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

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My interview with Anna

IMG_0480webThis is an interview I had with artist Anna Mapoubi, artist and owner of the online magazine www.africafuturistic.com. We became friends in 2016 in Dakar during the last Art Biennale. Her works were exhibited at the main pavilion of the biennale. Originally from Cameroun, Anna lives in Paris.

Anna: Hello, how are you? I return to you for the continuation of my interview. As I explained the aim of this online magazine is to offer Anglophone or Francophone Africans the opportunity to discover surprises. Many young Africans are not interested in culture in a broad way, apart from their musical universe, because there is very little text, and magazine accessible for free. The goal is to create a large contemporary archive for free. There are several headings. I would like to introduce you to the People Inside section, this section talks about the artist, but without insisting on his works, but talking about the human, and especially to give more poetry to see, while talking about his job.

 

I love your work, your personality, and having a Nigerian artist in this section will be an honor. The goal is also to collaborate with other critics in Nigeria, because writing is lacking. If you have notes, texts already written by other critics, they will complete our interview. Here are the main questions:

To begin our interview, I would like you to introduce our readers by explaining your vision of a futuristic Africa since the dawn of time.

Anthony: The future of Africa is in unraveling the treasures of the past. Africa has so much undocumented history and so many warped narratives in archives that see Africa as The Dark Continent, a colonialized, vanquished people! More often, outsiders who look in with an air of assumed superiority tell the narrative coming from/ about Africa. I want us as Africans to look backwards- Sankofa (Ghana), Natural Synthesis (Nigeria/Uche Okeke). We must rediscover our heritage and start, like Achebe suggests, telling our own stories! And so, the field of possibilities for the African is vast. We can only start telling our story from where we find ourselves- in the centre of an internationalized world! This is joyful, liberating to find discover that we have so much raw material to work with in Africa!

Anna: What definition do you give to Art? And how do you perceive Contemporary Art?

Anthony: Art is the intention to communicate that moves a child to action. Suddenly, Art has grown in presence because of the opening of the world to new ways, of Neo-internationalism. Art is the beginnings of the reason for creating action(s) that affirm, condemn or suggest. Art has an open-ended meaning since we allowed pop, advertising, video, performance, installation, and photography. As the meaning of what can be called Art has expanded, so also, (has) our appreciation of its importance. We (artists), thus become custodians of this gift. It is a humbling task, as we only must show others outside the aesthetic, the artistic side of life, which occurs naturally around us all.

Anna: When did you know that you were devoting your life to art?

Anthony: It started with my ability to draw from life, or from stories of the Bible. The Jehovah Witnesses’ My Book of Bible Stories was very popular growing up in the eighties. Then I would look to the skies and somehow ‘see’ scenes from the Bible stories we had read. When I tried to share these visions verbally with playmates, they didn’t see what I was saying. I then started drawing pictures of the things I was seeing. Though they did not see what had earlier inspired my work, they enjoyed that I could show these things clearly. So, Art became my personal interpretation and voice for speaking, communicating. Later I started drawing portraits from photographs in the family album. They loved it. I saw that I could get paid for doing it. So I said, Why not? Though my father had groomed me to take over his law chambers as his first son, I made a deal with him that I would study Law after graduating from Art School. When I was done at Nsukka, I told him I was ready. But he told me that there was no need, as lawyers don’t earn a good living!

Anna: As an artist, how will you define yourself? How did you reach the finalization of your fingerprint?

Anthony: A living artist will be most foolish to try to define himself- he is still on the journey! Again, the answer to your question will preempt the art historians; will take on their role. I am still learning, still being excited and overwhelmed by the myriad stimuli in our present world! Sometimes I have a feeling of ‘another bodily existence’- I see myself as one who is just approaching a door of discovery; sometimes I feel that the main ideas I will share with the world is close, that I am almost there! In horror, I shake myself away from such thoughts like someone who is on his deathbed making his will, his final wishes. Actually, I am not near any ‘finalization’. There are worlds/ world-views that I have not experienced. Being African, I have so many uncrossed borders, so many spaces that may never allow me access. So, I am in the process of finalizing my vision. Maybe that would be the way to understand my place in the world better.

Anna: What emotions stimulate you? What is the main work of your creation?

Anthony: Emotions? Emotions are our response to the stimuli of living, our answer to being alive! There is so much. An important thing for me is about relationships, about sharing our niche with others. Themes like love, chaos, how we manage our space all crop up in my work. I am also intrigued by perception of others- I look and it appears more like it is a mirror, not another story that I see. Generally, in my work, the people all wear masks, as it happens in real life! We put up appearances appropriate with the time and place we find ourselves in. The face thus becomes a mask that contorts to express emotion, ideas. A mask is tied with performance- so it has a timeline for appropriateness. Then it is discarded. So, I love the fleeting, whimsical, playful moments. I communicate this-no?

Anna: What is the view of your work by the public, by the artistic community?

Anthony: The public is such a huge audience for one to pretend to know their mindset about One’s work. The people I have met usually see me as that Nsukka artist who has continued painting for this long! It is quite a difficult thing, knowing that Art receives very poor appreciation/ sponsorship from African governments. The economy of our countries is struggling from internal problems of graft, poor leadership, and questions about tribal/ ethnicity to even think of our shared art history/ cultural heritage! I have continued to produce work with the support of family and a small, dedicated group of collectors who seem to be amazed by my new work. The thing is, my work is a child of this daunting society. My work thrives on all the chaos, all the negativity that should kill the creative spirit. It acts differently on me, like one getting high on some banned substance! I throw back my angst at my audience. This audacity against the odds seems to delight them; particularly the privileged ones who may afford to collect my work. For them, it becomes a charity done to society- to show them all that has gone wrong. At other times, of course, my themes celebrate the mundane, ordinary living. I stare at a clay cup, and it transforms into something golden. That is the sort of alchemy that I want to achieve at all times through my work.

Anna: Ongoing projects? Currently, where can you discover your work?

Anthony: Ongoing projects? Well, I am working on so many things now- there is the group exhibition coming up in Lagos- Art X; then I am preparing for DakArt 2018 and a solo exhibition for that year. In between, I have commissions for paintings, and the occasional portrait coming. This seems a good time to work, generally. The small group of collectors is responding quite enthusiastically to my work since I relocated from Lagos to my village Oguta. I now have more time to concentrate on my work.

Nigeria’s huge population and diverse ethnic groups make it such a culturally rich place to live in. There is so much music, festivities and the topography shows such a diverse space where the people have adapted their architecture, culture and traditions to survive. Nigeria has the highest number of ethnic groups. Where does one start any journey through it? Each locality has its attractions. In Lagos there’s the New Afrika Shrine, there are the festivals- Eyo etc. There are the cosmopolitan spaces like Lagos Island with its clustered architecture and the beaches of Lagos! Seeing Nigeria may actually take a lifetime! I decided not to leave Nigeria for other Countries this year, just to look around a bit- I have lived all my life here and I still haven’t seen much!

Anna: Could you tell us about other places touching Nigeria? For example music, design, writer, shopping, galleries, food (foufou) etc.?

Anthony: I read Fine and Applied Art at the University of Nigeria Nsukka, majoring in Painting. Personally, I think the educational system training our youth is flawed. For instance, in teaching Fine Art, I am not sure there is any measure for judging Art as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Well, the educational system Africans inherited from the West (I can speak for Anglophone Africa) did not acknowledge the traditional, cultural and local educational systems already in place when the colonials came. They came with that air of superiority that banned or banished all other knowledge that they saw as primitive, archaic or evil. After all, they were bringing ‘light to the Dark Continent!’ So we find our artists being unrecognized/ or pushed into obscurity in the discussion of Nigerian ancient masterpieces. Our Art history is full of beautiful artworks that are labeled ‘artifacts’, anonymous works that only have location tags, or are associated with a certain culture or tribe. We have masterpieces that date as far back, and rival work of others from other civilizations on earth.

Anna: You can also tell us about your training, formation school in Nigeria, the school and the artistic training in Africa, the fundamentals and the foundations of the African school (like that later we can make a dossier on aesthetics and Art in Africa)

Anthony: Places? You can start with my village Oguta. It is on the shores of Oguta Lake, the second largest lake in Nigeria! The lake has a confluence with the Ulashi River that empties into the Niger River. Beautiful sight! Then there are the colonial trade posts at the shore of the same lake, the capsized gunboat from the Nigeria/Biafra war, the shrines of Mami-wata (the Lake Goddess) Mami-wata is the half-woman/ half-fish (mermaid) worshipped by people all down the west African regions- from Nigeria, Benin, Togo downwards.

Every village in Nigeria has its own color, culture, foods etc. It is so multi-diverse and rich that it can only be experienced to understand it! A Google search would explain more explicitly. I don’t have the time to even begin.

You can ask about my village. I may answer a bit. But all of Nigeria? No. It will take too much time! Documented history and so many warped narratives in archives

NB: Here is the facebook link to africafuturistic.com- https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=africafuturustic for more of such African artists and their stories.

 

More Cattle- Staying on one topic

IMG_0092web‘More cattle?’, a recent collector asked yesterday. the voice was one of wariness, as though a certain boredom had crept into an otherwise very enthusiastic, excited life! I felt a bit like I was staring too much into the sun, and the rays were blinding.

The feeling was momentary. When I started the series ‘A Thousand Cattle, Two Hills’, I had one thing in mind. Many months later, the idea has grown on me. Staring, investigating the same subject concurrently has yielded fruits. Other ideas have come up. I see myself being led in directions I hadn’t thought of. I see now with more clarity than at the beginning. Time brings the stimuli of the other instances of life.

It is an eye-opener to focus on a subject for a long time. The form has shown up in many ways, but generally, the images are created with a mindset to suggest movement. More cattle will come. The troubling issue(s) that led to the beginning of this series continues to trend in our communities. From my studio’s balcony overlooking Trinity field on one side, the cattle are being led out to graze. Their stall is close by, beside the abattoir in the new market in my village Oguta.

Chaos and Creativity

IMG_0019The subject matter of Creation is Chaos’-The Plasmic Image, Barnett Newman.

While working, I see the possibility of multiple stories jumping out from the artwork. It is a sort of cross-referencing, both directly and in the mind; at being explicit in a crude way that could rob the work of its ‘reading’ as poetry. Beyond visuals, one has forced in the literalness of text.

In moments of quiet, the various elements are then reunited with firm brushstrokes. I blur hard edges, bringing in smooth transitions and coherence to the formal elements of the picture. When I cut bits of magazine for their color, I am surprised by the sudden change that happens to the cutouts when they are ‘relocated’ into the canvas. They acquire separateness, an abstract nature. The soft pastel colors used in magazines have subtle transitions generally. I take the textures of cloth, hair and other patterns and start reinforcing. I take from here, forget it, come back to look at it again and again. The text of the magazine print suggests a complex fusion of ideas. That is how art mimics life- things do not stand-alone. Whole lines of disjointed phrases are included as the fast whiff of a brush.

Ruth, Orpah and Naomi are three women whose destinies are tied through marriage. Then, their characters evolved. This work deals with the theme of famine, migration and marriage, and how it affects the lives of three women from the biblical story of Ruth. The similarities in the cultures of the Jews and the Igbo people of Nigeria make it a familiar story. The work of Art is first an aesthetic statement, then come the stories of people seeing, interpreting and pushing deeper into the picture plane. We try to find sure footing when confronted with the otherworldly encounter with a painting. People take what will become theirs, and then there is the mindset of the artist- usually suggested by the title of the work. We must come again and again to see. Chaos becomes something beautiful.

Obsessive Consumer Behavior in Check

I feature this article by Odun Orimolade DEVOURING MONSTERS: THE COSUMERIST CANNIBALS OF MAY OKAFOR’S APPLE TRAY INSTALLATION, written for May Okafor’s exhibition Of Consummates and Cannibalism at The Revolving Art Incubator, Silverbird Galleria, Lagos. 

 

Beasts of desire…

The installation “…Of Consummates and Cannibalism” by May Okafor addresses a systemised infiltration of the Nigerian commercial environment and society by extension. Off the beat Okafor assumes the stance of a satirist observing and in very Nigerian fashion challenging our status as a nation that is cannibalizing our future. In this she traces the evolution of our desires that have led us to blatant consumerism and how this trajectory has led us to the state of recession we are confronted with in contemporary Nigeria. Also how our over dependence on foreign goods and services plays out in our current situation. Okafor decries how we as a nation hardly export anything to the countries that we bequeath our economic reserve by promoting foreign education, health, technology, entertainment, food, and all other plethora of minuscule needs or wants we may have.screenshots_2017-02-13-15-13-35

The Apple fruit is the case study subject for Okafor’s visual discourse. In this she engages current trends in the open Nigerian fruit market as reference point for other local goods and commodity markets in the society. The apple is a fruit that is entirely imported into the Nigerian local market and in Okafor’s words has “become even more common than oranges and other home grown fruits”. Everything about it then is alien and instead of being exotic, it is as mundane and common as home-grown fruit in its popularity. As such the apple-packaging product (which becomes waste in a country that also has challenges in waste management) becomes material and a metaphor for consumerism and cannibalism. The Styrofoam apple packaging crates as the main material of the installation addresses the seemingly careless disposition of the nation towards importation and consumption of foreign goods.

Strangely enough, a lot of these products have nothing to do with direct advertising. Instead, they are based on social orientation. Majority of the Nigerian citizens are still under the colonial chains. This is such that what comes from outside, no matter what it is, is perceived to have better value and to be trusted than the domestic ones. This Okeke describes as not allowing people to think. Here mass consumption of foreign goods is drowning mass production of local goods. This makes people complacent and germinates a continued dependency that incapacitates (Okeke 2015).screenshots_2017-02-13-14-59-52-1

May Okafor uses a visual that employs ideas of the insatiable anthropophagic to demonstrate how an archetypal metaphorical subject of cannibalism appears in Nigerian daily life. This she approaches in the critique of social striving for consumerism that is anchored in a want for foreign goods and services. She postulates an ethical decadence that damages national development through an orientation of blind consumerism in favour of non-Nigerian goods and services. The prevalence of this kind of consumption is projected in the spread and the movement of her site-specific installation. The installation connotes the depth of developmental handicap that lies within the apparatus of orientation that fuels this consumer idealism. The installation visualises a bewilderingly poor minded society that results from an illogical and unconstructive drive to consume and acquire. The installation could be apprehended as an intensely dismal allegory depicting wastefulness and denied gumption in the weaving of our post colonial history as a nation. In this the accomplishments, knowledge and understanding that wisps as part of our pre colonial history become fables of a different people. These qualities are inapplicable in our modern day development where we are largely dependent on external accomplishments and cultures while eating out avenues of progressive internal exploration. Through her work, Okafor presents a mirror that affirms we are cannibals of foreign consumerism. We have adopted a consumer culture of unconscionable appetite for imported items with the equivalent local ones suffering negligence and large scale derision.

The results are grotesque, much like the literal definition of cannibalism. In her work, Okafor links the object of the package to cannibalism through the consumption of the commodity. This she uses as a reference for all other consumables in goods or as services within the Nigerian market.

As a people, we succumb to the mental attitudes related to the phenomena of pleasure and euphoria that does not add up to satisfaction. We easily become addicted to things of vainglory rather than positive sociocultural/ socioeconomic things. This describes the counterfeit culture that is in fierce battle with self sustenance, sufficiency and self approval that revolves around the consumption of foreign produce huge quantities and cheaper prices. In this case the physical product not what feeds the need, rather it is the fact that it comes from outside the locality. It feeds the delusion of lack of self worth, while feeding into the concept of mediocrity and fuelling this hunger to ‘be like’ or elevate by adoption. The deception is that it only panders to the feeling of being better or attaining some elevation in the adoption of something foreign as an after effects of self loathing that may be accrued to demoralisation through the influence of a colonized mental state. These social challenges are associated with the arguments of decolonization.

screenshots_2017-02-13-15-21-06With her installations, Okafor highlights this self deception and beguilement by popular culture that has overrun the Nigerian market and by extension the society. This is a developmental wealth destruction that has a very parasitic effect on national development. As a nation, our craving for foreign goods have made us import items that we have better alternatives to in our local environment. Thus the gains are privatised and the loses entirely socialised as we embrace the negative aspect of our import consumer culture.

The physical installation imbibes a constellation of forms similar to that of tadpoles cut from the Styrofoam apple crates. This Okafor intimates that by nature tadpoles become cannibalistic when there is inadequate food or space. This trait is likened to the infiltration of imported goods in the Nigerian open market and how they completely overrun locally made goods. The organic swirls and turns of the installation echo the unpredictability of the corruption that fuels the spread and growth of the kind consuming products that beguile our populace out of miss-orientation.

Meaning is garnered from the very material of the apple tray itself as much as the development of form that Okafor pushes with action of cutting. This performative quality that is embedded into the process of the installation brings the closeness to the issue in individual experience of the activity. The action to disseminate through cutting or the development of new form from pre existing form advocates re orientation and re shaping of the value system and channelled thought processes concerning the issue at hand leaning to the idea of restructuring of dispositions to the ideas behind the actions that create the installation and the reference to contemporary Nigerian consumerism. The form here follows function and lends a subjected honesty to the generation of the resulting form. This is helped by the evidentiary quality of the material used. It adjuncts the plausibility that it does not just represent but the sensual experience navigates the audience through the experience developing new knowledge and reflection by interaction.

In relation of the material to the subject in itself the composition, it poses characteristics of that which does not degenerate fast. This reference lends itself to the strength of the orientation of the consumerist culture. On the other hand it is also has the characteristic of being a very highly flammable substance that would disintegrate and could likely expand in its reach of destructiveness. This speaks to the idea of eradication alongside concepts of adopted imported ideas that do not favour the development of the Nigerian economy. This is supported in Derrida’s reaction to the issue of material in the process of deconstruction and the value of its etymology and beginnings within the issue of the discourse itself. He was of the opinion that every structural phenomenon has a history and the structure cannot be understood without understanding his genesis. This brings us right back to the apple and its place in the Nigerian market as a position point for all other goods and services that occupy dominating positions in the flow of the commercial industry. Through the chopping, cutting and shaping of form, Okafor mixes cynicism with productivity to create an enlivening aura for the required reflection desired for re orientation. The installation ambiguously removes the tray object from its functional context at the same time retains a contiguous alley to that function in itself and the broader extensions of meaning and the realities that it highlights.

The site specific nature of the installation opens up for a fundamental condition of free-flowing intensities for expression; it also underlines the mutative quality of the issue being addressed in that it permeates a plethora of areas of commercial activity in the Nigerian society. The developed form is allowed to grow into any length to which its materiality can extend at the same time existing within the impetus of the artist as a communicative system where she can curb and puppeteer her visual narrative.

Okafor’s installation aims to cut and rework perceptions of what has gradually invented itself as a norm within our social culture. This she does by exposing its ferocity and generative qualities in consuming the hopes of progressive development and self approval within an over bearing pressure of influence through past colonial states, pop culture and systematic orientation. Her presentation of the blatantly apparent yet unseen evidences and reconstructing their manifestations in their occupation of local commercial space, forces a review and reflection of their means and access within our environment. The ruins of the deconstructed Styrofoam tray in the installation create avenues for new intensities of experiencing the mundane and apparent and challenge a notion of human agency that fortifies the monsters that we allow to feed on our society.

 

Bibliography

Cazeaux, C. (2014). Review of Beistegui, Aesthetics After Metaphysics: From Mimesis to Metaphor British Journal of Aesthetics 54(4): 499–504.

Dominy, JJ. (2015) Cannibalism, Consumerism, and Profanation: Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and the End of Capitalism. The Cormac McCarthy Journal. Vol. 13, No. 1 pp. 143-158 US: The Pennsylvania State University Press.DOI: 10.5325/cormmccaj.13.1.0143.

Brunette, P. and Wills, D. (1994) Eds. Deconstruction and the Visual Arts: Art, Media, Architecture. UK: Cambridge University Press.

Nicolaides, A. (2012) Globalisation and Americanisation – the hijacking of indigenous African culture. Global Advanced Research Journal of History, Political Science and International Relations Vol. 1(6) pp. 118-131Global Advanced Research Journals.

By Odun Orimolade, 2017

(This article was published with permission. Odun Orimolade is recipient of several academic awards, including the Prof. Y. A. Grillo award (1998), Nigerian Cards Ltd Award (1998), Rector’s Award for Academic Excellence (1998), Jeromelaiho and Associate Award (1998), Insight Communication Award (1998), Fasuyi Art Prize (1998) and Conrad Theys Bursary Award, South Africa (2011)

Bloody Cattle, Bullshit System

Some months back, I promised a friend that the series A Thousand Cattle, Two Hills will be pushed till I have a thousand artworks! Not being the most meticulous person/ artist, I have not been counting. I could always stop at some point and ask anyone to also add the number of ‘cattle’ portrayed in the pieces as ‘individual cattle’! ‘They say the system works but we wont let it(sang Tracy Chapman) I am still looking for that system. There is a formal redirection towards a disintegrating world, where bedlam reigns and colour Red is the new Green. Reality is a horror movie of whirling beasts floating in space. Its all bullshit, really. Await another life, or wake up screaming.img_0115web

How Merry the lights?

What could be wrong with a Christmas that has more hangout joints than I can recall all my life? The groove is as close as downstairs from me! One of the new joints sells all sorts of pepper soup and drinks, and, wait for it- the best music on Planet Earth- Bongo Music!!!

I should be having a blast, right? Kim is keeping my feet warm on this balcony, and the sound and occasional sparks of exploding knockouts, fireworks add to the air of festivity. The thing is, the hangout joints are a bit empty. My house is empty, save for Kim.

There have been Christmas days when we would squeeze for room in the big building with 9 rooms! Now the rooms are silent, and echo a sadness that is heartrending. I cannot stop writing about the dullness of this particular Christmas without throwing blame at Buhari, and his government. We had some expectation for great days ahead. All we get daily is one day, more drama. Bad gets worse and revoking it will remain in the far future.

My friends that couldn’t make this Christmas are just missing the aura of anticipation hanging in the air. The Lakecity Film Festival had happened at the Crystal Lake Resort, Eng. Ernest Nwapa’s phenomenal, and spectacular holiday resort and hotel. Things are happening. One should get involved. After all, life is downstairs. Fantastic music. It will still be an awesome Christmas. The year has been quite fruitful. After the stocktaking, we look to cash in on the merits of the passing year.