“Sky is as like sky or wall as wall or sky are like each other or skin*” miraculously relates my impressions of Bukola Koiki’s Tyvek Gele sculpture, on view among others in the “FOREIGNERS” show at Nationale. Koiki’s choice of the tyvek material, usually a utilitarian one, to stand in for traditional African cloth, is by its apparent visual symbology given new attributes as a sculpture. That Tyvek is a Dupont invention made to protect half-constructed buildings takes any head- or body-as-house metaphor pretty far; I imagine this arrangement as an augury of people being “housewrapped,” instead of lofts or towers. This renders an immediate, heartening response (to me anyway) — considering the lengths to which people of color might think to go for protection from those who wish to do harm.

The apparent absence of a head in Koiki’s headwrap (which is kind of shaped like it covers a head and face) and its blue paint treatment, make the material less sartorially decorative and closer to something like marble. Koiki’s Gele, composed of painted Tyvek and put up on a wooden shelf on a gallery wall, effectively conjures problems of identity and tradition, and their display in a hostile contemporary world.

The natural indigo in juxtaposition with the opacity of the material’s chemically-resistant, incombustible finish also makes it look glacial, seeming like a material comment on all kinds of vulnerability. Tyvek can’t tear, resists liquid water but not water vapor, and given the body’s high water content this appears, maybe unconsciously, as a sendup of protection. Instead of Koiki’s overcoming the limits of her medium, which would otherwise be soft, warm, comforting, etc., she has directed it to more powerful and various ends.

(Image: Bukola Koiki, Tyvek Gele 1, 2014, Tyvek, natural indigo, thread, 10.5 x 9.75 x 9”)

*Fairfield Porter