Of the many, many consequences of Brexit, the potential environmental impact has gotten the least play. But without the E.U. around to enforce its regulations regarding implementing renewable energy, recycling household waste, and limiting air pollution, the U.K. may suffer further still from its break from the union.
It’s in this climate that Wilson Oryema, the 23-year-old London-based model and artist, will debut his first solo exhibition at Doomed Gallery in Dalston this weekend. The two-day show, entitled “Wait” and comprising Oryema’s own photography and video, focuses on mindless consumption and our relationships to materials like plastic.
The theme emerged last fall, when he began photographing trash left outside homes as a way of exploring waste: “We just consume and consume and consume, and don’t pay attention to where this stuff is going,” Oryema said recently on the phone from Scotland, where he had just arrived in his other career, as a model who has appeared in campaigns for Calvin Klein and Kenzo.
After Brexit, Oryema began to reckon with his own role as an artist in the conversation around issues like the environment. “Wait” is the first of three shows Oryema has devised; the subsequent exhibitions will focus around food and clothing. “I’m not saying that I’m going to cause a massive rebellion, but if I’ve got a voice, I might as well say something,” Oryema said.
Brexit also gave his art a sense of urgency, he added, because he, like many Britons, hadn’t anticipated the referendum results—and “while I was always working on the art, I just hadn’t pushed as seriously as I had when that news came about.”
Oryema was raised in the Brixton neighborhood of London by a mother who worked for various charities like the British Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and organizations focused on minority rights. He began taking photos in his early teens, adding video six or seven years ago. After working a series of tech- and design-adjacent jobs for several years, including blogging and product development, he was scouted by a casting agent for Maison Margiela in the summer of 2014. He made his runway debut for the Spring 2015 season, subsequently booking campaigns for brands like Kenzo and Calvin Klein, for whom he appeared in the massive Fall 2016 #MyCalvins campaign alongside Kate Moss, Tommy Genesis, and more. He also befriended and modeled for the menswear designer Grace Wales Bonner, who he described as “an older sister.” And he did all of it without an agent, signing with Storm Models just two months ago.
At the same time, he was honing his own art assisting photographers like Harley Weir, whom Oryema met backstage at Margiela and who shot him for Pop magazine. His work in fashion spurred his creativity, he said—he likened modeling to performance art—and offered insight into patterns of consumption, both in high-fashion and fast-fashion spaces.
Though Oryema was once reluctant to delve fully into fashion or art, this year might prove the tipping point: In addition to signing with an agency and opening his first solo show, he has two more collaborative projects and a zine based on “Wait” in the works. “Wait” might just span a weekend, but Oryema is building his name to last.