EXPLAINING THE EXHIBITION: AUTOBIOGRAPHY AND BEATITUDES

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The need to create a different narrative arose from a conversation with Joan Egwuterai, manager, communications and external relations at Lagos Business School. She wanted to post something about the exhibition. I had directed her to my blog, but she found that my first writing was more an autobiography than an explanation of the works in the exhibition, the intentions of the artist etc. I had narrated stories leading to this present day, and occasionally mentioned works whose themes connected with my experiences. The works to be exhibited would speak for themselves, I explained, a notion learned in final year at Nsukka defending my works in a presentation to our painting professor Udechukwu and fellow painting students. After several well-received defences, I saw how my classmates waited to hear my last defence. Looking at the eager faces longing to be satiated, I suddenly had a strange nudge to deflate their enthusiasm. I suddenly felt a strong revolt against the entire session. It seemed to have been created to favor glib talkers over the more introspective artists. One could have easily defended bullshit.’ After many years of speaking about my work, I had come to the realization that if my work didn’t speak, then why should i? I had failed’, I said. This presentation was my shortest.

In this exhibition, as in my works, I have always believed in the communicative powers of art. My works are like my children, with a life separate from me. They will live on in new environments, disconnected from me, interpreted differently by any audience. I enjoy that aspect- of the work being ‘read’ by other people. They usually come up with entirely new perspectives and thus, expand my appreciation and understanding. I was researching the common elements that cut across all the past art styles and movements in final year. In studying Surrealism and Dadaism, I got interested in the theories of Jung and Freud. From then on, I believed that the art object as a product of both conscious and unconscious processes has readings that go beyond the initial suggestions of the creator/artist. Art spills over and blossoms, flails or flies, depending on one’s perspective and personal history.

A neighbor who had served as a military doctor on the Biafran side of the civil war had seen my happy and beautiful paintings (I had just finished a self-portrait titled Golden child, 1996; and Egwu Amara dancers, 1996). The doctor was an austere and dry-looking fellow who never smiled. His son, who had newly entered Nsukka, suggested that his father would be interested in me painting a portrait. When I met the doctor, he showed me the most shocking images from Life magazine (I think) the black and white photographs of kwashiorkor-stricken families. He commissioned me to paint the portrait of a starved mother suckling her bony child. The poignant message of the image influenced my notion of beauty. I soon started painting provocative and sometimes dark images. The idea was to aim at the strongest emotions, not usually the most pleasing. I began thinking of the human tragedy and Man’s vanities.

I communicate artistic practise as going beyond traditional genre and labels. This is informed by the fact of the artist being a strong conductor of all human experience. His touch is felt in every field of endeavor. Of course this is seen more clearly in the life of Leonardo da Vinci. In 2003, Dilompri (aka junkman of Africa) created sculptures from discarded clothes and refuse he picked on the streets of Lagos. He later created a performance titled How the Tailor Died, 2005 which showed at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. He had earlier told me how the artist could dance, play music, sew clothes, write, sing and sculpt in conveying messages. I have gathered together my many sides in the spacious foyer of Lagos Business School-paintings, photography, drawing, and sound. Sound as the key element has an inferred voice-in the communication and provocation of the senses. One enjoys the waking sounds of dawn- the chirp of birds, the twitching of insects and the sounds of people rushing to their workplaces etc. In sound, I understand the few lessons from secondary school days in Okigwe-the repeated beats that form harmonious sounds, the melodies, the composers etc. Looking at the pulsating rhythm of music graphs and the distances and points in pages of sheet music, I was fascinated by the logical progression of music. It was pure Maths and Reason. I had been thrilled by the film August Rush, 2007 and loved the music of Enya, Tchaikovsky and Handel. Hence, in creating experimental music for this show, I felt a freedom liberated by studying histories and changes that moved canons into future relevance. I chose themes like Revolution Bang, Water and Roads, Area Boy, Hunger Wars, and God and Man and created intuitively like one tuning the guitar by the ear.

Another interest is in presenting photography as art. I scored high grades in drawing classes in Nsukka. I did a balancing act of making good portraits on one hand, and painting stylized or abstract form. . Although secondary school did not prepare me to accept photography as art, I learned the joy of photography from Chidi Abarikwu, a classmate who owned an analogue Canon camera. One wonders when photography will be taught alongside graphic design, painting and sculpture at both elementary and secondary school levels. Mr James Efekodo, an educationist, friend and mentor whom I met working at Whitesands School, Lekki had suggested that the time had come to rewrite the art curriculum of secondary schools. His long years of experience teaching had informed the understanding that there was still a gap between art and photography in our society.

 In Nsukka, I bought a camera to snap people for my pastels and oil portraits. I also made extra money snapping people at social events. I now use photography as my medium, over the painted realistic portraits, to balance my stylized work which seemed to be ‘art’. I recall Chika Okeke-Agulu chiding me for berating my work as a portrait painter, explaining how it can be quite serious work.Image

              Abii Woman, 2011.

Image              Foundation for a new church, 2012

After being told that painting had nothing new to offer, I was faced with two options- to either abandon traditional painting as a whole; or to continue painting in traditional painting styles. An obvious choice, undertaken by many, is the first option. Of course I chose the second.  I strongly believe that Africa has not built its traditional history enough to move forward. The destruction and decay of national monuments showcase how we are tragically loosing cultural and historic monuments. It is inevitable, as Abayomi Barber said in an interview he granted me (2007). The problems of conservation and preservation of art works are also due to a lack of properly trained staff, Barber added. Since graduating in 1997, I realize that we did not get adequate preparation for life after the university. There were no courses like the Business of Art, Curating, and Preservation of Art etc. that would create a better environment for practicing art. I had gone through some of the so-called-galleries, and now preferred personal interactions with collectors. The middlemen who would have helped out are nowhere to be found.

RE:AUTOBIOGRAPHY AND BEATITUDES, my art exhibition

This is an autobiography of the works I have done, the stories, the places I have been and the events transmitted through poems, paintings, drawings, sound and photographs-narrating the blessedness of the interesting times one lives in. In Autobiography and Beatitudes, personal history and the blessedness of living, I have drawn from a broad-based and expansive period of work that, hopefully, at the dusk of my youth, draws the portrait of a Nigerian artist. The exhibition wouldn’t have been possible without the help of great friends, people have I met-parents, teachers, art enthusiasts, spiritual director, and role-models. They are my core SWAT group for staying sane and solvent in this madness. Maybe I had art in my genes. I had an artist uncle called Idika who lived in the US. His works were in my grandfather’s parlour and in our home in Owerri. Aunt Imelda, his younger sister was said to be an excellent draughtsman also. There was my mom, the teacher and fashion designer. Her integrated science note books revealed her good draughtsmanship. Insects were drawn with fluid strokes and neatly too. This made a great impression. Dad opened the magical world of books and dreaming. He bought my first dictionary when I was in primary three. He would return from his travels with two cartons-one of books and chocolates. Before I got to secondary school, I was introduced to the African Writers Series. I soon started reading through his library.Image

My earliest memories of a peculiar artistic intuition were those days in Owerri looking into the skies and seeing clouds that formed the impressionable scenes from Charlton Heston’s portrayal of Moses in the hit movie, The Ten Commandments. I would look into those bulbous skies and draw what I saw in the dust in front of our brick house.

The other teachers that taught me all impacted strongly by their actions-dissuading me from certain paths, inspiring, encouraging, nurturing. I was helped greatly by my spiritual director at a time when I desperately needed a role model. Father Boniface formed my mind and taught me to look backwards and see blessings of God that have come my way, to see all actions as parts of a great plan for good. That is the theme, my story. Autobiographies must necessarily begin from the beginning, the origins of being and self-realization.Image

There were the pencil drawings of my mother I made from the black and white photographs in our parlour, and the high praise from both classmates and teachers in primary school. A certain doctor friend named John Ojukwu, who I met in Enugu, while recuperating from a life-threatening accident at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital also helped. He brought me those art activity books that had dots that one could put together to form a picture, and black and white drawings that left one the opportunity to paint in the right colours, guided by words. Those books also had scaled drawings that one could replicate on a larger scale in the opposite page. I was twelve years old, at the time. Some of these ideas have stuck and remained relevant to my practise as an artist.

Of my set at Federal Government College Okigwe, Ugochukwu Uwadi and I were the only students who studied Fine Arts in Senior Secondary class.  We had excelled through the rudiments of Art in junior school, moulding “Madonna and Child” clay works; and creating painting compositions of lions and zebras in savannahs; drawing the burnt ruins of a parked water-tanker (which the students of the secondary school burnt in an anti-government demonstration inspired by students from nearby Abia State University, marching against the regime of President Babangida). Before I left Okigwe, I became Art Club president and tried to foster more appreciation for the Arts through narrations of Art History, and drawing classes organised for my fellow students. As I taught them, I believed more firmly the things I said. In art class though, my work process was very irregular and full of bursts of energy and ebbs. Mr Fadeyi, the art teacher, got frustrated at some point and told me that I would never make it as a professional artist. I am still working. An obvious career option was Law, to become like my Commissioner for Justice father, who had groomed me to enjoy reading literature, stories and poetry. When the time came, I told him that I would study Art first, and read Law as a second degree.

University of Nigeria, Nsukka has the ideal serenity for painting landscapes and rustic life. I met some brilliant art educationists. Professor Obiora Udechukwu had been my dad’s contemporary in Nsukka. His art classes encouraged awareness in building the creative process. With this mind-set, we as students were exposed to stimuli. We were forced to interpret titles drawn from poems and classical music (“Mother Idoto”, and “Rhapsody in Blues”); and held discussions of essays on art written by famous English writers, etc. In my third year, I worked in his Odenigwe studio as an assistant and had the privilege to learn and see his works. The art historian and painter, Professor Chike Aniakor’s enthusiasm and lyricism were highly infectious, and we enjoyed his studio critiques. There was the Art historian Professor Ola Oloidi whose character was a delight to all the students and the slightly withdrawn Professor El Anatsui, who once gave me an unforgettable demonstration of how balance should be applied in a sculpture. I made friends with Chika Okeke-Agulu and Krydz Ikwuemesi. They were Master’s degree students who later became my lecturers at Nsukka. Ikwuemesi explained to me how irregular strokes around the head give liveliness to portraits. Chijioke Onuora, the drawing teacher was the students’ darling. His “Tuff Studio” at Onuiyi was open to any student who needed a place to work in, outside the students’ studio in the department. Okeke-Agulu’s studio, “House of Hunger”, was a few blocks away, and I was one of the few students allowed to visit. He lent me books on art criticism and encouraged me to write essays for the newspapers. He also gave new meaning to the word ‘ambition’. Okeke-Agulu wanted us students to create voraciously, to also think big, to be ambitious.

Alongside Anaele Iroh aka ADIS, and Sukanthy Visaggaperumal, and Stanley Aneto, we organised a daring exhibition at the Margaret Ekpo refectory on campus. We handmade and printed the red-cover page of the catalogue for the exhibition titled Why the Caged Bird Sings. That exhibition was seen by many students at Nsukka, who would either come to eat at the refectory, or just to the Freedom Square. I recall one such student, Patrick Okigbo who stayed to hear my lengthy explanation of State of the Nation, (1996) an 8 x 4 feet oil painting of writhing nude bodies, horses, and a soldier. Decades after graduation, we would meet again in an exhibition at Omenka Gallery (Lagos) were he collected my acrylic painting titled Today is Red, Red, Red (2007).

Another exhibition, 6 New Painters from Nsukka (1996) at the British Council, Enugu, featuring my works alongside those of five classmates Okechukwu Ogamanya, Obinna Amoke, Sukanthy Visaggaperumal, Stanley Aneto, Onyema Ezeudu, and organised by Obiora Udechukwu and Chika Okeke-Agulu would be our signature announcement to the world. We were singled out of the forty-nine students in final year class when we took a stand in support of the strikes organised by the lecturers and students against the government.  Then came the dispersal- people fled the nation into self-exile; others were hounded by government forces; while others were forcefully retired from lecturing jobs. Those were the days of letter-bombs, and assasinations, corruption of the academy, and the hanging of Ken Saro Wiwa. Of course, my interactions with some of the students then, particularly in the Fine Arts department (some who were in higher classes) with Blaise Gundu Gbaden, Marcia Kure, Chimezie Chuta, Sukanthy Visaggaperumal; my familiarity with the works and legends of Sly Ogbechie and Olu Oguibe who had graduated years before; and my encounter with Gbugbemi Amas ran a sculpture studio in Nsukka, and would come to talk to the students about the inappropriateness of the school’s curriculum-all contributed to and impacted my life as an artist. I travel a lot, and have been blessed by many meetings and relationships. These meetings have moulded the creative spirit to move in new directions and to acquire new energies.

The length of days, particularly well spent days, makes the story long. Upon graduation, I opened a studio in Owerri with the help of my uncle Tony who gave me an expansive duplex office space gratis. This allowed me to start off life professionally with an audacity and experimental creativity that has continued. The depressive military era had caused a lot of young graduates to travel abroad, and Adis came with stories of Lagos and about relocation. I listened. I squatted with Julie my sister for years in Lagos, making some of the “spirits” (as mother would call my paintings) that she faced to the wall in rejection. I visited the popular galleries then- Signature, Nimbus and Mydrim, and had some luck selling a few works to Signature Galleries. I also sold some to Oladeinde Odimayo, and Narcissus Gallery, Ikeja. Somehow, most of the works I have sold were to private buyers and collectors, some of whom I believed did not understand my work but acquired it because it was different. I must have survived those days with the support from friends and family members, and the occasional collector who will buy many works at once.

Painting did not become a bread and butter-making occupation for me at any given time, as I never forgot El Anatsui’s advice that one should not be an artist to make money. I had chosen to paint, to communicate inner urges, to interact with my space, and I had the support system that allowed for this liberty. I had also done other things besides (working as an art writer for the Art Desk of the defunct Comet Newspapers; at Angela Onyeador’s the African Foundation for the Arts; and more recently at the Whitesands School, an all-boys day secondary school in Lekki) Parents and teachers play a key role in the formation of the child. This idea became clearer to me when I worked briefly as an art teacher at the Whitesands School. I benefited greatly in that school by a Principal who encouraged innovative learning methods.

 My inclusion in the group exhibition With a Human Face (2006) organised by Jess Castellote for the Lagos Business School was the beginning of a beneficial relationship. The institution has some of my works on display in their halls, notable of which is the massive three-piece oil painting titled ‘There were ten virgins when the bridegroom came’ (2006). The Pan African University also hosted my solo exhibition at their Victoria Island campus.

While convalescing at Igbobi, I registered as a member of the Society of Nigerian Artists in the period of Olu Ajayi’s presidency. Never attending the Society’s meetings, I also rarely attended exhibition openings were people mope and block one’s view. For inspiration, I lived a robust night life, hanging out at the clubs in Ikeja with Area Boys and visiting Fela’s Shrine. I became sympathetic with the call-girls and shady characters who wore masks to hide their ugly lifestyles. I saw a new aesthetic appear, based entirely on assessment of the different sides of the story of men and women. Physical beauty became but a fleeting glance at the soul. The subject of my portraits, became contrived beings that I built up like a carpenter, latching on to “unconscious accidents” in colour application and management, discarding (almost entirely) a sense of perspective or proportion.

The acrylic medium has a spontaneity suited to my workflow. Using mediums like retarders and pieces of newspaper and fabric, I join patterns and patches like a tailor, and then create distances of Time to assess the authenticity of the idea. If the idea is present for long on my canvas, then it is legitimate; not a whim. Occasionally the idea is a known, with a sketch or reference to start on. Other times it is achieved after several rewritings through the years. The work has a different, inherent life force that grows outwards. I have often embraced people’s interpretations, urging them on enthusiastically. The audience completes the process, and I encourage them. As a product of society, the artist gives and takes generously, every time; the work belongs to me as much as to the buyer, collector or audience.Image

I drank at arty places like the French Cultural Centre and Bogobiri, and seedy joints like Ynot. My drifting took me to the beaches to hang out for picnics at Jagunlabi’s, to walk, think and sometimes to paint the landscape. Dilomprizuluike, “the Junkman of Africa”, lived in Alpha Beach, a popular haunt. El Anatsui once labelled him “the only artist working in Lagos”. He lived Art. On a visit to his “Junkyard Gallery of Awkward things”, I had a strong awareness of the presence of the Object-as-Art around us. I sat in junk beside him in his “painted” yellow jeep, driving through Lagos traffic. He would occasionally stop by the roadside to pick up discarded objects which he saw as “Art”- things imbued with life and an ability to convey a message. He was a great inspiration. I recall my impression of his “house”- a place that had no visible walls or geometrical regularity; I compared it to my paintings. I seemed to paint with a similar familiarity. Before he left for Germany, he gave me some of his fashion drawings from his show at Goethe Institut. He also asked that I stay in his house. I never did, but some of my works relive the experience of that space.  I am not sure which came first, the experience that led to the work; or the work, that has similar attributes with the space. I am not about making assertions of originality here. Rather, I will continue in gratitude for all-the pains and joys I have known, the people and places I have been, and the things that happened to me and the things I have done. As in one of my paintings, Memories grow long and become the thing around your neck (both to choke and hang you; or to beautify and adorn you), 2009, my reading of Memory is optimistic.Image

With several long stays in hospital and scars of surgical blades came a familiarity with pain, and knowledge of the transience of life. The most recent and greatest sorrow came when my mother died last March. I sought reason and direction, and felt a dark cloud hovering. Then the words of Christ in the Beatitudes had new meaning to me, and became a survival chant. Soon I started recollecting the gestures of sorrow and wailing. We deal with sorrow differently, I told my siblings. These ideas were soon reflected in my paintings from the period. It was about Sorrow, tears and blood. I have also known many joys. For all, I am grateful.

ACCESS DENIED-IKOTA SHOPPING COMPLEX

 

Access -3,000 Shops. DENIED
Is this truly a government of the people? Ikota Shopping Complex is located on the Lekki/Epe expressway, beside the Victoria Garden City(VGC) residential estate. The place has over 20,000 people working in 3,000 shops with a net worth between 15-20 billion naira making it the largest shopping complex in Nigeria. Then there is Lagos Concessional Company (LCC), the builders of the Lagos tollgates, and the Lagos State government on the other hand. LCC is expanding the Lekki/Epe expressway and are now working on the Ajah axis of the road. They have blocked the access to the shops and instead, created a roundabout facing Victoria Garden City. The gate to VGC is about thirty metres from Road 1, Ikota Shopping Complex.
The members of the executive of the Ikota Shopping complex shop owners and stakeholders association have repeatedly met with LCC and the Lagos State government asking for the roundabout  to be located thirty metres away from its present position(this was while the roundabout was in draft state) to favour VGC and Ikota Shopping Complex. They have been refused.
On November 23, the association staged a peaceful protest against LCC and the Lagos state government. They had planned to take the protest march to the highway facing the complex, but were refused permission by the Lagos State Police who deployed four patrol vehicles of policemen armed with guns and teargas launchers  to enforce order.
The associated circulated notices and sent out text messages to the shop owners notifying them that the complex will be locked between 9am-10am to mobilise for the protest. By 9am on Friday, the president of the association Mrs O.O. Akinpelu, flanked by Mr. Patrick Baghanlo addressed the crowd gathered round the locked gate to road 1. Many of the people gathered agreed that the blocking off of access to the Shopping complex had slowed down business, as many potiential customers find it difficult driving through the persistent traffic jam between the VGC roundabout and Ilaje bus stop to turn at the ever-busy  Ajah roundabout. The conveners of the protest read out the statistics for the importance of the shopping complex, and why it should have received preference over and above all other businesses located around the expressway. The big question was why did Oriental Hotel,a business with a net worth of about 3 billion naira, should be given access while another business worth so much more should be blocked out of relevance! 
The protesters marched from one end of the parking lot of the Ikota Shopping complex to the other, but this piqued the anger of observers who felt the march should be done along the road, in the full glare of the public. They headed for the main road and put up road blocks, but the police soon moved in on them and threw away the road blocks. A lot of business owners have already closed down due to poor patronage. A hairdresser with a salon within the premises even predicted that more people will move out by January. Someone else spoke of the fear that it may even get worse now, if the LCC decides to put up a fence barricade and wall like they did along the road by The Palms. The gates were soon opened. It was business as usual, and most of the crowd who had gathered for the protest(mainly shop workers and office assistants) trudged in to their various  shops, to wait, to sleep away. And at the end of the month come bills-salaries for staff, service charge and electric bills etc. Fewer people walk into the complex these days. The weather is unfriendly.

Engaging the Enemy: The Voices of Interrupted Lives

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Creative practice and political crusading could well be the sub-theme for this exhibition. Through the ages, the role of the artist in society has been revised in various ways. From cave art to tomb art; shrine art to church art; homes to churches; Art has been the tool of hunters and magi, magicians and politicians, priests and the affluent in society serving their immediate needs and to answer the peculiar questions of their time. Interrupted Lives is a timely intervention that showcases the work of Creatives working in present day Nigeria, artists who live here, and who have, through the trauma of existence and malady and decline of the Nigerian dream, create critical works evaluating Experience, Society, Identity and the Affecting Politics. ImageAs art movements emerged, artists constantly tried to rewrite the status quo of Art. In defining the role of Art, Picasso famously said that ‘painting is not done to decorate apartments. It is an instrument of war for attack and defence against the enemy’. The seven artists in the third art exhibition of the Lagos Book and Art Festival-Jelili Atiku, Nkechi Nwosu-Igbo, Tola Wewe, Sam Ovraiti, Duke Asidere, Abiodun Olaku, and Uche James-Iroha seem to have identified the ‘enemy’, and formed an ‘attack’ line. ImageShocked society is frustrated by the anguish of our times-oil subsidy issues and bomb blasts, fuel and visa queues, anti-corruption wars and the crisis of leadership. Jelili Atiku, a sculptor and performance artist who graduated from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria is perhaps the most vocal in his protest performances against the flawed political fabric of Nigeria. The Program Chairman of the Committee of Relevant Art, Jahman Anikulapo calls the performances of Jelili Atiku ‘a revelation in the life of LABAF’, and thus, has exhibited him in three of their past exhibitions. Born in 1968, Atiku felt the first sense of loss at an early age. His father, a soldier during the Nigerian Civil died upon his return from the warfront. The poignant story of the circumstances surrounding his father’s death came to him from his mother. Early after graduating from Zaria, Atiku recalls the beatings he received from military men when he tried to enter his uncle’s petrol station at Ejigbo, Lagos. He soon understood the gestures of the human body in trauma; and soon began using the language of the body in Performances protesting against the political state of the nation. As a ‘multimedia political artist’, his works have been featured in exhibitions across the African continent and in Europe. The principle preoccupation, as Jelili Atiku sees it, of the artist is to expand human consciousness of the ills in Society through his work. Politics dictates, and the artist counters.

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In January 2009, Uche James-Iroha was given the Prince Claus award in recognition of his work as a photographer. The University of Port Harcourt graduate of Fine Art majored in sculpture, but upon graduating, took to photography, becoming a pioneer member of Depth of Field, a group of photographers that included Kelechi Amadi-Obi. Uche James-Iroha has chosen to investigate space and light using the photographic medium to create strong conceptual black and white images. He believes that colour distracts from the importance of what is being said. Over the years, he has been exhibited at the Goethe Institut, Lagos, at the Biennales in Dakar, Senegal; and as one of the artists that represented the Nigerian exhibition in Manchester at the recently concluded London Summer Olympics. In 2010, he edited a book of photographs and drawings titled Unifying Africa, illustrating football’s relevance and calming effect on the troubled societies Imagein Africa. This artist is a major force that has informed a wider acceptance of Photography in Nigeria as a key medium of expressive artistic content. His committed practise has, over the years, influenced a new stock of light-stalkers who have embraced the immediacy of the translation of ideas inherent in digital photography that allows multiple writings and investigation of Line, Light and Space.

The myriads of aborted dreams, forced exiles, nomadic border crossings, and dislocation has numbed the psyche of youth in Nigeria. As the artistic part of this exhibition of the Arts, the conveners of the exhibition, the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA) presents this group of artists whose practice typify the communicative creative response to the times we live in. Nkechi Nwosu-Igbo, in an introductory post on Interrupted Lives (on her Facebook wall) pointedly notes how artists seem to have turned from narrative that engage the issues of the day that affect Society at large; preferring instead to represent individualistic ideals, interrupted lives. In shock, artists seem to have withdrawn into personal worlds and longings, and allusions to the dissipation of the human spirit. Their response and discourse is an outcry that questions the numbness and reticent undercurrent one feels sustains tolerance of these chaotic days. When these voices merge, the effect is the deafening scream of Interrupted Lives.

Nkechi Nwosu-Igbo has consistently confronted existential issues-gender differences, the plight of women in Society, and the state of the nation. One recalls the poignant title of one of her past exhibitions ‘Not Ready to Walk Away’, a defiant grandstanding against the daunting odds that featured poetic phrases that described her multi-coloured textural works.She studied Fine and Applied Arts at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and majored in Painting. Since then, Nwosu-Igbo has shown a strong sense of poetic interpretation and tongue-twisting in the themes of her paintings and installations, crowning it with a publication of poems. Two factors come to play when confronted by her work- the theme of her works, and the physical presence of the art work.

On occasion, Nwosu-Igbo shows containment and a bias for the Nsukka School preferred referencing of traditional Uli, and paints the familiar partitioned windows filled with symbols drawn largely from traditional Uli art forms; but rises again to soar with powerful installations that engage Space in an emotional, personalised design that delimits the lines between Art and Audience. When she breaks free from the limiting positioning within the context of Nsukka Uli (as often happens in her installations and poetic verse), her works gain a new strength that synthesizes Experience into a personal revelation and discourse with her environment. She is married to Uche Edochie, a young painter who gained prominence in the late nineties and whose works had much patronage and success in Lagos galleries. Her engagements as curator of exhibitions (particularly for recent LABAF exhibitions) and agitator for critical contextual evaluation and collaborative work between artists have increased her prominence and visibility in the Nigerian Art scene.

In October, at the opening of the art exhibition titled The Ankara Portraits, of Gary Stevens’ art works which opened at the Omenka Gallery in Ikoyi, one had a rare meeting with Abiodun Olaku. He confessed that it has been a while since he last attended an exhibition opening, and then explains a political commentary that applies to an understanding of his landscapes. With a long list of collectors waiting, it is hard to assess a sizeable number of his works in one location for either an exhibition or a comprehensive reading. Abiodun Olaku studied Art at the Yaba College of Technology. Upon graduation, he teamed up with other artists to form the Universal Studios of Art, located in grounds of the National Theatre, Lagos. Over the years, many young artists have worked as apprentices under him. This has given him a first-hand witness of the weakness of the formal system of art education in Nigeria. At various times, he has been quite vocal in his assessment of the content and material of Art, its subject and presentation, and the poor management of the Arts. His poignant landscapes stress the atmosphere, and are realistic documentations of the environment. Building up monochromatic colour, he glazes over the work to achieve the trademark luminance. Colour is last applied after the right contrasts between light and shade has been achieved. Olaku consistently illustrates the changing seasons, the trail of light passing through exuberant, popular human life-of horse riders, durbar, and a love for the outdoors.

Tola Wewe, alongside Sam Ovraiti and Duke Asidere are some of the Independence generation artists (so-called by Jess Castellote in his blog A View from My Corner when writing on popular Nigerian artists born within that period) Following a lucrative season and years of success as one of the most exhibited and patronised painters working in Nigeria, Tola Wewe was appointed Commissioner for Arts and Culture in Ondo State. Born Adetola Wewe in 1959 in Shabomi-Okitipupa, he studied Art at the University of Ile Ife. He is one of the founding members of the Ona group of artists. His study of the Ijaw water-spirit mask and the narrative of Yoruba folktales have led to an outstanding body of work interlaced with Ona symbols. One senses the awareness of the works of the Oshogbo artists and traditional adire cloth motifs, and a close affinity to the rainforests and mangroves around him. His canvas is engaged with the vegetal patterns of his space, and translates a modern realisation of native tales. During his Masters’ degree program at the University of Ibadan, his research into the Ijaw water-spirit mask precipitated in the re-evaluation of form. In his words, he is ‘the vehicle, and they are the drivers’. He mirrors the environment in a possessed flow of energy, ‘communicating with the spirits of the ancestors’. This analogy ties his work to that of Suzanne Wenger, an artist who worked in nearby Oshogbo. Her renovation of shrines and other paintings bear the markings of that spiritual linkage, albeit in a more profuse way, that Tola Wewe talks about in explaining his creative process. Wewe’s recreation of the moonlight tales of his childhood addresses the new man in society, spotlighting the experiences and ideas of the creative person.Image

Duke Asidere has maintained a vibrant and expressionist palette of colours in his paintings executed in open air on the streets by his studio at Egbeda, Lagos State. After graduating from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, he received a Master of Fine Art from the same school that enabled him to lecture for a short while at Auchi Polytechnic. His works show a familiarity with the works of Ben Osaghae and Gani Odutokun, who he acknowledges are strong influences on his work, alongside the works of the Expressionists. In an interview with Tajudeen Sowole, on Duke Asidere’s 50th birthday anniversary, he bemoaned the ‘laid back attitude of artists’ in addressing issues related to the state of the nation. Artists’ commentaries have ignored (to a large extent), the political intrigues of post-military era Nigeria. Duke Asidere’s works emit the vibrant energy of creative ingenuity, and soul-searching of an artist living in troubled times. The positive and negative spaces are balanced intuitively without reliance to familiar paradigms of perspective, with a firm knowledge of the human form that arguably surpasses that of some of his better known contemporaries.

The tendency to relate the image of the Man emerging from the turbulence and disaster of our Politics and Times seems to be a recurring theme in the work of the artists presented in Interrupted Lives. The narrative has become a personal address of shared aspirations. With a shared experience of lecturing alongside Duke Asidere at the Auchi Polytechnic, Sam Ovraiti has a formidable reputation as an international water-colourist. Born in Zaria, he studied General Painting and Art at Auchi Polytechnic, Edo State, and later moved on to the University of Benin where he acquired a Masters in Fine Art. The associations reveal an appreciation of realistic form (as witnessed in works from students of the University of Benin); a spatial application of colour irrelevant to considerations of formal depth (as in the works of the other colourists of Auchi Polytechnic) His works exhibit a personal sense of balancing of shapes in the landscapes that are the occasional subject of his work either relating to experience, or rendition of the human form.  He allows the expressive properties of his chosen medium, be it watercolour, oil colour or acrylics, to add character to his work, and deliberately reveals the gestures involved in the picture-making process. He have inspired artists from Auchi, notably Chika Idu, a water-colourist from the same school whose paintings show a stylistic association. Ovraiti wields a great presence on the Lagos Art scene, and is member to many of the Art associations. He has also attended workshops for artists, particularly the Harmattan workshops of Bruce Onobrakpeya which has become a regular stop-over. The workshop is a retreat inspired by those organised by Uli Beier in Oshogbo, a meeting point for artists that has created productive collaborations. Ovraiti’s works has strong similarities with those of Ike-Francis, his friend and fellow painter who studied at the Universities of Port Harcourt and of Nigeria, Nsukka. This amazing similarity is in the interpretation of human form, particularly in their paintings. Ike-Francis ventures into multi-media installations while Sam Ovraiti has focused on a traditional painting style that continually promote a very modern culture as evidenced in the fashion statements of his models.  Image In realising the theme of the exhibition, Nkechi Nwosu-Igbo has highlighted some of the most vibrant and active artists in Lagos, people whose works show a deep reading of the nuances and turbulence of their times. The Committee for Relevant Art has again shown a commitment to promoting critical platforms for artists to evaluate their output, to access their role in Society. A similar intervention was the interactive session at Bisi Silva’s CCA of photographs from the strikes against President Jonathan’s subsidy removal gift on New Year’s Day. Hopefully, in coming days, more artists will articulate their angst into creative outpourings that will bring the needed change in our sociopolitical world. Honestly, we are all part of the deluge, a community of people with truncated dreams, living interrupted lives.

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With the theme Narratives of Conflict, the 14th annual Lagos Book and Art Festival will remain open from 16th- 19th November at the Freedom Park, Lagos Island.