Art in the Diaspora

Ranti Bam’s ‘Anima’ is Still on View at James Cohan Gallery in New York

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Ranti Bam’s first exhibition in New York consists of two bodies of sculptural ceramics referred to as Abstract Vessels and Ifas respectively. Featuring 15 new works made in 2024 alone, the Abstract Vessels feature electic palettes and organic shapes and patterns. In this exhibition Bam engages with the feminine where she confronts notions of fragility, vulnerability, and care. This is through her recent practice where she explores concepts of anima–which is defined as the feminine spirit tied to emotion, empathy, and sensitivity rooted in the unconscious. Bam creates clay forms that embody this life force in the two related bodies of work: Abstract Vessels and Ifas. In ‘Anima’, the artist draws inspiration from Hieronymus Bosch’s painting, The Garden of Earthly Delights, and from there builds a sculptural world that reimagines Eve as prima materia—the primal feminine.

Installation view of Ranti Bam, Anima, James Cohan Gallery New York, Image courtesy of Phoebe Dheurle and Culture Type

The Abstract Vessels are constructed with thin slabs of overlapping earthenware and are often supported by legs, while others are grounded flat. Using the language of gestural painting, the artist works with a pigmented liquid clay to rub and transfer painted sheets of paper onto the surfaces of her vessels, as well as painting directly onto the slabs. Her intuitive use of color is influenced by the exuberance of her Nigerian Yoruba heritage, as well as the palette of Bosch’s Garden. Bam occasionally punctures her intricately patterned surfaces to reveal their glossy interiors, inviting the audience closer into her work.

Ranti Bam, Itunu, 2024, Glazed stoneware, 69.8 x 33 x 27.9 cm, Image courtesy of Matthew Hermann and James Cohan Gallery

Spread throughout the gallery and perched on stools, the artist’s meditative Ifas reference the body and ritual practice. The torso-length vessels are shaped by the artist’s physical embrace. These forms subsequently crack and collapse in on themselves during the firing process which is a compelling metaphor for fragility. The Ifas are rendered in raw earth-toned copper colour stoneware rich with red iron oxide and other stone in the ashy gray and deep charcoal black tome. “Ifa” in Yoruba means both (ifá): divination and (I –fàá): to pull close, reflecting on the transformation of pure material into states of expression. The stools that the vessels rest upon, known as ‘akpoti’, are integral to indigenous life and are used to facilitate spiritual and material sustenance; rest and communal gathering.

Ranti Bam, Alternative views of Ifa 1, 2024, Stoneware, 102.9 x 38.1 x 40.6 cm, Image courtesy of the artist and James Cohan Gallery

Bam fuses these supports with the vessels, presenting her Ifas as votive offerings or “portals” to another sphere. Through her work in clay, Bam searches for a new state of consciousness, one that is unbound. Her colorful abstract vessels and corporeal Ifas emit an interior spirit that encourages public contemplation and invites us to embrace vulnerability. The exhibition opened on the 17th of May and will be running until the 26th of July 2024 at the James Cohan Gallery on 291 Grand Street, New York.


Lelethu Sobekwa was born in Gqeberha, South Africa. She holds a BA Honours in English and an MA in Creative Writing with distinction from Rhodes University. Lelethu currently writes for Art Network Africa.

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