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.

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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

Chocolate

CHOCOLATE
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. 
 
 http://www.thisdaylive.com/articles/on-a-fragrant-note/210767/
 

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.

Journeys, away and home again

We are a few days away from ArtX Lagos and I am so excited about this. Will you be coming? The buzz of the art crowd is my biggest thrill! I look forward to all that.
I have also completed some of my most ambitious pieces till date. I have worked further on my series about the lives of a people ‘Citizens of Nowhere’. My recent visit to Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania made me think again about leadership, and citizenship. Rwanda particularly was quite inspiring! There I met 5 brothers from the same parents who were given different surnames by their father. People would prefer to be known for them than get tied to ancient stereotypes that they may not appreciate, or even be aware of! I saw a people trying to make sense of life after witnessing a horrendous genocide. The story at the Kigali Genocide Memorial indicts many surprising parties! I really wanted to see the memorial to think again about the calls from various quarters in Nigeria (as in many other countries internationally) for a separation, for their own nation. One major lesson I took away was the fact of how Good leadership will always inspire followership and make people-friendly policies! It hit me how the great leader shone more and more brightly as I got into conversation with the citizens. So, after painting about sheepish sycophantic citizens in Dey Follow-Follow Nonsense and citizens who suddenly start becoming aware that they have been lied to (Follow-follow don Dey Open Eye)? In talking about good leadership, I painted The Radiance of the King is His People, how great leaders are praised, glorified by the masses. Their praises seem to make the King glow more, as I noticed when I visit kings’ palaces, or see much-loved politicians being appreciated by their followers. The strokes of my brush are indistinct in The Radiance of the King. I deliberately wanted to suggest rays playing over an anonymous crowd. Faceless, the passage of the king is in bursts of light, as he performs for the crowds. It is the King in audience being adored by his court; it is the King taking centre-stage to dance for his people at Ofala; it is the celebration of a great harvest season, it is the Durbar festival; or the performance of Eyo masquerades at the Oba’s palace; the coronation of the Obi of Benin; or even a political rally! The accomplishments of good governance are in the public spaces everywhere you go, be it in a few of our Nigerian states, or anywhere else. Some of the works I just described are over 9feet wide! I have also made smaller pieces of individuals living in this land called ‘Nowhere’, those who live at the fringes. They are the displaced people, the economic and political migrants, the tourists, the immigrants and those unwilling members of a union they are uncomfortable with! My pieces are personal documentation of the lives I have met, of living here. Like newspaper headlines, they are ‘daily’ living, contemporary. More often, I would prefer to suggest forms ‘coming to being’, taking shape. One gets the feeling of constant motion, of crowded, uncomfortable spaces that one can’t breathe into. The anonymous crowd repeats liveliness, and pieces of ‘bodies’ are spattered all over the canvas. It is more dissection at a surgeon’s table.
I have continued the series A Thousand Cattle, Two Hills, using the cow as a metaphor and central subject. The stories of the horrors of terrorism keep happening. About a week ago, it was the media reporting how about 27 people were killed by suspected Fulani herdsmen in a village in Plateau State. The more shocking thing was that the village was placed under a curfew, and the victims were kept ‘ under protection’ by the Nigerian army in a place at the time! More shocking was the fact of the absence of the army when the killers arrived at the scene! The killers come and then varnish into thin air. Some people suggest that they may be foreigners… Whether working on the series ‘A Thousand Cattle, Two Hills’, or on ‘Citizens of Nowhere’ the theme is still the same- it is about citizenship, governance, migrations, tribalism, nepotism, and disenfranchised people. All form is dealt with in a very impersonal manner, without detailing the parts in ways that could ‘intrude’ into the ‘feeling’ of the collective; the bond of shared aspirations

Citizen of Nowhere: Finding Home

L1143152w.jpgThe story continues as I travel through East Africa. I am gathering more affirmation for the series ‘Citizens of Nowhere’. The restlessness of living in a land of myriad conflicts of identity, misrepresentation/ non-representation, forced silence at the encroaching darkness of days and nights, among other issues, forces one to pack up bag and head out again to neighboring countries. Those countries have borders that can be shared, that are open to me with my dark green passport. I can become ‘a tourist’ among brethren.

The faces are familiar, and yet have a distinct individual look; the languages are a thousand, and yet I know what they say to me. As in my paintings, I see shards of me everywhere. The portraits are of Self living among many others- not self- portraits. Of course, in the new world, traditional definitions have become obsolete. The colours of life acquire an exotic mystery when combined with the history of new spaces. At every border, one must re-present Self in a sort of introduction that affects admittance or rejection. From Nairobi to Zanzibar, Dar es Salaam to Kigali, we meet those that seem to envy the freedom, and decide to steal from you, regardless of the fact that they steal from themselves- they erase the memory of the first honour that a visitor bequeaths on the host!L1143201w.jpg

The sense of belonging can suddenly turn into a loathing of which those we meet assume we should be. There is a conflict where reality meets with long-grown stereotypes scripted to keep one at bay. I am that Citizen of Nowhere, that adventurer, that nomad, that must obey the rules and laws of where one is at the time of identification, at the point where introductions and welcome is about reading from some passport. My current host Patrick mentioned the (Nigerian) tendency to quickly profile people- ‘When two Nigerians meet their first questions are – What is your name? Followed quickly by an interfering ‘What is your surname?’ Then every other thing about personal identity affects an otherwise enjoyable interaction!

Like the lines from T.S. Eliot’s Journey of the Magi, ‘ a hard time we had of it. At the end we preferred to travel all night’! For the disenfranchised citizen, travelling becomes the path to salvation. He is free again; there is a union, a blending into passing visions of places. Transitions, no matter how brief, unfurl meanings. The troubles at home no longer seem insurmountable.L1143290w.jpg

A search for identity has led one to that so-called Rainbow Nation where the Commonwealth of Man work out the complexity of living as one Human race. One soon sees the cracks in the décor. Rwanda is another story, and becomes important as a case study for all the peoples who scream for a separate nation- for Biafra, Catalan, Kurds, and other exits (Brexit) etc. Beyond the tragedy of Sudan, Africa has the example of all the good things that are happening after the horrible genocide in Rwanda. The lessons from the country are majorly of the importance of inspired leadership instead of schisms (fanned by a sense of alienation)- one language, one human race.

Despite the serenity and lure of clean landscapes, soon one must return to bring to friends and hitherto perceived enemies the new gospel of reconciliation. I have found a new peace. The war is to look for excellence in aspiring leaders- to enthrone merit beyond tribalism/racism- to restructure the nation. The system that had been enshrined since Independence about 57 years ago to ‘balance’ Nigeria must be questioned at this point in time. Many lies have been swallowed; people have been deprived from their place in the nation. There is a Nigeria that most of the rest of world does not know, and it is a glorious nation! In time, they will see. For now, I still belong to that nation. It could be in my dreams, or in my paintings, there to be free to live, to love, to belong, and to be the best. Isn’t that the prayer of all mankind? I am a citizen of the Commonwealth of Man. It is not a mask. It is you.L1143252w.jpg

You Don’t Always Have to Shoot To Kill, Love Leica!

L1137183I don’t recall if it was that article of the man who covered events with his small Leica that I saw in an edition of Vanity Fair magazine that did it. But it was easy to start getting bored with the APS-C sensor, full or medium frame cameras after shooting over 3000 images for 4 years in a row for a secondary school’s yearbook! Some of these things we do allows one to add the suffix ‘photographer’ in introductions.

I have intense bouts of love for things. This causes me to go to the limits till I fully own the object of my desire. At some point it was mobile phones. I read all the ‘To Do’ books on phones on my journeys from Ikeja to Victoria Island to visit the art galleries. (You recall those cheap small booklets that the authors peddled in the yellow buses?)I also ‘upgraded’ to the newer versions of mobile phones as soon as they came into the market. Those were the days when the Nokia phone reigned – from the famous 3300 to the 660, etcetera. The various models that hit the market were differentiated with mysterious ‘x’s, e’s after the number- that got me hooked, thinking something mind-blowing just landed on earth! I fell easy prey to the marketing strategies of those companies.

Later, I returned to my first love with cameras that dated to as far back as when I was in secondary school. My uncle gave me a Canon AE that used film. It served me well into university where it was easy to rub on young girls’ vanity of visualizing self as gorgeous. This I loved. It was akin to the recent love for taking selfies, using filters, Snapchat and Instagram.L1137810L1141498

For about 6 years, I was the parish photographer at the church in Ajah. I filled 5 terabytes of storage space with images from events, landscapes that spanned as far back as 2005. Photography was easy money for me while I pitched to sell paintings on the streets of Lagos. It was a way of looking intensely, closely at the world. I soon realized that it was not a perfect world. Beauty is affected by distance, by the space between the beautiful one and the viewer.

I made friends with Maigida, an Igbo seller of fairly used cameras and accessories on Lagos Island. It became routine to visit his shop weekly to gush over the latest cameras and lenses. He soon saw my love for photography and cameras, and would introduce me to his customers. I enjoyed sharing photography tips with them, and particularly meeting the old babas that must have been Pa Ojeikere’s contemporaries. They still shot with negative film.L1142228

The old ways of taking photographs intrigued me. I imbibed the patience, the comportment of the negative film days. I loved how each pose was well thought-out, each moment quietly recorded. One day, Maigida called to tell me of the new Leica cameras he just got from America. One of them looked a bit funny with a big body lens, but the other had a metallic retro look that I fell in love with. It reminded me of the Vanity Fair photographer. It dangled nicely at the right angle from my waist, and it shot madly crisp-sharp images! From the Elmarit 24mm f/2.8 ASPH lens, to the precise focusing, the pop-up flash, I knew I had found true love in my Leica X2.

It came at a point when I already understood that Photography was not about taking focused, crystal clear images. I had seen enough World Press Photos at exhibitions to convince me. My Leica was featherweight with monster-sized big performance. After carrying many heavy cameras with huge battery grip and flash attached, photography suddenly became a breeze. The idea became the reason for the shot. It wasn’t about the size of the camera any more.

With my Leica, the blades of grass showed up in colors that went near psychedelic. With the coming of age, one definitely needs to lighten the load of life. I capture the moments more frequently in a casual way. Moving around with a massively expensive camera has never been easier- the retro look of my Leica gives it a pass mark for street photography. Those area boys don’t know that my Leica got them covered. People still wonder if it is a film camera. I wonder how the little things in life can make precious memories. The L in my images does not just stand for images taken with my Leica. L is for Love- love of photography.

 

Abstract colors, More liberties

Detail of a work in progress, mixed media painting, 2017. 

In this blog, I have written extensively about my work, the creative process, and the figurative. It has become more important to dwell on the abstractions that seem to be taking centre-stage all around us.

Uli has shown us a way of looking at space, engaging it in a way that conveys meaning. Lines and shapes loaded with meaning are juxtaposed with negative bleak spaces that totally shriek in their silence.

Turning it around, the artist considers the power of that non-representational element as subject matter, relocation into deep meditation of color fields. Traditional notions of color no longer apply, nor restrain. Thus, color has gained an independence in its total abstraction- color is the new white noise in artistic communication.

The intention to emphasize local identity is lost on the new international that crosses borders at will. Appropriating passing fancies, one must acknowledge them as relevant memories; hallmarks from journeys, with a cognizance for seeing that in front lies an unfamiliar path that may demand new conversations/interactions. Or else, the artist becomes the bogeyman.

The body of work creates new imagery- exploring an eclectic embodiment- a morpheme of spatial representation. Visual elements are turned on their head- harmony, space, contrast, and balance. Everything is introverted to ‘work’ on the mind where it really counts. External superficialities are done away with in a signature economic style- the work is the reason. The reason is the work.

Reality is a dent on the conscience of the creative, holding ransom all notions and actions towards progress. Concurrently, one must hold on to fantasy- to the subconscious world of dreams as a vision for navigating the psychedelic, hybrid subcultures of today’s world. All accepted standards may fail in the circumstances; boundaries and borders melt away (standing only as a physical presence at the most). Time and Space suddenly embrace to become one experience.

Color is language, identity and representational subject serving all intents of the artist. Color can only be interpreted on a personal level, irreverent to all else. Herein lays the bane of the tribal art grouping- this melting point that allows no measures/ standards to retrain the use or absence of interpretative color.

Having learned drawing, we unlearn drawing. Drawing pretends to unravel the spatial feel of things, working as a witness to a ‘presence’. In turn around, drawing is the real presence. These are tangible existential ideas- generally cultures acknowledge an ‘other’ life separate from this one. Man then begins to ask his place- is this or that the ‘real’ life? To and fro, the tussle becomes the very matter of contention between Realism and Abstraction, the signifier and the amplifier.  

Our visual senses mediate in between engaging and nurturing the mind. Truth is- we know nothing. Let all knowledge begin from there to interrogate meaning.