Material Memory is a major new art exhibition that transforms a warehouse in the heart of North Philly into a moving exploration of loss, love, and memory. 

Local artists from North Philly’s Fairhill Hartranft neighborhood partnered with Nigerian sculptor Olanrewaju Tejuoso (Nigeria) for 6 months as part of the SPACES Artist in Residence program. Inspired by events locally and globally, the artist teams considered the theme of “memorial.” The result is a stunning 10,000 sq. foot sculptural installation crafted largely from discarded textiles and materials sourced from the neighborhood.

Visitors may sign up to visit during any of the open hours below. Please RSVP as it enables us to ensure neighborhood artists and/or the artist in residence is present to guide our visitors through the exhibit.

If you are not able to visit during any of the open hours, please contact SPACES program manager to arrange a group tour or visit outside of the current schedule.

Material Memory Exhibit Narrative: An Excerpt

Full exhibit narrative can be found in print at the exhibit site.

Olanrewaju’s (Lanre) artistic practice involves collecting (and cleaning) discarded materials, found and donated, from the streets, empty lots, and abandoned houses of his environment, and creating new, visually stunning objects through tying, wrapping, and stapling the materials together. These objects recall the utilitarian forms native to his home in Abeokuta, Nigeria, like the “Osuka” (a piece of cloth, usually folded into a circular shape, used to support ones head when carrying a jug of water or heavy object) or “Okuntobi” (a series of knots tied in a band used to carry money or other belongings).  His process transforms the materials and forms into complicated tapestries that reflect global issues of environmental degradation and economic decay.  They are meditative responses to loss on a global scale. 

When Lanre arrived in North Philly, he surveyed the streets for materials, often coming across candles, bottles, and teddy bears assembled into temporary memorials by people in the neighborhood grieving the death of a loved one. The material quality of the memorials provided inspiration for a conversation with the community.

For this project, Lanre worked with the two groups of community artists to produce a collective “memorial” for the neighborhood.  Through a series of “sewing circles,” dinners, meetings, and field trips the groups used their time together to consider the material quality of memory, the significance of loss, and the necessity for resilience.

The resulting exhibition operates as a single memorial and many memorials.

Working both separately and together, the accumulated works by each group have been collected in the exhibition space, creating a vast, sprawling environment that commemorates personal loss and larger global grievances, while simultaneously acknowledging the important work of remembering. Working with healer Mari Morales-Williams, the “in-studio” group produced a poem written on a wall of stapled fabric and veiled behind a curtain of red yarn, inviting the viewer to interact with it and discover its fragments; the poem is also reproduced as a small take-away zine in front of the larger work. 

The traveling group, working with Community Organizing Mentor Grimaldi Baez, created a series of sculptural installations documenting and commemorating the process of exploration and investigation into their personal histories and the history of the community. They brought their process of knotting wax-print fabric to schools, community centers, and galleries around the city, collecting stories and moments of connection at each point of contact. 

Photographer Breanne Furlong documented the different phases of this project; her images of the process can be seen in the last room of the exhibition. 

In this space, the accumulation and repetition of knots, folds and wraps become metaphors for loss and transformation. A memorial is not simply an object, but a part of a process; it is an accumulation of events, materials and memories that recall the ones we loved, the things we have lost.  Memorials help us to remember and to grieve but are also markers on our own path to something new.