Brooklyn-based visual artist Olalekan Jeyifous creates work that critiques the present by looking at the past and the future. Trained in architecture at Cornell University, he blends techniques and skills from the field with speculation drawn from a range of science fiction imaginaries from Afrofuturism to Solarpunk—a genre that envisions possible ecological futures under climate crisis. Best-known for his digital illustrations in the series Shantytown Megastructures, an imagined Lagos, Nigeria in which contemporary ad hoc construction practices are extrapolated into fantastical vertical settlements, his practice crosses between disciplines and mediums, taking shape as drawings, films, and installations. Jeyifous’ work has been shown at the Shenzhen Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism, the Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Guggenheim Bilbao. His large-scale public artworks were shown at Coachella in 2017 and recently along the waterfront in Alexandria, Virginia. He is one of the participants in the 2020-21 cycle of Exhibit Columbus and the MoMA exhibition, Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America.
I can’t stop thinking about refugia. In the years, months, and days before the COVID-19 pandemic, the term was confined to the literature and philosophy of climate crisis, referring to pockets of life that through geographic isolation or species resilience manage to hang on in spite of the environmental forces against them. Think of clusters of Pacific Northwest barnacles nestled high on coastal outcroppings to avoid falling prey to sea snails. Or old-growth forests insulated from rising temperatures in cool mountain valleys.
As self-quarantine set in earlier this spring, the word refugia, at least for me, expanded in definition from specific ecological condition to conceptual touchstone—a necessary leap to metaphor when faced with planetary crisis. The magnitude of this pandemic falls outside human comprehension, but for the luckiest of us, refuge is manageable: a place of relative safety, of sourdough starters and online Jazzercise classes.