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

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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.

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

How a carnival happened.

The Oguta Ameshi carnival just happened a few days ago. The noise had been loud, and the preparations befitting of its billing-a carnival to change our appreciation of fun during the festive season. It was announced that top musical artistes were billed to perform-Wyclef, Timaya and Flavor were rumored to be on the list of performing artistes.
An earlier visit to the town saw my cousin Joke preparing a musical jingle for the group of performers who would represent West Coast, a set of streets in Oguta Ameshi town. Different street sections in Oguta Ameshi had had been given funky, stereotypical, or representative names associated with the assumed style( Hollywood, Get Nice, Carlifornia, West Coast, Central District,),character or peculiar trait( Oruru, Plantation, Okposha).
On D day, the opening act was a cultural show including masquerades from Oguta and neighboring towns coming out to the arena at Boys and Girls Primary school, Oguta. The second day saw a carnival of people from the above-mentioned areas of Oguta town coming out with costumes to entertain.

Personal Portrait: Mary has a little boy

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Turning the camera on someone close to oneself opens that person up in many ways, and gives an understanding of the things that one respects about that person. Mary is the 26 years-old cleaner who really maintains the house-taking care of my 2 year-old son, washing clothes, cooking, cleaning and doing all other household chores I really wouldn’t be bothered with. At 22, she had a son called David with a man she lived with for a few years. David is now in the village, living with Mary’s mother. Mary works very hard, and gets paid ₦16,000 monthly(approximately $110). Following her with my camera allowed me know her more-where she lives (in a room and cubicle in an uncompleted one-storey building); to retrace the path she usually takes to my house, to feel like her, and in a way, become her. With so little daily income, she accommodates a lady with three children in that seedy looking, tiny blue-lit room of hers. And of course, she has memorabilia from her past love, Chidi-the refrigerator with Barca sticker on it (although she is a Chelsea fan); the coloured television and thick ten-spring bed; and of course David, their son. Image

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I have four brothers and two sisters, but we all live far and apart. The Lagos landscape swallows time and opportunity. Mary comes into my world six days a week, from 6am-7pm. Our meetings are short, but I live with the impact. I visited her place- met her best friend (a hairdresser called Patience), saw her home and co-tenants, and we talked about her son and Kevin. I saw an everyday woman trying her best to make things work, to build a good future for herself and her son, playing mom and dad roles. She worked, and lived with her phone constantly ringing. Her room reminded me of the red light districts in Ikeja, or the rooms of young-adults living on the streets. Her whole persona changed in the two environments-mine and hers. In shooting, it translated to blacks and white moments, and colourful nights in-between. Wearing a hairnet around my home, I tried to echo the circular orb. In her house, it was all about colour, and shadows. As I left that night, she was running to meet one of the men who had called her on the phone while I was shooting. She kept insisting that she doesn’t even have a boyfriend. Like so many other domestic staff who do such a wonderful job, surely she should get more.ImageImage