Ruth Ige: Freedom's Recurring Dream

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Ruth Ige

Freedom’s Recurring Dream

Ruth Ige Freedom’s Recurring Dream

Prose and poems by Ruth Ige Prelude 5

A dream of the great day of unity 7 The lament 46 Abundance 47 The solace of the night 69

Review by Sihle Motsa

Haunting space of blue: Ruth Ige’s Freedom’s Recurring Dream 65

In a place between two dimensions, I saw freedom personified. I saw that, in both her waking and sleeping, she would have recurring dreams and visions – dreams of liberation, hope, wonder, sorrow, joy and justice. A mothering entity, I could see her watching, hoping and longing for the best for the black diaspora and black individuals in their navigation of life. Her heart ached as she saw the injustice inflicted through the ages. I saw her cheering and rising to her feet when she witnessed movements of resistance. She would wail and grieve like a mother who lost her child every time a black life was lost or wrongly taken. She would visit people in the night through their dreams, giving words of encouragement, but also ideas and tools to fight against systems of oppression. At times she would appear as an apparition of light and wrap her arms around those who were disheartened. She would give spiritual gifts shaped like flowers and bestow mantels of blessings on those who needed them.

I imagine her still waiting, hoping for her dreams to come to pass. These paintings are from her perspective. They are a small glimpse into her inner world. Mostly portraits – through her eyes – of how she views these figures. Through her gaze of upliftment, empathy, compassion and sorrow these paintings are formed.

This is also an exploration of the many facets and expressions of freedom within the black community across the world. The need for freedom that has been fought for throughout the decades. The recurrence of that dream appearing over and over again throughout history. That dream manifesting itself in movements, communities, people, ideas and creativity.

These paintings explore the long-held tradition of black imagination and black speculative fiction as an access point of emancipation, and its importance as a tool of healing, escape, resistance, empowerment and self-care. This body of work is a love letter to the black diaspora.


A dream of the great day of unity

In the cool of the day like sounds of chimes and birds flying above walls and mountains the sound of strong wind rushing through leaves and angel wings there appeared a great sight a great light hovering above the fields of flowers

I saw a family gathered with skin of midnight like an onyx stone glimmering in the moonlight A multitude more than the oceans and seas black hues and golden streams from different times and places

All there together dancing, laughing, weeping, healing, being held by the light


Sitting woman (unknown year) , 2021 Acrylic on canvas, 100 × 100cm


The woman with the healing gift , 2021 Acrylic on canvas, 152.5 × 76cm


Esteemed , 2021 Acrylic on canvas, 152.5 × 76cm


Portrait (year 2022) , 2020 Acrylic on canvas, 120.5 × 90cm

16 The introvert , 2021 Acrylic on canvas, 122 × 61cm
Perseverance , 2021 Acrylic on canvas, 120 × 75cm
18 Future
spring , 2021 Acrylic on canvas, 119 × 80cm
22 Revered , 2022 Acrylic on canvas, 122 × 122cm
Melodies , 2022 Acrylic on canvas, 153 × 102cm

And she had the power to command the light , 2022 Acrylic on canvas, 120 × 120cm

28 Abundance , 2022 Acrylic on canvas, 120 × 100cm

An angel for those who have suffered injustice , 2022 Acrylic on canvas, 240.5 × 180.5cm


Songstress , 2022 Acrylic on canvas, 120.5 × 80cm

38 A gentle soul , 2022 Acrylic on canvas, 122
× 84cm

A gift (to weather the storm) , 2022 Acrylic on canvas, 61 × 51cm

A vision at dawn , 2022 Acrylic on canvas, 240 × 180.5cm
42 The connection , 2022 Acrylic on canvas, 120 × 90cm

Power , 2022 Acrylic on canvas, 61.5 × 51cm


Don’t hide your glory , 2022 Acrylic on canvas, 122 × 122cm


The lament


Are you a ghost?

Are you a mirage?

Or a childish dream

A luminous fantasy

Glittering one moment in the sun And gone during a moment of rain

I have heard stories of your elusive ways From elders and ancestors before us who called on your name who spent most of their life looking for traces of you. Looking for the proof of your existence.



May your words build cities

May they tear down hate May rivers and streams flow from their depths Nourishing the earth Multiplying Sustaining all that is love

May your words build worlds Places of belonging Places of rest Dwellings of change

May your words Never be hidden

Let them be bold Let them be the haven

Where freedom can reside and grow Spilling beyond the boundaries


May you know your worth , 2022 Acrylic on canvas, 100 × 100cm


She lived beyond the borders of time (immortal) , 2022 Acrylic on canvas, 122 × 122cm


A gift (to know you’re not alone) , 2022 Acrylic on canvas, 61.5 × 51cm


Opera singer (year unknown) , 2022 Acrylic on canvas, 153 × 101.5cm


Gathering all things dear , 2022 Acrylic on canvas, 120 × 100cm

56 Untitled , 2022 Acrylic on canvas, 122 × 122cm

The loner , 2022 Acrylic on canvas, 62.5 × 51cm


And from your heart may cities grow , 2022 Acrylic on canvas, 101 × 76cm


Songstress (year 2024) , 2022 Acrylic on canvas, 140 × 140cm

60 The oracle , 2022 Acrylic on canvas,
150 × 150cm

Made of water and light , 2022 Acrylic on canvas, 122 × 122cm


Haunting space of blue: Ruth Ige’s Freedom’s Recurring Dream Sihle Motsa

In a terse yet polite conversation spanning the different time zones of South Africa and New Zealand, Ruth Ige and I discuss her latest body of work. Ige insists that the work is about freedom. I flinch from the other side of the large expanse of water that divides us. How do I convey that freedom is, for me, that impossible dream; that, in the words of Svetlana Alexievich, ‘Freedom needs free people, which we are not.’1 But perhaps that is precisely what is at stake. Ige gestures towards the dream because it is precisely through the dream that freedom – in all its dogged, foreboding reticence – can be accessed. And that is where we find each other – in the lucid space of Freedom’s Recurring Dream.

Despite the dream’s elusiveness within the complex yet banal system of meaning-making, dreams still offer immense mnemonic, heuristic and aesthetic potential. For the philosopher JW Dunne, who inspired Vladimir Nabokov’s foray into the world of dreams, they are not so much an apprehension of a past buried in the unconscious, but the perception of future events owing to the fact that time itself is not unidirectional but multiple and recursive2. For Gennady Barabtarlo, the author who compiled the notes of Vladimir Nabokov’s own experimentation with dreams into the expansive and lucid text Insomniac Dreams: Experiments with Time, ‘our dreams are not merely kaleidoscopic shards, jumbled, and mislabelled fragments of past


impressions, but may also be a proleptic view of an event to come.’3 On this account, they may very well be, as Ige shows us, the substrate on which the chimeric seeds of liberation are sown.

Ige is a Nigerian-born artist currently based in New Zealand. Her first solo exhibition at Stevenson in Johannesburg is titled Freedom’s Recurring Dream. It is a series of portraits that figure freedom’s dream as a mothering entity that wades through the watery ether of blackness, historical and yet to come.

Ige’s work allows me to wade through the waters of my own longing. It offers – through rich visual language, expansive blue scenes, spectral figurations – a painting of freedom as beautiful and possible. It fashions a freedom dream that is eloquent and expansive, reaching towards the lost children of the black diaspora.

Ige’s blue scenes are mosaic in their pres entation of the multiple shades of our innermost desires, our memories, the fictions we tell ourselves to get through the day, our losses, but ultimately our utopian desire for a future markedly different from the now. They are rich with the cinematic language that elucidates just how slippery the blackness of blackness is – think Tarell Alvin Mcraney’s play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, adapted into the Academy Award-winning film Moonlight. What flashes through my mind is Nijah Cunningham Tiana Reid’s invocation of the penal and carceral logics that sustain anti-blackness through their assertion, ‘blue is the coldest colour’. At stake for McCraney, Cunningham Reid and

ultimately Ige is the figurative and psychic hold blue has over the arts and aesthetics of blackness, which is foretold by the longstanding musical traditions of the Blues, which Clyde Woods refers to as an antithesis of the plantation and its psychic and affective geographies.4

In the aesthetics of the black radical tradi tion, dreams tether themselves to both water and the black maternal. Take, for instance, Kamau Brathwaite whose poem ‘Kumina’ works through this triad. In the wake of the loss of her son, Kamau’s first person speaker laments, ‘I am unhappy like the wind and tides are restless rivers, I can’t find you, I can’t find you, I cannot cannot cannot be consoled to dreams.’5

Like Brathwaite, Ige’s paintings work through the poetics of black sorrow and grief and their imaginative landscapes. Her tapestries contour the chimeric figure of freedom and the structures of injustice that make it the ever-elusive ideal. Swathes of blue haunt the canvas, unleashing a torrent of grief, memory, foreboding, longing and playful abstraction. This is both light and heavy with water6 and its symbolic repertoires. Shades of cobalt and French blue and midnight blue robe freedom’s dreams, presenting a ghostly image that makes murky the waters of our collective psyche. Thus, these artworks remind us that water makes for a cogent mnemonic apparatus. To this effect, Toni Morrison writes that ‘all water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was’.7 Water, like memory, is also always


carving new paths for itself. It is always resisting constraint. As an oceanic force, it washes new memories to our shores; as a river, it threatens to erode the banks of our clandestine lives; as discrete pools it hides its own depth. Ige’s vividly blue renderings embody the equanimity of water. They lead us towards water’s violent, vacillating and visceral symbolic significance. They suggest that it is precisely water’s violence that births its emancipatory potential. The blue watery dream is the birthing of a diasporic consciousness, a conduit, a substrate that beckons us towards freedom.

This review was first published in ArtThrob, 3 October 2022,


1 S Alexievich. h8vHmt64iGgoIvO/Svetlana-Alexievich-A-history-of-thesoul.html

2 JW Dunne. Experiments With Time. London, Faber and Faber, 1958.

3 V Nabokov. Insomniac Dreams: Experiments with Time, edited by G Barabtarlo. Princeton University Press, 2018.

4 C Woods. ‘“Sittin’ on Top of the World’”: The Challenges of Blues and Hip Hop Geography’, Black Geographies and the Politics of Place. Between the Lines, 2007.

5 KE Brathwaite. ‘Kumina’, in Born to Slow Horses. Wesleyan University Press, 2005.

6 See E Deloughrey. Heavy Waters: Waste and Atlantic Modernity. The Modern Language Association of America, 2010.

7 T Morrison, from a talk given at the New York Public Library, 1986.


The solace of the night

A familiar friend

An ever-present silence Beckoning Beckoning us to rest

A listening ear Liquid black Black like us Beckoning Beckoning us to rest

You reach out With hands outstretched forward Beckoning Beckoning us to rest

Your dark skies A comfort for us Beckoning Beckoning us to rest

Power II , 2022 Acrylic on canvas, 91 × 122cm
Power III , 2022 Acrylic on canvas, 71 × 91cm
By the moonlight , 2022 Acrylic on canvas, 91 × 122cm
74 Dreamstate , 2022 Acrylic on canvas, 140 × 140cm
Faint memories , 2022 Acrylic on canvas, 71 × 91cm

You are enough , 2022 Acrylic on canvas, 101.5 × 152cm

At the gathering , 2022 Acrylic on canvas, 140 × 150cm

Ruth Ige was born in 1992 in Nigeria, and lives in Auckland, New Zealand. She graduated with a Bachelor of Visual Arts from the Auckland University of Technology in 2016.

Freedom’s recurring dream, her first exhibition with the gallery, took place in Johannesburg in 2022. Previous solo exhibitions include Between Two Dimensions at Roberts Projects, Los Angeles (2022); The poetic notions of blue at McLeavey Gallery, Wellington (2021); and A Place Apart, a two-person show at City Gallery, Wellington (2020).

Ige has participated in group exhibitions at Stevenson, Cape Town (2021); McLeavey Gallery, Wellington (2020); Karma, New York (2019); ST PAUL St Gallery, Auckland (2019); The Vivian, Matakana (2018); and Artspace, Auckland (2017).

Published on the occasion of

Ruth Ige Freedom’s Recurring Dream, 27 August – 30 September 2022

Stevenson, Johannesburg Ruth Ige The Solace of the Night, 1–3 December 2022

Art Basel Miami Beach

© 2022 for works: the artists © 2022 for texts: the authors

Catalogue 99 November 2022

Design Gabrielle Guy Photography Mario Todeschini, Nina Lieska, Earl Abrahams, Esther Ige

Buchanan Building 160 Sir Lowry Road 7925 Cape Town +27 21 462 1500

46 7th Avenue Parktown North 2193 Johannesburg +27 11 403 1055

Prinsengracht 371B 1016 HK Amsterdam +31 62 532 1380


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