This September, Life Through Extraordinary Mirrors, a group exhibition at October Gallery features the work of Romuald Hazoumè, Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga, Cyrus Kabiru, Zak Ové, Alexis Peskine, LR Vandy and Cosmo Whyte. The show will include painting, sculpture and photography drawing upon themes of place, identity and human experience. The seven artists interweave their personal experiences with global realities to present an astute view of the world we live in.

Romuald Hazoumè is one of Africa’s foremost contemporary artists and recipient of the prestigious Arnold Bode Prize at documenta 12. The artist’s astute and sardonically political oeuvre is realised in a diverse range of media, including multi-media installation, sculpture, video, photography and painting. Using the ubiquitous plastic petrol can as his iconic signature, Hazoumè undertakes monumental installations that act as metaphors of African place, history and identity. The petrol canisters reference Beninese men and women who ferry contraband gasoline between Nigeria and their Beninese consumers.

Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga explores the seismic shifts in the economic, political and social identity of the DRC that have taken place since colonialism. Increasingly globalised, there is a sense in the DRC that some of its people are rejecting its heritage, a conflict that fuels Kamuanga Ilunga’s work. His large-scale figurative compositions possess a depth of historical understanding, with a striking and sophisticated interplay of the intensity of space juxtaposed with emptiness. The listless figures seem to mourn the loss of their traditional cultures, their bright fabrics hanging limply from their bodies, their hands clutching ritual objects whose functions seem less and less apparent.

Cyrus Kabiru has been pushing the boundaries of conventional craftsmanship, sculpture, art and photography. Kabiru is best known for his intricate, handmade eye-wear sculptures created from found materials and their accompanying self-portrait photographs. In Kabiru’s photographs, it is always the artist himself, wearing his ‘C-stunner’ creations, as if continuing his observation of everyday life from an extraordinary position. Kabiru’s practice is an on-going distillation of the idea that when we cover or shield our eyes, we are masked. The mask transforms the wearer, opening new possibilities of seeing, or experiencing the world. In this sense Kabiru’s work draws on the concepts of the Afrofuturist imagining of the future in performative and innovative ways. Several of these photographs by Kabiru will be exhibited.

Zak Ové is a multi-disciplinary artist whose practice includes sculpture, film and photography. His work is informed in part by the history and lore carried through the African diaspora to the Caribbean, Britain and beyond, with a particular focus on traditions of masking and masquerade.

Ové’s artworks explore the interplay between old world mythology and what he posits as ‘potential futures’, a space where he reinterprets existence into the fantastical. Ové uses modern materials, a sound clash of Caribbean and African colour, and the reinvention and appropriation of everyday objects to bring his characters and scenarios to life. His work is a celebration of the power of play, the spirit of imagination in the blurring of edges between reality and possibility, flesh and spirit. In this way, Ové seeks to re-write a history for the future through heralding the past in a new light.

Alexis Peskine’s signature works are large-scale mixed media ‘portraits’ of the African diaspora, which are rendered by hammering gold leafed nails of different gauge, with pin-point accuracy, into wood stained with coffee and mud to create breath-taking composite images. Metaphorically connecting the nail to the Black Experience, Peskine depicts figures that portray strength, perseverance and self-possession, with energy startlingly reminiscent of the Minkisi “power figures” of the Congo Basin, spiritually charged objects whose traditional function was to protect and ward off evil spirits. Building on his heritage and personal experiences, Peskine’s reliefs and photography focus on the complexity of themes impacting people from the African Diaspora.

In her sculptures, LR Vandy brings together both found and made objects in order to create new meaning. In her ‘Hull’ series, Vandy transforms model boat hulls into ‘masks’, animating them with various materials, including fishing floats, porcupine quills and acupuncture needles. The hulls allude to the transportation of migrants as commodities. As masks they present a transformation of identity, drawing upon the tradition of talismans, charms and amulets. Representing aggressive protection, the materials Vandy applies to the hulls reference witchcraft/voodoo needles or nails, creating a tension throughout the works. The overall forms draw together the opposing aesthetics of attraction and repulsion; alluring and seemingly decorative pieces that on closer inspection provoke a sense of danger in the larger context of our world.

Cosmo Whyte’s work is defined by how the 21st century migrant can reconcile with a colonial past whilst shedding the burdens of nationalism and origin. Whyte employs photographs, drawings and sculpture to explore how notions of identity are disrupted by migration, as an unfinished arc of motion whose final resting point remains an open-ended question. His process begins with an interrogation of his own migrant body and a negotiation of what it means to be a Jamaican-born immigrant in the United States whose parents grew up under colonial Jamaica and met in England, juxtaposed with personal memories.

Whyte’s photographs are documentations of performances. These performances are modified re-enactments of memories, ranging from probing contradictions in colonial retentions in Jamaica to restrictive notions of masculinity and race.