RECONSTRUCTIONS PORTRAIT: Olalekan Jeyifous on Architecture as Speculation

๐˜–๐˜ฏ ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ฐ๐˜ค๐˜ค๐˜ข๐˜ด๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ ๐˜ฐ๐˜ง Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America ๐˜ข๐˜ต ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜”๐˜ถ๐˜ด๐˜ฆ๐˜ถ๐˜ฎ ๐˜ฐ๐˜ง ๐˜”๐˜ฐ๐˜ฅ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜ฏ ๐˜ˆ๐˜ณ๐˜ต, ๐˜—๐˜๐˜•โ€“๐˜œ๐˜— ๐˜ค๐˜ฐ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฎ๐˜ช๐˜ด๐˜ด๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฅ ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ด๐˜ต ๐˜‹๐˜ข๐˜ท๐˜ช๐˜ฅ ๐˜๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ต๐˜ต ๐˜ต๐˜ฐ ๐˜ค๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜ข๐˜ต๐˜ฆ ๐˜ท๐˜ช๐˜ฅ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฐ ๐˜ฑ๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ๐˜ต๐˜ณ๐˜ข๐˜ช๐˜ต๐˜ด ๐˜ฐ๐˜ง ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ด๐˜ฉ๐˜ฐ๐˜ธโ€™๐˜ด ๐˜ฑ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ค๐˜ช๐˜ฑ๐˜ข๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜จ ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ค๐˜ฉ๐˜ช๐˜ต๐˜ฆ๐˜ค๐˜ต๐˜ด, ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ด๐˜ต๐˜ด, ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ ๐˜ฅ๐˜ฆ๐˜ด๐˜ช๐˜จ๐˜ฏ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜ด. ๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ต๐˜ฆ๐˜ฏ ๐˜ฑ๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ๐˜ต๐˜ณ๐˜ข๐˜ช๐˜ต๐˜ด ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ข๐˜ค๐˜ค๐˜ฐ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฑ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ช๐˜ฆ๐˜ฅ ๐˜ฃ๐˜บ ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜ต๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜ท๐˜ช๐˜ฆ๐˜ธ๐˜ด ๐˜ธ๐˜ช๐˜ต๐˜ฉ ๐˜ฆ๐˜ข๐˜ค๐˜ฉ ๐˜ฑ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ค๐˜ช๐˜ฑ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ต (๐˜ด๐˜ฆ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ฃ๐˜ฆ๐˜ญ๐˜ฐ๐˜ธ). ๐˜—๐˜๐˜•โ€“๐˜œ๐˜—โ€™๐˜ด ๐˜™๐˜ฆ๐˜ค๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ด๐˜ต๐˜ณ๐˜ถ๐˜ค๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ ๐˜š๐˜ฑ๐˜ฆ๐˜ค๐˜ช๐˜ข๐˜ญ ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฅ๐˜ช๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ ๐˜ช๐˜ด ๐˜ข๐˜ญ๐˜ด๐˜ฐ ๐˜ข๐˜ท๐˜ข๐˜ช๐˜ญ๐˜ข๐˜ฃ๐˜ญ๐˜ฆย ๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ. ๐˜ˆ ๐˜—๐˜๐˜•โ€“๐˜œ๐˜— ๐˜ฑ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ต๐˜ฏ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜ด๐˜ฉ๐˜ช๐˜ฑ ๐˜ธ๐˜ช๐˜ต๐˜ฉย ๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฎ ๐˜‰๐˜ณ๐˜ฐ๐˜ธ๐˜ฏ๐˜ฆ.

Olalekan Jeyifous is a Brooklyn-based Nigerian-American visual artist and designer. Trained as an architect, Jeyifous often works in public spaces, realizing outdoor sculptures, plastering buildings with banners, and devising murals. He also creates widely exhibited artwork, including mappings and models of the past, present, and even possible futures โ€” a recent project is an Afro-, agro-, and eco-futurist speculative vision for Brooklynโ€™s Crown Heights neighborhood.

Olalekan Jeyifous photographed by David Hartt for PINโ€“UP.

PINโ€“UP: What led you to architecture?

Olalekan Jeyifous: Before architecture was a medium for any sort of sociopolitical, cultural, or environmental inquiry it was Saturday visits to the public library to pore over coffee-table books on anything from Danish furniture design and Japanese architecture to contemporary West African art. My mother would make observations about the various images we were looking at, point things out, and prod me with questions. I was around six or seven at the time, and thatโ€™s when I started loudly declaring that I wanted to be an architect. Because it was rooted in a kind of sunny childhood wonder, I had no pretensions about what pursuing this field might entail or where it would lead, and as a result itโ€™s been a constant and revelatory journey of discovery.

How has your practice evolved?

I never pursued the traditional architectural trajectory. I liked the immediacy of being able to articulate my ideas very quickly and saw an opportunity to structure a visual-arts practice around my architectural education and design process. My early work was rooted in the traditional conventions of architectural representation: plans, elevations, sections, and models. But, over time, I was able to expand the parameters of my practice to include whatever media felt appropriate for the narratives I was exploring. I started really looking at producing speculative imagery, experimental animation, and, more recently, large-scale public art, which I feel reconciles my architectural background with my artistic practice in productive and enlightening ways.

What does โ€œreconstructionsโ€ mean to you? Both as the title of the show and as a historical or contemporary reference?

As a title, Reconstructions, in an architectural sense, takes on a much grander and perhaps even presumptuous tone as it concerns using design to reform/transform a system that runs quite effectively as it was intended. As an ever-evolving point of reference, I consider reconstruction to be everything Black people in this country have done to navigate, survive, and thrive within a nation designed at every turn to obstruct that process, a process which often confronts notions of space, access, and belonging.

Can you describe the project you are creating in response to the MoMA Reconstructions brief? Where is it and why did you choose that location?

My project is located in New York City and more specifically Brooklyn, where I have resided for 20 years. It imagines an alternative retro-future in which the world discovers the dangerous effects of fossil fuels in the late 70s. As a result, the U.S. federal government establishes a system of โ€œmobility creditsโ€ wherein each person is afforded a finite amount of movement at the city, state, and national levels. In support of the free market, the law also provides that the credits would be transferable and salable, and so a system of personal-mobility allowance that was created to reduce pollution is quickly corrupted by the American principles of capitalism resulting in new inequalities mapped along racial and ethnic lines. This system is then examined through Brooklyn and New York City where it is most acute, and where a social geography quickly emerges in which certain communities have sold away almost all their rights to leave their immediate environs. I imagine what these communities look like and how they survive and adapt through a series of โ€œarchitecturalโ€ improvisations. As always my work takes an inverse approach to the prevailing public perception of architecture as a problem-solving endeavor.

Interview by Drew Zeiba
Video portrait by David Hartt
Editing by Jessica Lin
Music by King Britt presents Moksha Black

A PINโ€“UP production in partnership with Thom Browne

This video is part of a series of ten portraits David Hartt created for PINโ€“UP on the occasion of Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America at the Museum of Art (Feb 20โ€“May 31, 2021), curated by Mabel O. Wilson and Sean Anderson. The portraits were also published in the print edition of PINโ€“UP 29.