Olanrewaju Tejuoso and two community artist teams transformed discarded materials into an immersive memorial to love, loss, and community ties.

Olanrewaju (Lanre) is a painter, sculptor, and performance artist from Abeokuta, Nigeria who works in discarded materials. When he arrived in North Philly, Lanre surveyed the streets for materials and inspiration. He often came across candles, bottles, and teddy bears — the remnants of temporary memorials created by community members grieving a death in the neighborhood.

In conversation with Village staff and community members, Lanre decided to respond to the community’s need to remember its loved ones through art.

Lanre teamed up with two groups of community members to create the project: one in-studio, and one traveling around the city and the neighborhood.

Both teams brought their work together in a stunning final installation, inhabiting a formerly abandoned warehouse across from the Village of Arts and Humanities for 


“[Being a neighborhood artist] is different than other jobs. It’s about communication. A lot of people out there don’t have that. You come in to the studio, tie some knots, you hang with us, you have your people now. We tell each other stories that we don’t tell other people.” — Nick, neighborhood artist

Community listening

As part of the artists' process, the teams listened to community members around the neighborhood discuss past experiences of connection and loss.

“It’s hard to walk around here and say no one has been affected by violence. There’s immediate stress and reciprocal effects. It’s people we know, boys we watched grow up. That doesn’t mean we get used to it. Our grief is real. We are still people.” – Ms. Kitty, community member

Photo Essays by Breanne Furlong

Photographer Breanne Furlong worked alongside both teams for the course of the residency, and created a series of photo essays tracing the process of conceiving of and building the exhibit.

Her first essay asks: “What is memorial?”

“Is it a chiseled marble statue or a melting candle on a city sidewalk? Maybe it’s a telephone pole transformed into a totem of plush stuffed animals and photographs, or a necklace that you wouldn’t dare leave home without.

Memorial is everywhere and it can live through anything. It enables us to treasure what once was, whether it be a person, place, or event. Though we’re often taught to let go, memorials help us to stay connected.

The SPACES team set out to better understand these ideas by building common memorials around the city which were surprisingly mirrored by our explorations in the studio.”

Material Memory: The Exhibit

After months of work, the 10,000 square foot exhibition opened to the public on Dec. 9, 2017. Hosting over 700 visitors from within and outside of the neighborhood, Material Memory stayed open through February, when it closed with a moving dance performance at sunset.

Read stories about the exhibit from Philadelphia journalists below.

Will Reid

Will Reid is a neighborhood artist with the Material Memory project.
learn more