Following Mowalola’s electric debut solo exhibition at South London’s NOW Gallery in December 2019, “Silent Madness” is a short film directed by Jordan Hemingway and starring Yves Tumor. Shot in London club Electrowerkz, the film follows Tumor over the course of an extremely unfortunate night out as they suffer the effects of a nightmarish trip.
Words by CARLOTTA MANESCHI
Last December at NOW Gallery, London, the Lagos-born, London-based designer Mowalola Ogunlesi presented the immersive multi-media exhibition “Silent Madness.” The installation, concealed by Mowalola patterned fabric that draped over the circular floor-to-ceiling windows of the gallery, featured a band of mannequins covered in melting black tar, a set of headphones playing a pre-recorded six-track playlist spanning an eclectic mix of genres, and a video installation. A carefully curated chaos, a moment of unconditioned liberation into the designer’s universe, her own vision of a “Renaissance painting” serving as a backdrop to her poetically tragic visual narrative.
The screens looped brief excerpts of a six-minute film, directed by photographer and filmmaker Jordan Hemingway, that follows genre-bending musician Yves Tumor through an eerie night out. Namesake of the exhibition, Silent Madness (2019) is entirely shot in the London venue Electrowerkz, where a hyper-stylish, dream-like (too-cool-to-be-true?) crowd geared in Mowalola’s sexy SS20 COMING FOR BLOOD collection—an ode to the “horrific feeling of love”—dances entranced to muffled club music. Alternating between abstract visual collages and big close-up shots of Tumor’s nightmarish trip, Hemingway guides us through altered states of mind—a surreal climax of psychedelia which ultimately grounds us back in the darkness of reality. The effect is reminiscent of the very controversial, MTV-banned Prodigy music video for “Smack My Bitch Up” (1997), where we experience a similarly chaotic and stressful night through the film technique of the POV shot—an example of how Mowalola’s affinity to music organically filters through her creative practice and approach to contemporary design.
The Central Saint Martins alumna pursued an undergraduate degree in textile design, graduating in 2017. Her BA collection, Psychedelic, styled by friend and collaborator Ib Kamara, was a celebration of her Nigerian heritage, dance and unconstraint from social expectations. Halfway through her MA, the designer took the leap and dove fully into her brand, which led to talent incubator Fashion East taking her under its wing. Securing a space on the busy London Fashion Week schedule, she was able to produce two very successful collections, and her designs are now stocked at SSENSE, the hip Montreal-based fashion platform and e-commerce retailer. This rapid rise through the fashion biz was also supported by a number of celebrities, and even led her to dress Barbie for the famed doll’s 60th-anniversary edition.
Now, as she discusses with writer and politcal dominatrix Reba Maybury in a cover story interview for the SS20 issue of KALEIDOSCOPE, Ogunlesi is on a quest to break away from the conventions and expectations of the fashion industry. For Mowalola, that has meant championing her enticing idea of masculinity, exploring the complexities of gender fluidity through her African heritage, in order to regain a sense of self-ownership amid a persistent hyper-sexualization of the Black body. Looking to the future, the only productive way she sees to move forward with her brand is to “destroy everything”: as she tells Maybury in the featured cover story interview, finding new territory means “tearing down all these walls and giving space for something else to grow.”
Mowalola Ogunlesi (Nigerian, b. 1994) is a Lagos-born fashion designer who lives and works in London.
Video courtesy of the artist.
Photo credit: Joyce NG