural divides and promote understanding and empathy. Maduka holds a BFA from the University of Manitoba and has exhibited her artwork nationally and internationally, receiving numerous grants and awards from organizations such as The Canada Council of Arts, the Manitoba Arts Council, and the Winnipeg Arts Council. With a unique perspective and a commitment to social justice, Maduka creates work that inspires and challenges viewers to reflect on the complexities of migration.


Moneca Sinclaire is a multi-media recycle artist from drawing, sculpture, mosaic and written word, who has Cree/English/Scottish Heritage. She is a self-taught artist who also loves the environment, and has combined both her passions, environment and art, to help reduce the waste in landfills and by creating beauty from what is usually thrown in the landfill. Her other passion is creating outdoor interactive art. From these passions, the following art pieces have been displayed:Winnipeg Folk Festival; Wolseley Envision Art Festival; Community Mosaic projects at Daniel McIntyre St. Mathews Community Centre: Creation of art pieces for December 2012 to December 2019 “Art from Heart” Exhibition held by Spence Neighborhood Association; exhibited outdoor art for the University of Winnipeg’s Roll Call Event. She completed several works of art for Art’s Junktin. In addition, she has been, and is currently, an artist with the Inpath program. Since 2019, she has completed three residencies in Northern Quebec. Her latest project, September 2023, was with Buhler Gallery, where she had a brass rubbing created of painted sticks.

Lastly, collaborators and friends Janelle Tougas and Shaylyn Plett are visual artists based in Winnipeg (Treaty 1). Plett and Tougas both pursue independent multidisciplinary practices which have been intersecting since 2016. Together, they have made video, furniture, sculpture, painting and installation-based work. With adjacent lives in furniture design and film props/environments, the two freely glean curiosities from their professional lives to introduce and rework within the space of collaborative inquiry. Their shared practice explores the affective potential of space routed through material investigation. Their work delights in the conflation of authorship, the disintegration of perceived object value, and achieving material absurdity.


520 Hargrave Street

Winnipeg , Manitoba

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