Emefiele’s protagonists do not correspond in any way to the previously held vision of beauty. Her works are peopled by young, fiercely proud and strong figures. If they are sexily clad it is not because of any attempt at drawing attention to the male gaze but rather as an expression of a purely female necessity. Often her characters are depicted wearing wildly-oversized glasses. These glasses are, for the artist, a metaphor for women's necessity of protection in a male-dominated world. However, this so-called weakness is never evident in the behaviour or poses of the women she depicts. In a universe where the male is only noticed by his total absence, her assertive figures make no attempt to fulfil male expectations.
Emefiele began her artistic trajectory depicting head and shoulder figures looking straight out at us in extraordinarily rich colour or portraits with elaborately painted areas of black and white which belied her passion for design. Very quickly after moving to London to continue her growth as an artist, she began placing her figures into a more complex background and the refinement of her painting and composition underwent a seismic shift. Her characters became full figure and there was an attention to their dress allied to a complexity in the many visual references which began appearing in the paintings.This showed her continual desire to push forward and further develop her voice. In 2015 she began using multiple figures in her paintings. 'The Performers' and 'Untitled (Dancing to Wo)' are the two examples in the present exhibition.
Undoubtedly there is a striking contemporaneity in Emefiele paintings. Her figures act as her vehicle to give full vein to her acute ability to be visually humorous. The painting Search Party very deliberately quotes some of the portraits which Van Dyck made whist he was in Genova.These works featured an extremely elegant and important woman portrayed against a classical veranda. Here the visual reference remains the same only differing in its allusion to our current contemporary culture. Emefiele shrewdly introduces the addition of a coke cola bottle in front of the classical column, the ultimate symbol of pop culture. Her sexy subject stands empowered whilst donning the latest trends, her eyes protected once again by diamond shaped glasses.
Moreover, in the painting Cuddle Cat there is an outlined drawing of cat within which Emefiele has placed a black and white cut out of a girl dancing, all of this on a rich light blue wall. The woman who is the subject of the composition is sitting with her legs up on the couch, a cat is on her lap whilst on the matching blue wall on the opposite side of the room is a written sign scrawled on the wall close to it, which states; 'WINDOW EXIT. cats only pls.’ Each painting is worked and worked so that the cinematic detail the artist presents us with begins to resemble a total world view. The clever references to the life of the cat in the owner's arms enables Emefiele's visual humour, whilst never detracting from the very serious underlying narrative of female empowerment and the idea of women living on their own terms.
Up to this point attention has been principally on Emefiele's originality in constructing narratives. Although she has this quality in abundance, what is really remarkable about her work is that she is, above everything, a great technical painter as well as being a bold and brilliant colourist. This roots her paintings in the great tradition, yet her mixed-media technique opens that oldest of arts to yet another chapter in its seemingly infinite longevity.
The exhibition will feature mixed media works on canvas, and for the first time 4 large works on paper which show her experimenting with another surface, using paper to explore new possibilities in her visual language. Regardless of her chosen material, Emefiele still maintains the utter originality of her practice both formally and narratively.