Installation view of Frida Orupabo: Fear of Fear at Galerie Nordenhake, Mexico City (all images courtesy Galerie Nordenhake, photos Ramiro Chaves)

MEXICO CITY — As soon as you enter Frida Orupabo’s Fear of Fear at Galerie Nordenhake, the room seems to fall silent, canceling out the raucous noise of the traffic outside. The Nigerian-Norwegian artist’s first solo show in Mexico comprises video, wallpaper, sculpture, and life-sized collaged cut outs of mostly young Black women pegged to white walls in a large, sparse room hemmed in by green velvet curtains. 

The title, from a film by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, reflects Orupabo’s question to herself of what it must feel like to live in fear of other people and the fear of that fear. This play on words made me wonder how the average Mexican visitor might perceive this show, considering the scarcity of Black life or culture in a vast country where Afro-Mexicans make up roughly 2% of the population. 

The artist, who grew up in a small town in Norway, addresses the underrepresentation of Black women in the West through collaged paper figures with agile joints that evoke a fragmented sense of belonging. Her subjects appear aloof but they also confront the viewer with a fixed gaze. This is true of the long-haired girl with a fringe, whose bust is propped up off the floor on stilts, and the girl whose face is encircled by a black, haloed background. They struck me as lone beings with dismembered or partitioned bodies that could morph into something whole or collapse at any moment, due to missing torsos or props, such as pristine collars and wigs.

The young people I spoke with were quite at ease with the show, connecting it to race but not to their own cultural context. The gallery staff seemed to pick up on how this show might broach the Afro-Mexican question. Ironically, they said, that few locals who liked the works made the link with this country’s largely untold story of Afro-Mexican people. 

Seeing this show in a city where anti-Black racism doesn’t carry the same weight as in the US or Europe was encouraging. But I also walked away feeling as if the elephant in the room was the absence of Afro-Mexican individuals in our midst, while the burden of reminder was being carried by these surreal Black figures.

Frida Orupabo, “Becoming a woman” (2023), MDF and paper
Frida Orupabo, “Soft Comfort” (2023), collage: pigment print on acid-free cotton paper, mounting tape, split pins

Frida Orupabo: Fear of Fear continues at Galerie Nordenhake (Monterrey 65, Roma Norte, Cuauhtémoc, Mexico City, Mexico) through June 17. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.

Mebrak Tareke is the founder of TiMS Creative, a global consultancy on the future of storytelling. She has written for Arnet News, Frieze, and The Brooklyn Rail on art, politics, and culture in the African...