Celebrating 2 Months at Torpedo Factory Art Center

I now have a website – http://www.anthonynsofor.com. Please subscribe to it to get new blog posts as I will only occasionally post links to that website. I wrote this essay reminiscing on all the great experiences I have had since I moved into Torpedo Factory Art Center as a resident artist. In so many ways, my sense of place as a creative in the scheme of things has become more assured, with every conversation with a stranger. Click on the link to read this amazing story- https://www.anthonynsofor.com/post/celebrating-2-years-at-torpedo-factory-art-center.

The King’s rites of Renewal: Ofala Festival

Today is the 20th coronation anniversary of His Majesty Nnaemeka Achebe, Obi of Onitsha (Agbogidi). The king is an avid art collector and promoter of Igbo artists. His palace is full of artworks from all over Africa. He also owns the biggest collection of my paintings. He is presently building a museum to house his huge collection of artworks. It has always been an honor to sell works to Igwe Achebe. I am particularly delighted by the opportunity of being shown in his museum. My paintings will be on view quite close to home. Onitsha is only an hour away from Oguta, my village. There are similarities in the kingship, the language, cultures, traditions, festivals and even the names of clans! You see, both the Onitsha and Oguta people share an ancestry to the Bini Kingdom. We are a faction of people who migrated out of ancient Bini to dwell on the banks of the river Niger, from Igalaland downwards to the Delta regions in Nigeria. 

The Obi of Onitsha, His Majesty Nnaemeka Achebe sits on the throne welcoming dignitaries at the Ofala Celebrations, October 2015
His Majesty Nnaemeka Achebe, Obi of Onitsha dances at the beginning of Ofala celebration, October 2016

The Ofala festival began today at Ime-Obi Onitsha and will end tomorrow. The King dances and shows off all his splendor, receiving adulation from his people. Other kings also come around to celebrate with him during this period. Titled members of Onitsha come out to fete the king on the first day. Igwe Achebe also opens a group art exhibition in one of the rooms of his palace on the same day. On the second day at Azu Ofala, the members of the various age grades in Onitsha come out to greet Igwe Achebe. A carnival happens in the fields behind the king’s palace. There are live performances by renowned musical artists and food stands selling various Igbo meals.

Members of the prestigious Odu society, at the Ofala festival in Onitsha, 2016
Members of my age grade in Onitsha at the Ofala celebration, 2015

Join me in wishing the King great health and wealth. May his reign bring more blessings to the Onitsha people. Igwe Achebe is the Igbo king par excellence. His is my king- a dear father and friend! Click on the link to watch the YouTube Channel for the events around the Ofala 2022.

Watch live at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SMW_ATJme3g

Face Facts, Language and Communication

The lure of becoming an international figure fascinates me- to cross national borders effortlessly and encounter new people with their cultures. Travelling can be out of curiosity, to see how the other side is. One’s identity could become fluid, of course. People always want to put you in a bottle, place you in a defined space or context. I don’t know how important that is now that we have the internet. Anyway, with the camera in hand, I started studying the places and people I met on my journeys.

Working in transit meant reducing the scale of my paintings. Smaller pieces were more convenient to work on in hotel rooms or lug through airports. I had begun a new body of work called Citizens of Nowhere to commemorate this migrant phase. In 2017 I created 100 paintings of faces for the series Citizens of Nowhere. A collector friend of mine persuaded me to give him 3 pieces from that collection before my friend Chika explained how the works needed to stay together. They needed to be in a collection. So, he has kept them for me at his home in Princeton. A time will come to show those pieces. 

This arrangement shows 21 of the 100 Faces from 2017, 2018 arranged together, from the Citizens of Nowhere series.

The Faces from 2017 and 2018 were mainly monochrome, black and white picture. The recent follow-up series Global Citizens has more colour. The added expressiveness of colour gives more weight. Starting from a structural, more formal rendition, the work has evolved to the external embrace that colours bring. Colour affects our perception of reality so strongly.

Another reason I started travelling abroad was from being uncomfortable with the political atmosphere in my country. In 2009 Nigeria removed History from the school curriculum (This misnomer was corrected in paper only in 2021). Over 50 years after the Nigeria-Biafra war, the pangs and pains of that event have not been adequately addressed by the Nigerian government. Our people (Biafra, or groups of people from parts of Southern Nigeria) remained traumatized, victims who are continually made to pay for a war that ended with the Nigerian government claiming that there was ‘no victor, no victim’. The political atmosphere runs amok- this phrase is a blatant lie. So much about the lifestyle didn’t make sense. We looked like one people that the colonialists divided when they split Africa among themselves. We shared similar skin types and physical features, so the ethnic rifts hurt more than racism. 

The more I travelled, the more I felt alienated and a strange kinship- I formed an alliance with people everywhere. But the alienation came from being uncomfortable in America. In response, I started the shock series Songs of a DbAA (Dead black African Artist) 

There was a certain frustration with a system that did not acknowledge one’s presence. These are some of the agitations with being a migrant. Also, the nostalgia for the homeland never leaves you. These complex feelings affected how I saw reality so much. 

I pushed the series Songs of a DbAA at the height of the pandemic. 2019 saw me stuck in New York, caught up by the travel restrictions of the time. I started making collages with magazine cuttings and painting with acrylics. I was in an unfamiliar land. People avoided each other. We all wore masks. I wanted to see the faces, to see if a smile followed the glint in the eyes of the cashier at the grocery store. The masking policies suddenly put importance on human faces. The idea of faces that told all the story was something I had done before. I started creating new faces. The memory brought a schismatic image.

Headshots are strong. The faces are small, like mug shots or passport photographs that are required for creating a travel ID. I still look to people, to faces. Maybe we will find the heart’s intent in their faces? I have met some people who call themselves global citizens. That sounds more precise- Citizens of Nowhere has birthed the series Global Citizens.

Some of the older Faces I have painted in the past.

At the Nsukka Uli School, we learned about traditional Uli and other symbols to communicate ideas. Powerful storytelling inculcated iconic patterns understood by the initiates who shared these symbols. 

This is like using emoticons in texting or adding the avatars on social media platforms like Facebook; and in virtual gaming platforms like ROBLOX

I started making faces at a time in my village history when a sacrilege had occurred. 

As a child, I have always felt tied to these cultural expressions and entertainment ushering in the new year or on occasions to commemorate the passage or visit of great people to Oguta. Masquerading is one such tradition. The masquerades have raffia bodies and stand as tall as 9 feet. They wear Ekpo masks also. Similar masquerades are played in other parts of Southern Nigeria. The invigorating performances of the masquerades caused the audience to be in a presence of a ‘being’. The idea of looking to the specifics of the being usually fled with all the terror and excitement of witnessing these masquerades performing, walking the entire course of the village with their charm-bearing followers who chanted songs of praise and stories of the exploits of the masquerades.

In 2016, two rival masquerading communities in Oguta clashed at the beginning of the New Year. A young man died during the fight. In retaliation, the siblings of that man attacked and sacked the other community. They brought out to the public the paraphernalia of the masquerades from the shrine of the rival community, tore them apart, and disappeared the masks. 

My mother was from the Abatu community that lost their masquerades in that skirmish. The people pride themselves as the supreme masqueraders in Oguta. For a long while, there was a search for a rebirth of the masquerades. The king placed a temporary ban on masquerading. 

In my series Citizens of Nowhere and the 100 Faces, I studied facial expressions. I searched in Jakande market, Lagos for similar Ekpo masks. I also looked at the masks in Ochanja market, Onitsha. The facial expressions and ornamentation differed from pictures taken of the masquerades from my village. 

Art history tells of how cultures have dealt with the idea of the face. Hieroglyphics, the Ife heads, and other older African sculptures have given the face (or rather the head) much prominence. Ihu oma akpo na m (transliterated good face has called me but means that one has a foreboding of good tidings. The faces represented in my work are symbolic of the diversity of expressions of human emotion. The stylization allows for a free interpretation. Viewers should see themselves in the artwork as though before a mirror- to seek understanding and apathy. Nowadays travel is easy; the internet and communications are flawless- we have access to everywhere. Sometimes the experience is virtual. People realize that we are different, and the world is large. Moving around, one finds that we share so much as humans. We need to look more closely.

Some months back, a mentor of mine made an interesting observation- he suggested that I was ‘anti-Uli’ in my work (There was a complete absence of traditional Uli symbols in my works). My work is unpretentious in its intentions. An artist could choose a different path, another strategy. Instead of recycling symbols, I invented a pictorial language of loosely drawn faces in their randomness conjuring a bundle of emotions. 

Colours are used arbitrarily in the series while the subject matter is still the human head. My work borrows the formal elements of passport photographs or those portraits of our ancestors we hang at home. Those pictures keep reminding us of those that have passed. We must never forget. I think of the meaning of the face as identifiers- suggestive of myriad meanings.

Oguta National Convention 2022

There is a proud community of people living in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. We are from Oguta, a local government in Imo State. Oguta consists of a cluster of small villages around the banks of the blue lake, and the Ulashi river. Our village is a popular tourist destination. People have travelled from other parts of Nigeria to see the confluence of the lake and Ulashi river, play golf at the Oguta motel, swim and have picnics.
The constant traffic of foreigners visiting has exposed us to other worlds- and at some point, Oguta had the highest number of schools for a village in Southern Nigeria. I have been taking photos of people in Oguta. I own many hard drives of thousands of photographs from events that happened since the past 23 years! Just ask me, and I may most likely have a picture of someone you know from Oguta! There is a lot to say about Oguta, but that is a story for another day.
This post will share the photos of people who attended the Oguta National Convention 2022, my first time at the event. For 3 years, the annual event was paused by the pandemic. The branches of members of the Oguta National convention took turns to host. This year’s event was hosted by the Maryland, USA branch. For three days from September 6- 8th, our people flew in from Nigeria, the UK, and many states in the US. The convention included a welcome party, general meetings of the younger generation of attendees and the adults, and a colorful after party. The people spoke about Oguta meetings, growing the membership, of becoming more boisterous after the lull caused by the pandemic.
The convention was an opportunity to meet and greet, to discuss projects that will improve the village. All these happened around the Labor Day holiday. It was a delight meeting up with family and friends. There was so much to eat (as is usual at American parties) and the music was fantastic. The vibrant colors of our African attires lit the hall, and we danced till early morning. Now I am hooked. I will pay dues and become an official member. I love being around my people. I took photographs for the 3 days. Now, this post will become longer. Doesn’t a picture speak more than a thousand words? Enjoy. I would like to hear your comments about the article, the event and other ideas for improving our beloved Oguta.

Follow me on this page for more content and on Instagram @anthonynsofor, @tfaya_photography.

Marcia Kure, Mastering Line!

On 6 September, 2022, you are invited to the exhibition Marcia Kure: Reticulation at Susan Inglett Gallery, New York. I am excited to see this show! Her use of various media to convey a sense of the linear, gestural, bringing fresh interpretations of that key principle in traditional Uli art!

We were undergraduate Fine and Applied Arts students at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Marcia Wok Kure was 2 years ahead of me. I admired how she kept on revising every idea that came, drawing variations of each work as they came. Marcia has kept up investigating lines and building new interpretations that startle and delight.

For Marcia, the line moves in space in an unceasing gyre, in spasms. Thus, the line appears everywhere in our daily lives. Marcia and I have had some conversations about this fascination with lines. Here is the announcement by the gallery about the show:

Susan Inglett Gallery is pleased to present new work by Marcia Kure in her fourth solo exhibition with the gallery on view from 6 September 2022 through 15 October 2022. The artist will be present on Tuesday, 6 September from 6 to 8 PM.Following her commissioned site-specific installation NETWORK, currently on view at the Menil Drawing Institute, and The Amina Project, commissioned for the group exhibition PROCESS, at Alexander McQueen London, Marcia Kure continues to explore the complex histories of trade and migration through drawing, sculpture, and collage. A formal synthesis of these recent projects, this exhibition represents an expansion of Kure’s established oeuvre and a deeper consideration of past, present, and emerging systems of power. Through abstraction, Kure asks how visible and invisible structures can be dissolved into line.Reticulation investigates our shared responsibility in perpetuating networks of migration and exchange. Kure uses line as mark, metaphor, memory, and systems tracker. Using paper and canvas soaked and marked with natural pigment—kola nut, indigo, and charcoal—the artist places pressure on the material components of her drawings as commodities that map the movement of bodies throughout time. Kure’s drawings reference the curvilinear shape of the Uli line, a Nigerian design motif traditionally drawn on bodies. Treating the paper or canvas as skin, these marks become a site of remembrance, holding within them histories of colonization and exploitation.A series of grid paintings on paper underscores the artist’s relationship with nature, yet another system of exchange. In a painstaking process, Kure invites the labor of seasons and the passage of time to partake in the creation of her works; cluster-like images, dotted planes, and geometric patterns trace the outcome of this collaboration.In her collage series, Kure combines source material from her studio, pulling images from Oprah Winfrey’s book, Journey to the Beloved, as well as beauty and fashion magazines to create bodies where histories of colonial subjugation and standards of beauty collide. Kure evokes the work of early Dadaist photomontage, utilizing mass-produced imagery and ethnographic renderings to discuss global capitalism. These seemingly unconnected parts merge to represent a network of entanglement, implicating us all in the structures of movement and power.Marcia Kure (b. 1970) is a multidisciplinary artist whose work explores post-colonial existentialist ideas and identities. Based in both Nigeria and the United States, Kure employs a range of material strategies to address historical, existing, and potential systems of power. Kure’s work has been seen recently at the Menil Drawing Institute, Houston; Alexander McQueen, London; Centre George Pompidou, Paris; Royal Institute of Art, Stockholm, and the Wanås Konst Sculpture Park, Knislinge. Her work can be found in the permanent collections of the British Museum, London; National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; Centre George Pompidou, Paris; and the Studio Museum in Harlem, NYC, among others.NETWORK at the Menil Drawing Institute will be on display through 22 September 2022.MARCIA KURE will be on view at the gallery located at 522 West 24 Street Tuesday to Saturday 10 AM to 6 PM. For additional information, please contact Susan Inglett Gallery at 212 647 9111 or info@inglettgallery.com.

Shall we dance?

Long before dad was born, grandpa and grandma won their wedding dresses as the best dance couple at a dance event in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria. Ballroom dancing was quite popular in colonial-era cities in Africa. Today the nightclubs are packed with people dancing to more individually expressive afrobeat music.

Grandpa and grandma on their wedding day.
Kizomba Dancing
Dancing at the Baltimore Salsa Congress 2022

Three months ago, I went to a Kizomba/salsa dancing workshop at Mix Bar and Grille in Silver Spring. I got into partner dancing, counting the steps to the beats. There are other dance steps also- Zouk (Brazilian Zouk is a type), Kompa, and merengue. Mine is afrobeat with its different kind of energy. 

But partner dancing has a calming, comforting effect. In these days of isolation, social distancing and the pandemic, partner dancing becomes an opportunity to be hugged again. Partner dancing requires one gets closer than the 6 feet apart recommended by the CDC. While dancing, some people still wear face masks to stay safe. The face masks are less common in the lounges, though. We can start a debate on whether partner dancing is sensual. I have now attended the Cherry Blossom Dance festival, Baltimore Salsa congress, etc. I have a partner who deejays in some of these events. 

I get hired to take photographs. The fascination keeps growing. I am now making paintings of dancers in scarlet and flashing blue rooms. Maybe freezing the image of dancing bodies will improve my understanding of the motions. Or one should learn from Youtube tutorial videos. For some, dancing is part of their daily exercise regime. I study the form of bodies in motion. 

Dancers at the Baltimore Salsa congress, 2022
Raj deejaying at the Baltimore Salsa congress, 2022.
Dancing at Mix Grill and Bar, Silver Spring, Maryland
Deejaying at the DC Cherry Blossom Kizomba Weekender 2022
At the Club Bellisimo, Baltimore.
Dancing at Club Bellisimo, Baltimore.

Excesses of Exes

It takes time to get over a past relationship. We throw in our all when in love. It is a fest to tell- the darkest secrets, all the personal stories you shared! The one person you hate when in a new relationship is the ex-boyfriend/ girlfriend. That is the most dangerous man or woman around when you walk into a room with your new babe/guy. Even if the past breakup was not your fault, there may be lingering doubts as to who to blame.

There is the issue of the ex who is a phone call away, who lives nearby, maybe waiting. That person may be the one who unseats you. Come to think of it- the matter of one’s last broken relationship has two sides. What went wrong between the two of you may be mainly your fault. See how that ex becomes powerful and casts a strong shadow in your newfound relationship- you may occasionally wonder about returning there.

There is the option of running away from them. Blocking off an ex on social media platforms and mobile phone lines will never erase the memories. You could be in Swahili (restaurant) and your ex that was blocked walks in! He/she will go behind your back and paint you black, red, and green. They do it every day- talking bad about their exes. They will badmouth you anytime your name is mentioned. Of course, not all exes wish you bad. Some will still sing your highest praises at times. 

But it takes a certain audacity to move on, to truly cut the ropes of a known past and launch into a new, unfolding future. It takes courage, and optimism in making good with what one has found and learning from one’s past mistakes to forestall the bleak loss of love. To move on from an ex, one must forgive oneself and dive into the new relationship, in faith. The scars of the past will take time to disappear. Sometimes coming from a relationship where the other was unfaithful leaves a sore taste. The new relationship will live through moments where issues of trust arise. That is why talking to the new love about one’s ex and the reasons for breaking up is such a great idea. Patience and understanding are needed to disappear fears of a past that could repeat itself. 

The ex is the only person that can make you smile in a second. He/she has got that power. He/she knows where to touch you to make you moan or scream and shout in pain, what leads you to a climax, whether you perform well in bed. The story may go round, sooner, or later- that may mean you don’t get the next chic, or they are in line waiting to grab you in their arms! It is a wonderful thing, love is. When in love we are unafraid to share all our weaknesses. 

And so, we (the new guy/babe) just hate the exes, we really do. We are like- uncomfortable. That’s why we try to keep the ex at bay. The ex will kill you if she gets a chance. How so, you ask? If you didn’t block her off utterly! Setting boundaries will help you survive love stories gone sour. A total erasure, blocking of the contact online, anyone? It’s not easy as the internet never forgets. The web connects us in strange ways. We loved. We lived. We will fall in love again. And live anew. This is a note for all of us who survived a heartbreak, and for those who wish to cling on to a past. I write also for the past loves that we compare with the present when things seem not so smooth as we want. You taught me how to love, and how not to love. I am grateful for all the lessons. Stay optimistic for the future. Let us build afresh, love again. Tomorrow will be a brighter, warmer day. The opportunity is always there. Start on a clean slate. The sun will rise at dawn.

Of Love, Roses and Thorns

It has been a long time I talked about Love- https://nsoforanthony.wordpress.com/2015/02/14/a-sad-love-story/. I paused a long time ago. It was about me, my sisters, and introductions to Love. I spoke of my dear friend who enjoyed stories of my love/lusty youthful adventures- from high school, our friendship continued in university. He fell in love, and I was commissioned to make a commemorative painting. Using their faces, I painted a girl dressed in traditional attire, dancing to the beats from the drum played by Nkem, the drummer. He is no longer here with us, my dear friend. May his soul rest in peace, amen. I will not talk about Nkem today. 

Today I must write a continuation- about joys, love and some bitterness. 

I have been distracted for so long. Growing older implied advancing status- as a brother, a partner, an artist, a person of prestige. Love and ambition go well together. We either fan the flames or douse the fire! Should I be writing this- a story that will outlive us? The trajectory of love has led to many struggles with a personal weakness- trying to save others without thinking of myself.

The scars are plenty. The heart has screamed often- who can save me?!

I found love in unexpected places, yet I kept running. There have been emotional turbulences. I travelled much- distance never helped. Love has changed often. I searched for it in spaces of pleasure, around things that bring me happiness. That’s how I get it right.

The test of the bond happens when we have sex. Do we go away still looking for something else, or do we feel rested and in a comfortable place? ‘And they were naked and were not ashamed- Genesis 2:25, the Bible. One’s partner should make you feel good about yourself. Then you will go on, trying to improve.

As I said, the story is developing, the conclusion is not yet. The things in-between will happen to test the bond. Life will happen. We will grow in our careers, maybe become parents, have failures, and hopefully more successes. Life’s hills and valleys will see us holding on to one another. The soul’s anchor will keep one steadfast on the path to find a strong partner – who knows, who helps, who inspires through the dark days. 

One must focus on the little things. Love is a big word. Let’s continue in patience and understanding. I write these words to you. We hold our destinies in our hands. Together we can make it a beautiful picture. 

I look through all the pictures- we are a delight to look upon. ‘Together we rock’ (that’s the title of one of my paintings)

Recently the artiste MC Chido commissioned me to make the album cover for his latest collection of songs called Love, Etc. (Love, Etc is an album on Spotify, Amazon, Apple) Do check out the songs. Listen to your heart, make your love songs. Be strong in love against all odds. The time to hold on is forever. 

Long ago, I sat at lunch in my auntie’s kitchen. Her husband was there also. Mrs Okaro told me this about marriage- Onye choo inu nwanyi, o were ndidi kwaa akwa (He that wants to marry a woman must wear patience as clothes). Patience is for both of us. Can we really begin to talk about our love life knowing full well that it is a continuing, enduring story? They are actions that keep affirming that we have found an immeasurable treasure. Listen. Yes, to one another. Love your voice, but wait for its echo in the other. The proof is in daily affirmative actions. We mustn’t get distracted by the mountain of things to do, by the noise outside. We are beautiful together.

There are many songs out there. We write ours. It is not so much about what they said- it is what we make it. We will go off-script. We will stay fluid. There is no problem if we understand that we are in charge. Because we also wrote the script. They say what they will. 

Again and again, one must try again to stay in it. This 4 letter word is small, like a sigh, a gust of wind. We amplify it with our actions. Hold the wind in your heart, let the sighs reverberate, repeat the sound. The song is of holding the wind, of singing together. There are many stories. They are all modified by love. When we find it, we must nurture and keep it. We must guard it. Don’t be afraid of love, Love. It makes life more meaningful. Je t’aimes. Beaucoup!

Anxiety, Identity, and Distorted Pictures

Art is a socializing act. Multiple movements are screaming for an outlet. It’s possible to get sucked into the work. I suggest or interpret form in fluid ways. I embrace color- it is urgent, restless, and straight from the tube direct to the white space of the canvas, to home. I push each color, seeking transitions, intercessions, and breaks. Gradually, a thousand suggestions besiege me. From the onset, one knows that suggestions can be fleeting whims stacked in heaps of unattended dreams. They could also be haunting guilt from memory. Reality is about open-ended stories told with no beginnings, middle point, or end. It is such a vortex. We only have moments.

Belonging to a specific geographic location is somewhat stifling and unreal. The Internet arrived to disrupt Time and Space. Imagine the taming act- claiming a static place in a map as defining identity! Overly ambitious and arrogant. It is flawed and pretentious, somewhat like a colonialist dream of subjugation. Life veers beyond concrete, physicality and becomes electric transmissions. Dust from the path will caress the traveler, occasionally obscuring the view ahead. I am one with such dust. Call me what you will- African, migrant, a wannabe, whatever. Is it possible to put a genie that has tasted freedom back into the bottle, Aladdin? I belong. I am. But not by being separate, aloof, specific type. I am fluid, intuitive and interactive.

Adaptation is key to being contemporary if you feel this curious wanderlust. I resort to note-taking to never forget- where, when, and how I got here and became this person. Who am I? I am you.

Relational Lines: The Disjunction of Sameness

To be included in this Exhibition with Anthea Epelle and Obinna Makata is exciting news. The title felt so like what I would use as the theme for one of my paintings! I chose to emphasize Line in my work while still a student in Nsukka in the 90s. The element of art took on another meaning for me as an undergrad in The Nsukka Uli School. In Uli traditional motifs, Line was tied to meaning in a visual interplay of language and idea.

I started researching the books in the Linguistics section of the university library about Language and Meaning. Seeing how traditional Uli was used as a sign language, I read more about the works of the neurologists Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. The writings of Freud was associated with the work of the Surrealists.

My use of line became personal- iconographic, suggestive, leading in various directions. As used by the curators of this exhibition Obida Obioha and Sunshine Alaibe (and in response to my work, in ways this post may not address) the word disjunction alludes to disunion, separation. There seem to be suggestions of an intent to address my practice, its place in current scholarly practice. The questions around origin, identity, and authenticity come to mind. The audacity of this exhibition, maybe its priority, is a sort of disruption in space.

I think back to one of the earliest essays written about me by Jess Castellote, a longtime friend and curator of Yemisi Shyllon Museum, Lagos. Jess described me (in his blog A View from My Corner) as a somewhat ‘invisible artist’ (my words). I have often preferred to work in solitude, hoping that my ideas will be less affected/influenced by popular trends in the arts. At the end of the day, I may stand alone. The extent to which I have been able to achieve this in my artistic practice is debatable. There are some exclusions in recent conversations that suggest that I am standing outside, somewhat self-induced. 

This is the price for a restless migration. It is also about the disruption that happens in meetings between different cultures. I have to keep introducing myself as I travel. Fluctuation becomes an essence mastered by a nomadic native son. There is original creativity familiar with the energy from other spaces. Vernacular must veer towards foreign syllabic consonants for communication. Of course, my work has been affected. And yes, the world is more connected now than 20 years ago. I have met co-sojourners. Many of us live elsewhere. We fall into a gap that is, to say it mildly, disruptive of a developing system.

My view may not be shared by the other artists in this show, nor by the two curators of Oda Art Gallery. But I enjoy the works of the other two artists.

NB: My first meeting with Sunshine was like 4 years ago when she joined some curators to visit my art studio in Lekki. They asked some quite interesting questions about my artistic practice. Hopefully they will put out the text of that interview one day. I felt they understood what it is that the artist intends to do in society. That sole visit culminated to me being in this exhibition. I am grateful. It comes just days after ArtX Lagos. 

Relational Lines: The Disjunction of Sameness is open for viewing to the public till December 9, 2021 at Oda Art Gallery, 10 Samuel Manuwa Street, Victoria Island, Lagos. For enquiries: info@odaartgallery.com

Website: http://www.odaartgallery.com

Understanding Art, a video

Can you piece together the full image of my painting Joseph’s Dreams by taking screenshots of segments of the video? I look at my work like this- in bits, then as a whole and reverse the cycle. Till I am sure of the full thing.

A video clip of Joseph’s Dream, 48x36inches, acrylic on canvas, 04/2021

The Blinding Sun Danced.

I fell in love with the idea of a Rainbow nation. Till I visited the place, where the Ark had rested, and the Great Flood stanched. There on the breasts of mountains reaching to heaven, I saw fault lines in the rock formations about.

There seemed invisible lines everywhere- boundaries that interfered persistently with the traffic. Celebrations were drawn on color for some who attended. Here and there were glints of yellow sunshine of warmth and promise, urging the colored people on.

Maybe, just maybe, it was not a dream after all- I had visited the base of the arching rainbow. I loved all the colored people around. Their skin sang of histories, of journeys, and of many stops in the desert to rest by refreshing watering holes. So, orange may well be the new brown, and blue grey, yellow sun and so on. The people thronged by in all their radiance, strutting like peacocks flailing, flirting and fleeting by.

Form is not Enough

A new friend asked me the question- why did you move from the figurative to non-figurative works? Two days later, I sent him this reply- “Early on in life one is curious about the ‘real’- the sensually perceived world around. And one tries to capture this life. So, using photographs (particularly digital images) one steps in so close to counting the pores on people’s faces. It is not a pretty task. Soon one realises that this is not enough- there is a knowing part of connecting with humans. Humans are dynamic; we also grapple with the spiritual side. In researching further about Matter we have new information that modified the old theory. Let me apply it to painting. So the possibility of revealing the human by capturing a resemblance was simply not enough. There is more- there are interplays of color, layers of meaning, and gestures that add up to fully reveal the ‘person’. The figurative is like in the beginning, like the skeleton, a building block. To capture form is no longer enough, that is not an end in itself. It is a start. So I went beyond figuration, merging form and void, space and color.””

Un Homme du Peuple.

It started as a simple idea- a man of the people, dead centre in the middle of the canvas with people surrounding him, flailing in adulation, worship, and praise. But the blank canvas can be the most challenging thing. The idea must not be so obvious. Simplicity is a departure from where we step closer to study the details of things. The foundations have to be properly set, and then it will be a flow to get to finishing the work. 

It was first about a leader, elected by the people and his growth into a larger than life being. Then events happened. An African leader died, and this became the conversation in an African diaspora group I belong to. Someone asked whether the man was much beloved by his people or was he a pariah, stating that that was what really mattered beyond the views of outsiders. That got me thinking. About the history and birthing of nations. About the aspirations of a much loved leader, a man of the people whose driving goal was to protect the commonwealth of his nation, to manage the resources available for his people above all considerations, to protect the territorial integrity of his country’s borders- the issues of nationhood, patriotism, citizenship; and migration, immigration, and relationships with the neighboring countries and the rest of the world. All things factored in, one starts understanding the daunting task ahead of such a leader who must do a balancing act so as to be painted in good light in posterity. A tilt to one side of this complexity has led to genocides, and other forms of inhumanity. ‘Uneasy is the head that wears a crown’(Henry VI, Shakespeare) 

I think of all those leaders in Africa and the world over who had the dreams of their people at heart. No matter what you do, not everyone will love you. Look at the lives of religious leaders, people in places of authority, and simple everyday people like you and I. That brings me back to the problem of the blank canvas. It’s really not that simple, is it? As the work is finished, it finds a place in the history. In a sense, the work lives beyond me.

Un Homme du Peuple (from the series Citizens of Nowhere), 47X47inches, acrylic on canvas, 03/15/2021.

New Paintings

To the creative artist, the duty: It is not just enough to find a way to survive. We must help others on this same path of living. Join me. Better must come.

Absorbing the creative, the fashionable, the bubbly, the lifestyle… it is one thing to know how to recreate appearances, and accept that I only scratch the surface. The portrait speaks of a moment in life. The artist must continue beyond, to present other possibilities. Such suppositions could be daydreaming- prophetic or visionary. Time will reveal which. The time we occupy in space is all but work in progress, for you and me. .

This painting is dedicated to all Nigerian youth as they think of owning the future. Human life is premium. This collage painting was made during the #EndSars riots in October in Nigeria. Those were some awe-inspiring days in 2020. We all rejoiced that the youth still have the fire to rise up for something beyond themselves.

Seeing into Ibe, an essay

On a Lighter Note

A few years ago, Sandra Mbanefo-Obiago exhibited Ibe Ananaba and I at Temple Muse, Lagos. That event was the beginning of our friendship. The first thing you immediately realize is that Ibe Ananaba is an excellent draughtsman. Every other thing in his work is beside the fact. He pushes an idea, and that idea evolves into a series of two, sometimes three or more paintings. In this recent exhibition titled Towards the Light, Ibe presents a body of work created during this period of the pandemic- lockdowns, social distancing, and staying close to family. 

He has been painting between home and his art studio, a few blocks away. Oftentimes his children accompany him, as the schools have been closed. Since leaving the advertising industry to focus on his painting career, Ibe uses his work as a rallying point for strengthening family ties with his wife (who was in art school with him) and his two children (whose works were featured alongside Ibe’s in a joint exhibition in 2018 aptly titled Bonding). In one corner of the studio hang some of his children’s paintings, distinct for their non-figurative, enthusiastic use of color. 

The artist often paints suited men in hats, but one is yet to see him dress like that. Growing up in Aba, South East Nigeria, he is accustomed to the vibes of that sprawling city market that supplies fashion wares to neighboring West African cities. The tailors and craftsmen of Aba are highly skilled workmen whose works give the popular fashion brands from the West a run for their money. Ibe recalls the family albums of black and white photographs of his parents, uncles and aunts posing for the photographer in their trendy clothes, hats and all. The well-dressed people in his canvases became stronger metaphors when he found out about the flamboyant dressers of the Congo, the Sapeurs (the group of eccentrics called La Sape is the acronym for the Société des ambianceurs et des personnes élégantes) The expensive outfits of these ghetto-dwelling people may illustrate a failure in the setting of priorities in some societies. This paradoxical flaunting of wealth while living in squalor totally blows the mind of any rational thinking person. Ibe Ananaba’s works situates in this mix- colorful and tastefully dressed subjects become burdened with the task of delivering strong political statements. This grand show must go on even as things go south. The figures mime poses reminiscent of shots from a fashion week. While enthusing about poise, elegance and glamor, Ananaba’s works reflects on the dark sides of the human condition. The paintings are all the more spectacular because of the artist’s preferred tool- the palette knife. He masterfully welds this obtuse tool to create riveting portraits. The monochromatic gradations of color show that the focus in the work lies elsewhere- in the drawing of the subject. The subject matter revolves around themes that connect with his creative process rather than to any final visual presentation. Yet he makes politically charged statements with a consciousness of the daily struggles of living in Lagos, Nigeria and the ineptitude of governance.  

The idea of chiaroscuro is key to how he positions his subject. Then like an older Rembrandt he muddles up physical appearances without losing the essence. Ibe Ananaba understands that the light touching form is what delineates, what explains and gives meaning. Thus, he paints in darks and middle tones, finally resolving form in the lighter tones. To provoke deep thought, images of the human figure need not be broken as though one is looking through a prism. 

Like his mother, Ibe is at odds with the idea of having a specific signature. His creative energy felt caged by the needed slowing down, monotonous marking. For a long time, the artist used a quickly doodled smiling face as signature. This was easier to remember. Nowadays everyone is advised to wear a mask as a health safety precaution to curb the spread of the Coronavirus. The mask becomes symbolic as a necessary monotonous obliterator of smiles, a stifler of laughter, and on the other hand a compassionate preserver of life. 

Detail from the painting Amidst the Noise by Ibe Ananaba

In a series of acrylic paintings titled Amidst the Noise Ibe again sits the subject in the center of the canvas, drawn in using the palette knife with varying shades of color. The artist sends out a message of laughter and hope that must be included in our daily lives during these trying times of a ‘new norm’. Here he adds simplistic line drawings to contrast the central subject- hundreds of smiling faces in the flat background. Some of the faces resemble the stick figures that children draw when learning to represent humans. Upon close observation one finds that the randomly drawn faces vary stylistically from the quick one liner to more expressive caricatures. (Ibe points out that his two children doodled some of the faces. He wanted to keep them engaged) In public spaces these days a visibly smiling face is frowned upon as being ‘insensitive and endangering’. Seeking a way to explain the times to his children, he codes in shorthand human faces. Viewed from a distance, the recurring faces resemble textures of heavily applied color breaking the flat color plane, bordering the human figure drawn in with swift slashes of paint applied using the palette knife. Ibe is moved to recollect the myriad facial expressions of people.

For as long as he can remember Ibe Ananaba has been inspired by music. He used to sing in a choir, and as a student at IMT Enugu he enjoyed the mimed, rap concerts staged on weekends. In those days learning the lyrics of a song took arduous rewinding of the tape. This sort of repeated learning improves one’s grasp of the language. Understanding the lyrics of songs inspired Ibe’s admiration of the poetic genius of rap music. His all-time favorite artist became NAS the American rapper. Listening to music evokes the themes around which Ibe creates new work. Socially conscious, trendy, fashionable, politically conscious… these words describe rap music. You may also be talking about Ibe Ananaba’s paintings. 

A set of 4 paintings called The Promisor and the Praise Singers questions the inaction/actions of political leaders and their crowd of sycophantic followersThe series echoes the critical tone of Long Drawn Shadows, Ibe Ananaba’s well attended 2018 exhibition in Art Twenty-One, Lagos. His social awareness and activism are encouraged by his wife’s Girl Child Art Foundation where he volunteers as Chief Art Consultant. He conveys the dire living conditions of everyday people in Nigeria. The titles of his works ring with the familiarity of headlines from the daily newspapers. His subjects pose like runway models in an international fashion show themed on the economic and political malaise of the masses. 

Nigerians thrive on the sense of community, shared activities and bonding so the idea of social distancing is particularly troubling. Some 10 paintings titled All will be well, are a body of work contemplating individuals making sense of virtual relationships over the mobile phone and online. These periods of isolated living have drawn the artist to make visual documents of everything. The tale is the same from Ojuelegba, Trafalgar Square, Eiffel Tower to Times Square- once crowded landscapes, streets and popular centers of human activity worldwide are now deserted, silent spaces. in this new body of workthe artist now includes some landscape paintings. Since this pandemic, we are rethinking the idea and relevance of spaces. Venues for holding large crowd gatherings like stadiums and churches are being redesigned to fit the new rules that humanity must adjust to, till a cure for the virus is found. These times give all humanity ample opportunities for self-recollection and reflection. Venues like The Wheatbaker are opening to the public to showcase adjustments of their interior decoration in line with WHO and NCDC health and safety regulations for curbing the spread of the virus. 

Another painting titled Conversation with the Future is a portrait of the artist’s daughter. The artist says that this work reminds him that there is a future (in his child’s growth) of moving on. This sentiment runs as a subtheme to the exhibition Towards the Light. Another painting titled Where do we go from here? has figures of seated people. The artist has worked from a picture of some detained suspects. Sadly, stories abound of some of these youths outstaying the time they would have done for the crime while awaiting trial.

Another new trend in this body of work for the exhibition Towards the Light are some charming still-life that the artist would normally use as props for human figures. Now the objects stand alone as subject matter with the light streaming in from one side of the canvas. The drama of these well composed still-life leaves an eerie feeling in the viewer. Where have the people gone? That is the question on people’s lip as we step out of self-isolation and lockdowns into a new way of living. There is a withdrawal from each other even as we meet and greet. Is it caution, self-preservation or fear? People’s gazes seem a bit distant as they breathe in the air and walk into the sunlight. It leaves this taste for a longing of another, past life. We all would prefer to go towards the light. Something good awaits.

NB: All the artworks photographed for this article were made by the artist Ibe Ananaba for his ongoing exhibition Towards The Light at The Wheatbaker Hotel, Ikoyi, Lagos. The exhibition was curated by Sandra Mbanefo Obiago.

Unite for Parkerplace Abidjan.

Greetings to all you beautiful people and reggae lovers !
The ParkerPlace Abidjan needs you to help them survive through the Coronavirus crisis. Closed since March 18th 2020, we have no Financial support to continue paying our musicians and staff. We have initiated a solidarity chain to try to raise funds in order to assist our musicians and their families.
Twice a week, we create a live /direct show on our Facebook page- Parker Place Abidjan! Please visit , like and share. If you want to donate, this will help , 1 euro , 10 euros
It does not matter. If 1000 people give 1 euro each that makes 1000 euros and that will pay for food for one week!
Jah guide and thanks for your support !!

Just click on this link
To access the page for donating


Call to Support Artists

The artists’ advocacy organisation Artists at Risk (AR) has launched an emergency fund to support artists who face threats to their freedom or lives and are unable to reach a country of safety during the coronavirus pandemic: Artists at Risk (AR) Covid-19 Emergency Fund for Persecuted Artists: https://www.gofundme.com/f/artistsatrisk

Support #ARCovid19EmergencyFund

Twitter: @artistsatrisk

Instagram: @artistsatrisk

The artists’ advocacy organisation Artists at Risk (AR) has launched an emergency fund to support artists who face threats to their freedom or lives and are unable to reach a country of safety during the coronavirus pandemic: Artists at Risk (AR) Covid-19 Emergency Fund for Persecuted Artists: https://www.gofundme.com/f/artistsatrisk

Support #ARCovid19EmergencyFund

Contact us on any of our social media handles- Twitter: @artistsatrisk, Instagram: @artistsatrisk, Facebook: artistsatrisk

We have already relocated some artists within their countries/regions to safer places, and this is part of AR’s normal, emergency practice. During the current crisis, some of these artists are hoping to stay safe behind locked doors. Others are facing eviction from their homes, as they cannot pay the rent due to the impossibility of earning a living during the pandemic. For reasons like these, the Covid-19 crisis doubles artists’ exposure to risk. 

It is these artists that Artists at Risk (AR) tries to help. 

We hope you can help us help them!

All the best,

Marita Muukkonen and Ivor Stodolsky

Co-Founding Directors and Curators

Artists at Risk (AR)

Link to www.artistsatrisk.org, Campaign: Gofundme AR COVID19 Emergency Fund

Lockdown New York

Here’s the story of my life during this pandemic written by Okey Uwaezuoke in today’s ThisDay Newspapers- https://okeysworld.wordpress.com/2020/04/26/in-new-york-and-smack-in-a-pandemic/

He asked some deep questions.

I enjoy talking. I enjoy the stimuli of intelligent conversation. And I hope to see underlying questions in retrospective. I talk some more when asked a question. I learn from talking. I learn from sharing. Let me share this fantastic interview with Omenka Online, the magazine for the Ben Enwonwu Foundation. Oliver Enwonwu, the son holds the grounds very well. He is also the President of the Society of Nigérian Artists.

Here is the link to my interview- https://www.omenkaonline.com/tony-nsofor-on-language-the-subconscious-and-the-mundane/

Blind to the Beauty

How can Oguta remain like this? We have this little paradise waiting to be cultivated. But we all run away from it for selfish gain. We turn our faces away as the waste of daily living is dumped into the lake. We fear to swim in the beautiful Blue lake because we have dredged deep into the heart of the earth. We fear for what lies deep within the troubled waters. The lake lies wasting in the dying sun while we are making plans to replace it. We return home with forex to build our shallow swimming pools in our backyard, and empty the dirty waters into the lake. Why won’t the lake be mad, and carry away the children of erring parents? Why won’t the forsaken lady seek her revenge? The water lily grows long and serpentine underneath, dancing in the slow waves, waiting. Nature will pay us back with what we give to it. Who will swim in the lake with me? The dredger in Umudei village. The litter at the shore. No one swims in the beautiful lake anymore. They travel on it to the neighbouring villages to trade. They stack bags of cassava pegged to the bottom of the lake for days, washing away all the cyanide and smell. That is why our akpu does not smell. That is also why Ihu Ohamiri stinks. But we are happy when we eat our cassava. You would think that you are eating pounded yam. The lake carries away all the stench.Every Christmas now, a church holds an end of year crusade in Mgbidi, a village on the road to Oguta. Their members wear this fluorescent yellow coloured posters that burn the eyes in the harmattan dryness.It is long since our people went mad. The ancestral gods have gathered dust at the corners. Worse, they are now firewood at mother’s kitchen. We found a new religion. We also found oil. Now nothing else matters but these two… not even other natural resources that our fathers lived on. No, oil is king. On Eke, the traders line up to buy produce from those who live across. Oguta people do not farm around their homes. Our farmlands lie on the other side of the lake. So Oguta looks more like an estate without greenery. The local governments in Nigeria have lost their autonomy. The state governors control the local governments. The people at the grassroots live with their waste, they live without social amenities like electricity and pipe-borne water. We live on borehole water that we must make to survive. We are our own government. We are no government. We know no government. We do things our own way. There is no way we can continue this way. We are blind to the beauty that is ours. We live like strangers in paradise. This is the new history we are writing for the children.

The Family House

Our home in the village sits at the crossroads where 3 roads meet. So it must be a magical place to live in. I remember waking up on some mornings to find a basket full of sacrifices on the road. My young friend Nonso is a thriving native doctor. I must ask him why this is important. The sacrifices seem to have reduced, since I put a strong searchlight in front of my house. I needed to light up the area, as some young vandals had come to steal the battery from the NDDC solar lamp post. Apart from playing soccer, people come to the field of Trinity High School to learn to drive. I have taught some friends on this field. The cattle sellers drive their cows to graze here also. From my vantage point on the second floor, I drew inspiration for some of the images in my series of paintings A Thousand Cattle, Two Hills. As night falls, people come there to smoke weed, etcetra… The vast space has allowed me to enjoy working on larger canvases. My latest canvas cannot even fit into the door to my studio, so I have to paint outdoors. I am free here. The spaces are for flying. The air is light. The lake is nearby. This is truly home.

A New Phase of Art in Nigeria

2018 is the year after all things Art in Lagos and yes; contemporary Art in Nigeria will never be the same. With the demise of two important stalwarts of the Arts, the rise and rise of El Anatsui, the appearance of ‘new’ artists with training in other things to challenge the status quo; with a new patronage of Art by Ambode’s government and a fading away of yellow buses, with Sotheby’s first African Art auction happening and markedly starting an international scramble for contemporary African art, with Lagos hosting a second edition of West Africa’s biggest art fair, with the opening of the first major Contemporary Arts Museum in Cape Town; and a significant body of non-figurative artworks being sold, of installation and performance art becoming an area of interest and artists building their art spaces and usurping the position of the hitherto non-existent middlemen in their practice – with all these and more happenings comes the realization that there is an emergence of a new Nigerian Art.

Art House Foundation has a residency program that is gaining in importance and creating international connections, though one is not so sure of the auctions. Don’t get me wrong- I remain one of the most uninformed about the importance (Jess speaking) of these auctions! Apart from a few open auction calls, one wonders where or how some of these auction houses get their pieces. A way to look at it is that some of the older collectors open their storerooms and put them up to evaluate the present worth of their works.

Once iconic images like the yellow buses of Lagos are now scarce. There are fewer requests for such scenes by expatriates who want to take ‘something Nigerian’ home. The yellow buses have gone the way of the ‘Fulani milkmaids, durbar scenes, and load bearing maidens by mud huts, with the orange sun drowning into a river with coconut trees lining the riverside! To put things in context as per the New Art of Nigeria, one must remember certain facts about the present- History as a subject is no longer taught in Nigerian secondary and primary schools. This means that we have returned to the days of telling tales by moonlight, and the passing on of our traditions and history by ‘word of mouth’ (though such opportunities for conversation are also very scarce with social media activity on everyone’s mind for getting noticed, relevant or entertained.IMG_9801w.jpg

The economics of survival in a society where everything has been turned on its head has changed the view of things here. The landscapes got more and more abstract till they became blurbs of color splattered in split seconds on the artist’s canvas. Of course some of us had been early at this form of presentation of where we are as a nation, having spent most of our adolescence learning from the prophecies of King Fela Kuti. It wasn’t the marijuana that made him iconic. Not even the government of the day could rob him of his street credibility, his non-conformist, critical view of people in power. Adolescents could relate to the conflicts with their coming of age realities and phantoms. So we could paint those abstract scenes then. And like a bad dream, no one was buying it then. The connoisseurs (the buying age of pre-Independence adolescents who became adults in the glory days of the oil boom) had eyes for all histories pre-colonialism, with a few tweaks that added corrugated roofs and the bustling metropolitan chaos of an African State capital. A few of us were born in the crossroads, somewhere between the glory days and growing in the years of Nigeria losing it all to thieving leaders; to the present times where history is being erased, memories are being expunged, and new narratives to support where we are as a Nation has sprung up. For some of my generation, Art became the tool to use to speak a codified language interpreting contemporary realities. We remain the leftover bodies who did not join their smarter mates on the sojourn to new lands. We are ignorant, dull of hearing, or numb with shock at the aftermath of the disaster of contemporary Nigeria. The other day, a former classmate referred to how he now understood why some of us had publicly renounced their citizenship!Tony Nsofor, Rhapsody in Blues II

But I speak of one set of people. The other set are new to me. They have not really absorbed our history. They know what they have been told by biased relatives who think that their farmlands end at the edge of other people’s homesteads. The younger artists in Nigeria have come into it without the necessary, slower gestures of indoctrinations happening. They take what they will, and run with it. The restlessness of youth allows for hits or misses. After all, there is still time to make amends. A new non-figurative art is quite popular these days. This is understandable, judging from the foregoing. Everywhere one looks, the faces in artworks seem contorted by mixed, exaggerated feelings- anxiety, angst and sorrow, while elegant bodies now give way robust feisty bodies whose ‘aesthetic appeal’ lies mainly in being lively. Formalism is discarded for sensationalism, the wow factor is ‘it’/’in’ for now! Everyone has joined in on the ride. Nigeria blares out a new non-representational ‘ism’, all in a flush to become noticed by the institution. Now that Africa is in the limelight. Well things may be celebrated. Art is the only truth to tell the people of the gory mess we are in.

No wonder the prices of contemporary artworks in Nigeria seem to have gone up by two digits. Two privately sponsored art museums, in Lagos and in Onitsha will soon open the door to curious society who did not see Art becoming the phenomenon that inspires change, that promotes culture and transforms the mundane into a magical place in our hearts. One cannot keep up with all the exhibitions opening every weekend in Lagos. There are so many new faces and names. Is it because one is more involved in his profession, or is there an upsurge of non-academically trained artists taking over the art space? Gratefully, art is now practiced as a true profession. Artists are more interested in the end-to-end marketing and management of their work. With the growing popularity of the acrylic paint, it is now rare to meet an artist jumping out of a bus with a wet canvas, trying to sell to Mister Akar (of Signature Beyond). The Revolving Art Incubator is a new space and Nimbus was the place to see avant-garde art. 2018 is the year that completes my circle. Three years after I moved out of Lagos to establish a studio in my village, I return to a new studio in Lekki. There are new collectors who really find a resonance with my work. It is the middle age of Art for me. One is reminded again every time there is a call for artists for art competitions- one is usually 10 years overage. Maybe we have paid our dues. Maybe we paid the price to be where we are today. We open our studio doors to the rest of the world now. They should come. Things have changed so much. This year, there will be Dak’Art, many more art exhibitions and involvement with other spaces abroad. The words are fewer these days. A new critical way of discussing art has emerged. It is light-hearted, maybe like this blog post. I said it before- things have changed. Art has become fashionable, contemporary in strong terms. The child is now encouraged to become an artist. Welcome to a new phase for art in Nigeria. It cost us so much to get here. We won’t let anyone mess it up.

Conversation in my head: Between Anthony and Richard

IMG_0084webThe words are distinct in my head. Sometimes the two characters change places- its like the flights, the rise and falls of an angel. There are two distinct personalities. Even I mix up their identities at times. You know how we mix up who is the good or bad twins when they are identical?! So, one is called Anthony; and the other is Richard. (As good catholics, my parents got me baptized as a child. I was named Anthony, after a saint. When I got older, receiving the sacrament of Confirmation, I took the name Richard, after another saint I identified with at the time) The conversation is between these ‘two’.

Richard: You really think you are doing work that could change the world?

Anthony: That is not the intent. I want to add to the raging voices screaming for a change. Mine is a little voice among the many.

Richard: Such modesty seems veiled with grandeur!

Anthony: I may be with the lowly, but I can stand to the exalted ones!

Richard: You start your work often like one thinking to blot out, to obliterate the white canvas?

Anthony: There is usually a first struggle. Painting is a fight that goes on till the very end. At the end, one may not even be able to make up his mind.

Richard: One sees familiar bits of the anatomy of your subject, scattered like in a scene of an accident.

Anthony: The accident has already happened in my mind- I merely recollect the evidence! The work is the statement of facts. In our times, the fact is distorted by new interpretations, situations and far away dreams of other lands.

Richard: Don’t you think your time of working could be put to better use?

Anthony: Maybe I could become a banker, or better still, farmer to eat and live? One has those thoughts drifting, interfering with the waving hand. There is the lure of fast money from the nearby art patron also. Selling out is a good idea. One can do better- sell oneself! I give a part of me into the work. The artworks are my children.

Richard: Hmmm, you begin to sound anti-society…

Anthony: On the contrary, I encourage an embrace of the abandoned in our society. Adoption is an excellent option. Traditional ways of growing society are quite valid, and supported. You see some of my themes are based on conjugal love and the family unit. Maybe those that try to broaden traditional definitions of being and society stir up a furor that quakes the foundations of our society?

Richard: One would think you were answering a different question…

Anthony: In trying to be precise, I preempt every question and give answers to one question in one hasty burst. It is the way we have become. There are complexities of interactions happening virtually, intruding into our physical reality.

Richard: You have other thoughts about the use of materials/media in your work.

Anthony: Oh that. I have had these questions about Material and Idea in Art, which is the more important? The physical material on which the artwork is created can be a very important thing for the young artist. I recall gushing at primed, ready to use canvas at an art materials shop as though it was a masterpiece! After buying it, I will stare at it for a while like one confronted by the notion of a dream that suddenly came true. The idea of the material would intimidate, freeze all intuition. The Idea is a different thing. Without the gift of inscribing the idea, the artist would become but a good craftsman. I don’t say that this is a bad thing- good craftsmanship. One should try to add it in one’s work. But importantly, brood over the idea, incubate it, wait for it. The idea usually comes before the material. Sometimes, I use what is on hand. The idea must be grasped and represented for posterity. It has to get out there. This thing about the importance of the material is rubbished when one realizes that even the must durable materials can be destroyed with poor care! In a roundabout way, the most fragile material can last longer if given proper care. As the artist, I stand with the idea first. Is the idea weakened because the material is not up to standard( quite a subjective idea that has no fixed boundaries)? The way Time acts on an artwork is another thing! Even that becomes included in factoring how one wants his work to be perceived. The artist may wish for the physical work to deteriorate with time, organically. Or allow the owner to choose how the work lives, or dies, or is presented in the future. Its really like when I have unrolled a canvas painting and sold it. I wont follow the buyer to a frameshop to put a frame around it.

Richard: This is too much of an explanation…

Anthony: Sorry, explaining can take some time. Let me go and continue my painting.

Richard: You say it like it is food.

Anthony: It’s not far from it.

Richard: Let me think about what you have said.

Squinting at a Crowded World: Genius and Madness at Play

IMG_0479.jpgThere will be more stylized artworks. Finally, it will be total abstraction. The world has gone mad. The script becomes more and more complex by the day that shows that it is so- it is the bane of contemporary existence! We are the noise. We live the noise. The little things don’t matter much anymore. The artist of today tries to recreate these feelings, the intensity of white noise creating static. We will be famous for showing the zeitgeist of now. Here, it starts from Lagos, the centre of the hullaballoo. Occasionally one makes sense of the nature of things, and winks knowingly at the other. It’s a standpoint that differentiates Sense and Nonsense; a time gap too. The millennial took over while I slept. In a daze, my contemporaries are playing ‘catch-up’. The gift is prophetic, making loud declarations. Art must be understood in the context of its time. Of course some ‘art’ are not meant for now.IMG_0077web.jpg


So sweet, so light-Such pleasure brings pain
Brown to white cling, bringing imperfections to light,
Again we lunge for it-so dark, so sweet
To our hearts’ delight,
Brown on white so sweet, brings light to our eyes,
Yet shapes us as though misaligned,
Separate from the white rows,
Below and above, yet in line.
So sweet, yet with so much sadness wrapped, full of holes.
The smile is so true,
Not blood pumping-something in the heart alights,
Butterfly on blooming flower.

Flowers in Bloom

“It is only by selection, by elimination, and by emphasis that we get at the real meaning of things,”
Georgia O’Keeffe, American painter. 
‘Are you happy as a Nigerian about the political scene?’ Nkechi comes at me scathingly, as if to dare me to say otherwise- that I am happy. Through all the dreariness, the darkness, like one drowning, clutching at a straw, the pursuit of happiness here seems a daunting personal struggle. My mind immediately drifts to Michael Jackson’s final concert rehearsal video This Is It, to the sketch for Earth Song. A little girl appears, playing with butterflies in a beautiful green forest that soon starts to die out to Man’s exploitative, destructive actions. Nature’s light gives way to the stark, progressive dawn of Man overpowering the landscape, killing it. The girl, who had earlier drifted into a deep dream of peace, is jolted awake by the crescendo of rambling destruction around her- the bush burning and menacingly approaching bulldozer, and she flees for dear life. On her escape route she pursues a fleeing butterfly, and soon stumbles over the rubble as her eyes stray off the path. Falling to the ground, she finds a solitary, miraculously green plant in the decay. The little girl feverishly uproots that plant, as though it is the only hope for the forest’s future rebirth. That girl may well be Nkechi Abii (nee Duru), the willowy tall lady who will be showing artworks in an exhibition titled Fragrant Kaleidoscope, on the 10th of June, at Didi Museum, Akin Adesola Street, Victoria Island, Lagos. She holds out more than greens In the early eighties, at the other end of the street from ours in Owerri, their house was surrounded by a forest of flowers, potted plants and trees. Nkechi’s family were close friends-my sisters occasionally visited their home. I would take a cursory look while riding my chopper past their ‘green’ house. We lived in Aladinma, then a newly built federal housing estate in Owerri, at the edge of a forest. We usually ran through that forest, searching for icheku (a local seedy velvet-black berry with a succulent orange flesh) and utu (a wild sour berry). We also searched for birds’ nests and delighted in play-acting like we were actors in a Rambo or Indiana Jones movie, running wild and free. Life was simpler then, without worries. 
She graduated from Nsukka 6 years before me, so Professor Uche Okeke was still lecturing. Professors Chike Aniakor, Obiora Udechukwu and El Anatsui, Ola Oloidi, Chuka Amaefuna also taught her. She must have heard the other mantra at Nsukka’s Uli School, hidden under an overriding and more populist legacy. The hidden mantra, the ‘yang’ to Nsukka’s modern interpretation of Uli, was the Theory of Natural Synthesis, that allowed for a universal search and unearthing of individual cultural/artistic aesthetics among the students. This search became silently bound in the gene of the fledgling art school. Students were encouraged also to investigate further, far from their familiar, native artistic and cultural traditions. European classical music, poems, and essays on creativity and the creative process formed the potpourri. For Nkechi Abii it was familiar turf-she grew up listening to her dad’s classical music LPs. 
The 1984 Nsukka graduate of Fine and Applied Arts held a series of exhibitions during her year of National Youth service and won the Presidential Prize as Best Corper for 1985. Yet when the ovation was loudest, she withdrew into a more pedestrian life. Those demanding joys of life beckoned-Love and Marriage, then Child-bearing and Raising Children, all at the expense of resting her hitherto restless palette and brushes. The young artist needed to mature, to unfurl her creative wings and soar. It would take another 14 years before she exhibited again, starting tentatively with a bit of her testament-her-story of a bit of what had kept her away from the art scene all those years. Like the opening of a cervix, in the 2013 joint exhibition Genes Apart-Two Generations, One Canvas, with her first son and artist Nduka, Nkechi Abii came roaring back. The palette came out raw and fauvist- a medley of recollected and hitherto repressed emotions. 
 Roses show how flowers are not all smell and fragrance, and the hibiscus flower is known to have medicinal powers. A lot can be said about the power of flowers as food, aesthetic statements and for their medicinal, magical powers. In this month’s edition of the Italian edition of Vogue magazine (L’Uomo Vogue), there is a fantastic picture of a male model wearing a dark blazer over a flower-patterned pair of trousers. The colors on the flowers were muted to monochrome-the combination had a classic, weathered look. With her experience in fashion (she took a 2 years’ course at the Paris Academy School of Fashion, in London), Nkechi Abii has definitely seen lots of flowers in fabrics. Flowers have added an ornamental, sensual poesy to artworks. Van Gogh’s famous painting of Irises (1889) and Crows over the Wheatfield (1890) bring deep, psychotic weight that turned opened up how the flower as subject matter was used traditionally. There had been the pastel-colored, rosy landscapes of the Impressionists, the gestural, childlike paintings of Henri Rousseau, the work of the Surrealists all giving voice to the floral, little delights, the Romanticists and Pre-Raphaelites, etc. Closer home, Uche Okeke’s Flowers of the primeval forest (1982) and other works from that period show the master using flora to communicate a conflagration of ideas-from folklore to war tales. There are similarities in his drawings of flora with the ‘tapestries’ of El Anatsui, who has relocated and represented the primeval forests on an ambitious scale. Nnenna Okore continues in the same vein, weaving and planting her own forests. Obiora Udechukwu, on the other hand, mixes Euro-classical music with native lore and traditional elements from Uli. Uzo Egonu painted the Four Seasons in 1983, relocating the idea already represented in Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s music of the same name, and in his Nutcracker Suite. A lot of Marcia Kure’s work and presentation of forms look like portrait renderings, much like how Nkechi Abii represents her solo flowers-portraits of women wearing textile print headgear and individual flowers standing alone on bleak backgrounds. The works of Joseph Eze rely heavily on the floral, vegetal. He is a man truly loving nature. I have related all these creatives’ stories because they share common ground with Nkechi Abii. They all stem from one harvesting ground.  
Clearly, Nkechi Abii’s flowers are no sunflowers of happiness. Some of them look like they could use some light. The petals have an inner vibrancy. The flowers seem painted inside her studio. There is no directional lighting. The artist has chosen a different way-to bring the sun within her; to relocate the kaleidoscope of recollected experience, fragrances and joy of flowers waving in the wind, albeit behind closed doors. She owns her work totally, authoritatively giving the subject matter a reinterpretation and life that is personal, objective. She and her siblings grew up playing around flowers. There, they have shared laughs, maybe tears too. If there be roses, expect thorns. 
These experiences grow in importance, and, as the artist has put, “Happiness is the key to this exhibition.” This rush of memories locked in her psyche is a return to the years of youth and innocence. The artist is aware people have associated a darkness to her paintings, a whiff of melancholy. So she deliberately turns from all the negativity and hard circumstances of living here to present a happy show, for there is much to be grateful for. 
 The exhibition Petals of Steel (2014) preempts her present state of mind. That show alluded symbolically to flowers, but drew pungent image from human (female) gestures. In Fragrant Kaleidoscopes, she speaks directly without inhibitions, and the flower this time is presented as subject and subject matter. Flowers filled her childhood landscape. Family members either have planted gardens or potted plants in their living spaces. When she set out on the exciting journey of actualizing the exhibition of painted flowers, it was a return to a place in her heart where all her family would feel at home. Yet, there is an underlying, taunting melancholy in the air. The titles of artworks play on words. Contrasting ideas are phrased together, in rhythmic mimesis- Weedy White Ways; Sleepless in Eko; Marigold Plane; Yellow Sweetheart, etc. Yellow Sweetheart, in particular, somehow reminds of Van Gogh’s love of the color.   
The artistic training at Nsukka really showed the unity of the performing and fine arts. Students were encouraged to develop their work through research-by reading associated meanings and subtexts in every other field. This wholesome knowledge is key for the artist who wishes to communicate, to be heard in the noise that is today. She enjoys the texture of thick paint on her fingers, the sculpted look of her work. The works careen on the bridge between painting and sculpture, like a true Nsukka experimental painting student knows to work. Again and again, the artist is bound to break boundaries, to ignore categorization of her work. Some of the works don’t fall into the ‘familiar, ‘traditional’ style of painting. There are set pieces-diptychs and triptychs, randomly placed. Sometimes it is a sculptural piece; or mixed with textile print; or just flat complimentary colors. The artist ought not to bother about fitting in, framing the work. Some of the work can stand alone, away from a wall. The signature work for the show is Eriela m gi, a relief work of the spectacular climber gloriosa plant (flame lily), lifting away from two dimensionality to other dimensions. In presenting the new works, even as in her past (in the show Petals of Steel where she has works that only remain bound by the finishing frame on them) one senses a slight uneasiness, as though she feels a strain, a nudging to conform to the traditional, painterly rectangular planes.  
The other question that will arise in the heart of the audience is to ask if Happy Paintings have emerged for wishing them to being. Far from the traditional, pastel colors of the spectrum, we see hard, non-contrasty mixes that are earthy and full-blooded. Happiness, for the artist, is mature, contemplative, reasoned acceptance and grand-standing. Nkechi Abii knows that the painting must come to life in the heart, and she helps the viewer on the journey; modelling in car filler, in large blobs of color applied without care for smooth transitions. There is no subtlety. The work is emphatically in-your-face, taking pride of place.  
It is auspicious that the show opens at Mr. Jibunoh’s Didi Museum, resplendent with its potted plants and flowers. It is a horticulturist’s haven. The gallery owner has made a name for himself internationally for crusading for environmental matters. Let’s say the show has found home. There is a kinship.  
Nkechi Abii’s plum palette reflects her familiarity with textile prints. Her studio is arranged thus-a fashion house with bespoke clothes at the corner; sofas with her artist son and his friends doing speed-painting, playing video games and watching a movie; and a high worktable that serves as a flat easel for laying liquid acrylics on canvas or board. An easel stands in the corner with one of her paintings mounted. In this space, the woman spins and lays out colors. The workspace is filled with memorabilia. Like a musician taking the stage in a command performance, the artist is very ‘present’ while she constructs new landscapes. It is her world. 
The works on view at Fragrant Kaleidoscopes may be divided into three parts-portraits, duets and landscapes. The portraits are solo pieces that render the subject matter as near to life, and sometimes magnified a thousand times over. The boldness of such squinting that yields details of parts of a plant hitherto unnoticed by the wayfaring observer comes is a joyful surprise. One is moved to touch. The duets or subjects in one work, for example the acrylic painting Bee-titude, of a hibiscus flower and bee that flies out of the canvas( literally) is lush and drags the viewer in for the familiarity of such a scene. Documenting and translating, the artist watches the little miracles unravel. The landscapes or bouquet of flowers are composites. Particularly of note is a long painting with iridescent colors with a palette reminiscent of an Odilon Redon landscape. The cadmium red of the roses and yellow lights don’t mix. Two of the roses stand out in relief, growing from the painting. When she took a break from the art scene, Nkechi Abii seems to have travelled to Gauguin’s island, only to return with pictures of vibrant textured landscapes of flowers. The color space freely borrows and exchanges, revealing new interpretations and fusions.  
There will be tears and thorns, and the occasional bloodletting for people playing in rose bushes. There are times when the titles of works seem misleading, as though skimmed over in the huge repertoire of paintings. No title, at least in this show, should stoop so low. Nkechi Abii has worked, and received a hard sieving of impurities from an in-house critic-Nduka, her son for whom she has the highest regards as an artist. Her younger sister Uloma manages the exhibitions. With a flair for poetry, Uloma discusses the appropriateness or otherwise of chosen titles of works. Such supportive family help Nkechi Abii to continue. She is excited, bubbling with energy after many years of silence. She has things to say-bitter or sweet, embellished with a smile.  
One sees the way the painter allows color to stand alone on flat planes. The spaces break the rules of proportion as she emphasizes, leading her audience to a private, shared space. Seeing women as flowers with petals of steel is putting it rather mildly. Nsukka has seen a plethora of such women. Chinwe Uwatse and Ndidi Dike are contemporaries. Chinwe Uwatse’s watercolors exude delicate, yet strong and assured lines that veil the floral, sinuous flow of her works. Ndidi Dike’s panels are of the same progeny- full of ambitious delicacy and playful virtuosity. There are other ‘fragrant’ notes. Marcia Kure’s works still chase the fluid beauty lines of traditional Uli painters. She creates tight neo-surrealist imagery in colorful, textured montages with sheer white backgrounds that scream as loud. One thing the Nsukka artists have in common is an understanding and emphasis on using Space, rallying positive and negative spaces in random breathtaking nuances. The plane is of utmost importance. Sukanthy Visagaperumal, Nkechi Nwosu-Igbo, Lilian Pilaku, and Nnenna Okore are familiar names who continue to works as artists. They are such flowers with petals of steel, releasing fragrances that hit on different notes, working in media as varied as seeds, beads, sackcloth, writing free verse poetry, creating mixed media portraits, all holding the fort in the small ranks of practicing female artists, who, as Nature calls, (as in Nkechi Abii’s case) may hibernate into periods of silence as they give meaning to their lives in ways only women can. Fragrant Kaleidoscope is the story of a woman reborn. 
Anthony Nsofor writes from Lagos. 

Democracy\Dictatorship-Differences and Similarities for the Populace

A dictator is one man whose word is deed. In democracies, a ruler can acquire the same power if the system is corrupt. It ends up being about numbers-how corrupt are the supposed checks and balances to be swayed by the highest bidder, in this case, the man with the greatest power, who is often the ruler, call him president or prime minister. In a democracy, more people are culpable for corrupt practices, crimes of injustice, etc.
What makes it not to matter anymore what kind of government we have is this-corruption levels. I am still thinking hard about unjust government practises that have been reversed after individuals win in court. Do those that rule not make mistakes, err in judgment? Are their policies sacrosanct, beatific? In governance, numbers count, election or no; how many people are carried along for the greatest good will matter the most. Is it really about how many years In Democracy, or about how many years Of Democracy? Only a few thousand of the one sixty million enjoy the full benefits. Who is fooling who?

Posted from WordPress for BlackBerry.

A Sad Love Story

IMG_3322-EditLove stories are quite poignant, especially sad stories. Six days ago, Sam Smith won four awards at the 57th annual Grammy Awards. In his acceptance speech, he thanked his ex for causing him so much heartache. Remember Jesus Christ, and so on? Sad love stories rock, still. They are apt to tell, particularly on Valentine’s Day, February 14th.Getty images

Maybe there are the exceptional fairytale endings that fall into place finally in the most unusual way. There was my dear friend Nkem (aka Sese). We had a wonderful friendship as boarding house mates at Federal Government College, Okigwe. We lived in the same dormitory. We were fourteen years-old, learning the ropes of love, discovering the amazing world of the opposite sex. He was in love at the time, but it wasn’t with me, with my younger sister. At the time, many of my friends were, too. See, I was the lucky guy with good looking sisters that got favors for that. In retrospect, I am not sure if I had many real friends, or just friends who had the hots for my sisters.Art

Love is a complex word spanning many dictionaries in definition. Nkem and I would share the closing hours of the day at his corner. He would prepare ‘solution’ (cold water beverages) and Oxford cabin biscuits spread with Blue Band margarine for me to eat. In return, I told him about my escapades with babes. That was how much he loved my ‘love’ stories, and I prided myself for them. After my first break-up, I had decided that love was all about striking while the iron was still hot-sex as soon as possible to cement the ‘love’! I had my reasons for becoming that way, way back then. That would be another story, for another Valentine’s Day.pablo-picasso- Marie-Thérèse Walter

On vacation, Sese and I lived in Owerri, about 20 minutes apart. So we often met to compare notes. I was the occasional love-doctor for him, the more experienced one. Many years later, as undergraduates (he was in Imo State University while I was in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka), we would reunite during holiday periods and talk about love. I had met and fallen in love with Kem in Nsukka, he with some girl in IMSU. One Valentine’s day, he commissioned me to make a portrait of both of them for his rented student’s apartment off-campus. I made an oil painting of him as a traditionally clad drummer playing for her, a dancer wearing native attire. It was made in blues. He loved it. He kept it in his bathroom. I don’t recall his reason for keeping it there. Our common friends whispered about Nkem’s obsession with this girl. I wasn’t sure if the girl was his girlfriend, or he was still asking her out. He was quite lavish with her. One holiday later, my friend Sese was dead. There were muted whispers that he committed suicide over the girl that didn’t love him. They said he was found dead in his bathroom, after drinking a solution of shaving powder. The girl of his dreams changed schools immediately after. She couldn’t survive the negative publicity at IMSU, living as the girl-who-a-guy-died-for (that would make a great title for a painting).

Sad love stories make for compelling telling, and keeps inspiring generations of artists and singers. We all have them, so we all love the retelling. It’s a love/hate relationship-the recollecting of the heady loves gone sour. We keep them in a space in our hearts, close to our most joyful moments, where tears mingle with smiles. It’s not a thin line between love and hate, its only time. Memories grow long. This is to all the girls that I have loved, so that you can see where I have been. Know what I have become. I don’t want to be hurt by love. I love you all, learning to love myself. The story continues. Till next Valentine’s Day.