An artist’s process and an architect’s process are completely different, but the end game is fascinatingly close,” says award-winning Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye over a crackly phone line from Accra, Ghana. That end game has been on Adjaye’s mind recently because he’s working on a new collaborative project with African-American artist Adam Pendleton, his close friend, that will be on show at Pace in Hong Kong from May 18 until June 30.
The exhibition features a body of new paintings by Pendleton alongside three new pyramidal sculptures from Adjaye’s Monoform series, which blurs the boundaries between sculpture and design. The day we speak is Martin Luther King Day in the US, which turns out to be of notable significance to the artists: Adjaye and Pendleton first collaborated on an ambitious architectural proposal for the Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King Memorial in Boston, Massachusetts in 2017. It was ultimately unsuccessful, but the project ignited a deeper dialogue between the pair, who both explore—and champion—black culture and history in their work.
“I love art for art’s sake, but I also love when art is able to be a socially transformative way forward,” says Adjaye. “There are a lot of practices now that are not just about making things on a canvas but activating society.”
The pair first connected over social media. “He posted something on Instagram about one of his paintings that really touched me,” says Adjaye. “Adam’s Black Dada [texts written by Pendleton that draw connections between European Dadaist texts from the early 20th century and writings of African American leaders from the 1960s] was also a really powerful thing at the time, so I reached out to him.”
Adjaye has long been associated with the art world. He has collaborated on installations and exhibitions with British painter Chris Ofili, Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson and Nigerian curator and art critic Okwui Enwezor, among others; he’s also designed private homes and studios for artists including London photographer Ed Reeve and artist duo Sue Webster and Tim Noble. Adjaye is a graduate of art school himself—he studied at the Royal College of Art in London, the city he moved to as a child (he was born in Tanzania to Ghanaian parents). In 2017, he was elected as one of only 80 members of London’s Royal Academy of Arts; that same year he was knighted by Prince William.
His interest in and knowledge of art influence his work with his architecture studio, Adjaye Associates, which has studios in London, Accra and New York, and last year celebrated its 20th anniversary. “I try to sympathise with both sides—I try to see [my] work as both functional and also as an artwork,” he explains. “I’m very interested in this line between [architecture and] artwork that can be used, not just cerebrally, but also practically.”