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Luke Agada: Painting the Complexities of Globalization and the Migrant Form

Luke Agada, the dynamic painter hailing from Lagos, is captivating the art world with his profound exploration of the subjects of globalization, migration, and cultural dislocation. His abstract figurative paintings, featuring warped figures and dream-like compositions, symbolize the intricacies of hyphenated identities and the transformation of the human figure in modern art history. Agada’s practice delves into the ambiguity of identity within post-structuralist theory, presenting a visual narrative that is as compelling as it is thought-provoking.

Since relocating to the United States and completing his MFA in painting at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Agada has been contemplating the instability of the transitory human condition. His surrealist-inspired paintings depict disembodied figures floating in ethereal spaces, capturing the intersections of time and space in our postmodern world. These works reflect the complex identities formed in the liminal spaces of migration and cultural exchange. Through his art, Agada reveals the profound contradictions and tensions that define contemporary human experience.

Arms, Feet and Fitful Dreams, 96” x 72” (diptych), 2023Oil on canvas Image courtesy of the Artist and Monique Meloche Gallery 
Arms, Feet and Fitful Dreams, 96” x 72” (diptych), 2023
Oil on canvas
Image courtesy of the Artist and Monique Meloche Gallery

Agada’s recent solo exhibition, “Arms, Feet and Fitful Dreams,” draws its title from a poignant New York Times article on the migrant crisis in New York. The article, “African and Invisible: The Other New York Migrant Crisis” (January 2023), highlights the struggles of African migrants in the United States, focusing on Imam Omar Niass from the Bronx, who has been housing hundreds of migrants. Agada’s paintings in this exhibition feature references to architecture, the human body, trade symbols, and animals, creating a liminal space where past and present intersect. His palette of dark browns, reds, blues, and tans evokes a psychological landscape where old memories are embedded but not always clear.

Fighter (All that’s fair in Love and War), 54” x 48”, 2023
Oil on canvas
Image courtesy of the Artist and Monique Meloche Gallery

A self-taught artist, Agada draws inspiration from a diverse range of sources, including key figures in art and literature, personal experiences, and global discourse. He cites the history of painting, particularly the modernists and old masters of the 20th century, as significant influences on his work. The emigre artists of the New York School, who shaped American modernism in the 1940s, have profoundly impacted Agada’s artistic development. His own migration experience resonates with these artists, inspiring his unique artistic style.

The Ground Shifts Beneath our Feet, 72” x 60”, 2023 Oil on canvas Image courtesy of the Artist and Monique Meloche Gallery

Agada’s creative process is investigative and fluid, often starting with establishing surface texture with paint and creating forms through an almost dry brush application. His approach to image-making avoids straightforward narratives or pictorial representations, instead sampling from a wide array of visual vocabulary that captures his memories and sense of place and time in the diaspora. For Agada, painting is a language—a means to understand and process thoughts. He describes his practice as therapeutic, despite the significant effort required, and enjoys the solitude it affords him. This slow, deliberate nature of painting allows him to center himself and focus, a crucial aspect of his creative process.

Fugitive Forms, 48” x 48”, 2024
Oil on canvas
Image courtesy of the Artist and Monique Meloche Gallery

Despite the challenges of taking time off from the studio and the difficulty of saying “no,” Agada has achieved significant milestones in his career. He is immensely proud of earning his MFA, finding a supportive gallery, and receiving positive reviews and genuine interest in his work. These accomplishments underscore the importance of his art in a broader cultural and societal context.

Agada’s work transcends autobiographical stereotypes, reflecting his identity as a proud African artist. He navigates the global art scene by occupying a “Third Space,” a hybrid space where cultural purity is untenable. This perspective is evident in his art, which addresses themes of “Rootlessness” and the “Crisis of Identity,” common in the literature and art of the diaspora.

Unstill Life II, 54” x 48”, 2023 Oil on canvas Image courtesy of the Artist and Monique Meloche Gallery 

Looking ahead, Agada plans to continue his reflective and investigative approach to art. He has been dedicating significant time to his studio practice in preparation for his upcoming solo show in September. As he continues to challenge mundane perceptions of reality and highlight key moments of the human experience, Agada’s work remains a vital contribution to contemporary art discourse.

In an ever-globalizing world, Agada believes that artists have the responsibility to reflect, channel, and piece together thoughts that shift society’s gaze and highlight crucial aspects of the human experience. His art not only challenges perceptions but also fosters a deeper appreciation for the complexities of identity and migration in our postcolonial world.

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