The punk and politics behind Mowalola’s buzzing London show

The punk and politics behind Mowalola’s buzzing London show

In Silent Madness, the Nigerian designer’s influences and ideas – from fashion and music to film – collide, to graphic effect

Swathes of fiery red, yellow, black and green fabric hang from the sloped roof of London’s NOW Gallery, as if they were flags flying to signal Mowalola Ogunlesi’s arrival. They’re emblazoned with the tie-dye prints that have cropped up in her clothing since her graduate collection; the Lea Colombo photographs that were spray-painted onto leather jackets in her A/W 2019 collection; the reference imagery inspiring her now. A soundtrack created by her close musical friends and collaborators blares out, playing over a film created with Jordan Hemingway, Jamie Reid and Yves Tumor, and filling the open space. At its centre, a collection of Mowalola suit-clad mannequins are poised at musical instruments, rooted to the ground with tar. The circular glass-walled space has been transformed by the Lagos-born, London-based designer, with her universe splashed all over it.

‘I was thinking about creating my own renaissance painting, in installation form,’ Mowalola explains, looking around the room at the results. And in her singular way, she has. The designer’s new exhibition, Silent Madness, maps out the ideas, inspirations and collaborations that have played a part in her practice since she graduated from Central Saint Martins two years ago – a bold, beautiful, uncompromising clash of punk, politics, sensuality, and colour, with music at its centre.

malowala installation NOW gallery featuring black tar

‘Music is my everything,’ she continues. ‘There’s something very spiritual about it. It inspires me to do what I do; the energy that I get from it has me thinking and seeing a lot of different things.’ Artists that inspire, and are inspired by her, have played a part in Mowalola’s rapid rise – Solange, Dev Hynes, Skepta and Kelela have all worn her pieces, putting her name centre-stage. For the exhibition, the designer shared her early ideas with friends and collaborators – among them Shygirl, Odunsi (the Engine), Santi, Joey LaBeija, KESH and Maison2500 – and asked them to respond in their own way, to create the soundtrack which would reverberate through the space. ‘Every time they sent me back the music, I’d be blown away,’ she says. ‘It was always very authentic to the artist, but had so much of my energy in it. It was all very cohesive.’

The bodysuits at the centre of the show, produced in collaboration with Nike using Flyknit technology, are a manifestation of what Mowalola is feeling right now – a continuation of her sensual, graphic signatures, rooted in Nigerian sartorial culture and a punk point of view. With their vibrant beauty looks, created with makeup artist and collaborator Daniel Sällström, and nails by Sylvie Macmillan, they feel like the beating heart at the centre of this Mowalola universe. ‘It’s like you’re inside it,’ Mowalola concludes – ‘inside my life. I just feel, like, very much alive. I have a fire burning in me. [The exhibition is] a celebration of my energy.’ §

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