Coming of Age in Africa

L1143252wMy 40th birthday anniversary was celebrated with a great party. I had a beautiful cake with the number 40 stuck at the top. I thought that was the age of new opportunities, but the rest of the developed world seems to think otherwise. They think that 40 is the age after everything good should have happened in your life, about five years earlier!
Let me explain. But before that, let’s go back to when I was 35 years old. Everyone who wished me well was on my neck to ‘settle down’ (in other words ‘get married). I was in-between two mindsets. One thought that a man can marry whenever ‘he feels’; while another point of view felt that I should have married earlier so that one can begin to have children earlier.
Whether one had a steady source of income at the time (which I didn’t) was irrelevant. We are part of a teeming population of graduates fighting for the few jobs that appeared to come in ratios of 1:20,000 people. I mean proper jobs that pay your house rent and still leave you with money to spend on personal needs. The better jobs allow one to save some money on top.

At 35, I had worked for two privately owned companies that ran the business like they were a family affair. One of the companies made me work without a salary for over 8 months. It was the case of enjoying the work you do without getting financial gratification. I didn’t have a job then. It was a hobby. I sold the odd portraits/painting and raised the money for transportation to and fro; for feeding; etc. At age 35, most of the Nigerian youth are heavily dependent on family members for financial support and accommodation. They even go ahead to borrow money to have extravagant weddings that show off their parents’ affluence in society. With all the expectations that come with it, any job would do at the time.
Unfortunately, in Africa, we seem to be just getting used to being adult at that age. We seem to be ten years younger than our contemporaries in the West. We look it.
My sister and her husband who live in London brought their children to spend the Christmas holidays in Nigeria. Kamdi my niece was 2 years old the first time we met. It’s been over ten years now, and I cannot get over her composure as we sat in my sister’s parlor discussing life. Anyone eavesdropping would have thought we were two adults having a chat! Kamdi’s mates would have run outside to build sand castles in the dirt. We live younger for longer.DSCF0083w.jpg
Unfortunately, the rest of the advanced world thinks differently. One is expected to have peaked in his career by the age of 35. So the opportunities out there for growth are open to the younger generation of adults who just graduated from university/polytechnics, etc. The demographics favor those between the age of 23 and 35.

Here is how I soon found out. By then, I was more serious about my work and life but it seemed already late. I started looking for residencies to apply for. I saw some funds also that I tried to apply for. There were competitions too. The guidelines generally had age restrictions the applicant must not be older than 35 years old. Africans are supposed to run at the same time with their contemporaries in the West. I wonder who make these rules across the board for all humanity. It’s as if they are blind to see our leaders- old grandpas that should have been retired to their villages to live out the rest of their lives. The West turns a blind eye to the fact of the millions of unemployed youth still struggling to survive in Third world countries.
They have a system that supports their youth to reach their full potential as long as they have the right dreams. Here the youth will dream and die hungry because they live in a society that does not promote excellence and hard work.
Some of my contemporaries may have run off for the residencies or received funding from the West. It is easy to forge one’s birth certificate, to get a passport that reflects the same age in these climes. ‘Fantastically corrupt’, we have been called. The corruption is in the system. The thing is, the youth immediately bear the brunt of the sick system. Either they use any means necessary to escape to the West to seek ‘greener pastures’ or they keep hope alive and work decently, hoping to outlive the system that has failed.
In the case of some of us who embraced the Internet wholeheartedly at an earlier age than our contemporaries here in Nigeria, the exposure means that we have shared enough personal data with the rest of the world to make it almost impossible to create another identity. We are who we were forced to become. The rest of the world doesn’t care. The choices to continue after the age of 35 are few. I have become that unbelievable survivor who made it through insurmountable odds. I am a rarity that the rest of the world can’t believe. I don’t blame them. There are times when I can’t even believe the fact that I am still here, and well. I will be 45 years old in 18 days. And I will be partying at the opening ceremony of the thirteenth edition of the African Contemporary Art Biennale in Dakar, Senegal. Believe me, I will pay my way to be there. The time of expecting aid is passed. I work and pay my way through. I have the green passport. I am proudly African. And hey, you will never believe my age if we met. I look younger than 35.

 

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Reality versus Social Media Noise

It seems that there are problems everywhere, especially online. Social media in so many ways has heightened our presence and fears from all the ills befalling mankind at the speed of sound. It all seems aimed at turning us into information explosion disorder wrecks( I am sure there is a name for that now). It is more painful when it is more difficult to decipher the true news from the fake. As if the events from everyday modern living hasn’t become so much more complicated! The other day I read through a comment by Reno Omokri, the former spokesperson to ex-President Goodluck Jonathan. He was questioning why Nigerian governments of the past did not tap into the progressive technologies of Biafra to move Nigeria forward. I will not bore you about the stories of war, or of the issue of Biafra here and now. But I was struck by some lines in the short essay by Omokri where he spoke of how Nnewi, a town in Southeast Nigeria, has moved on in creating a better environment for the indigenes, without waiting for government interventions that seem not to be coming. The Nnewi people have built roads, energy plants, etc. to make their place better.

It got me thinking- why scream and shout daily on social media platforms about all the neglect and misdeeds of government? The problems are still there, in fact, the last time I checked, I don’t know if I am getting more pessimistic with age; or that it is this- things are actually getting worse on Planet Earth? Again I pause, I deviate. Whatever the case, inspired by the forward-looking mindset of Reno Omokri’s essay, I have decided to begin to create personal solutions to the challenges of daily living! It sounds quite commonsense, but the thought flees us in real life situations.

There is a lot that people can do to make a better world without waiting for others to think for them, without looking to ‘government’ as it obtains in so-called ‘better societies’/ places where things work! The Internet and online communities are such a wonderful gift and treasure trove for accessing tons of useful information about nearly all of mankind’s issues. Social media allows the sharing of tips, tons of video tutorials to make handymen of all of us. Unfortunately, most of the active generation on this planet is still drooling over the possibilities of socializing, and sharing their daily lives on platforms that can possibly reach millions of people in no time. They waste the time interacting online, bickering and blabbing about all things bright and beautiful and screaming about all things ugly and stuff in-between. So much data is wasted. Instead of seeking out solutions for fighting the beast, we are powerful social commentator and armchair critics, with a honed knack for explaining out all the reasons that show how the government has failed, how all the world’s problems start and end with the politicians.

The best minds have studied the problems of contemporary living, and continue to churn out innovations and inventions to make this world a better place.

A few good men dream up solutions and ways of making the world a better place to live in. To survive, Man keeps creating, innovating, but in these days when knowledge has increased like waters covering the sea, we only hear the groans and whining of lazy loafers who think that ‘the grass must actually be greener on the other side’. With much information available to mankind, it is easier to be deceived, to believe the lie! Hopefully, we will wake up today to start looking for the solutions to the hazards of daily living. The solution, the nirvana we seek is here with us to make, to establish. The tools are online. The answers are here with us. The shared experience of living has allowed men in different societies and stages of development to come up with answers. We must use the time well to ask Google, or whatever you ask. Its already a better world elsewhere. We can bring that world here. Kingdom comes. Lets not escape into wasteful thinking of the other side. We are not really sure how it is ‘over there’. At the point you are now, where you are reading this, is the space that you must act to change the status quo. Just ask, and you shall receive answers. Be the problem solver, the visionary who sees a brighter tomorrow.

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

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.

Harzardous Diction: X is for…

Of course X is for xylophone, and a word mentioned in this video on Youtube! Mathijs Lieshout runs the 13th Floor Gallery, with spaces at Commissioner Street, and in Ansteys Building, in Johannesburg. Aha, for the second time, ‘X’is in the newsline. This post is about the opening of the exhibition Harzardous Diction at the 13th Floor Gallery, Commissioner Street, Johannesburg. Truly, in a land where silence was (is)the go-to code on so many issues: Language, Diction, and every other form of communication in Society is watched with suspicion and bias. But the silence hasn’t helped change stereotypes ever. So lets talk about everything from ‘A’ to ‘Zee’. It ought to be an inclusive narrative, not about ‘the other’ and capital ‘I’.

Click here to watch the video interview aired on SABC- https://youtu.be/VATrX3YD6rI. Also, see the show which begins today, February 26th, and runs till March 7th, 2017. Layziehound works with Matthews Tshuma, James Shield, Goodlord Shoyisa, Azael Langa, and Ntsika Dulwana on the exhibition. Addendum: I am the NIgerian artist mentioned towards the end of the interview. I am part of the team on another project To Build by Mathijs Lieshout- http://www.mathijslieshout.com. PS: Communication gets more complicated by the day. One must make out time to listen, then get involved.

The Unrepresented Grew Familiar, Closer

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At first they seemed like the opposition. Then they became the masses, then the line of separation was drawn. They were many; the unrepresented soon showed how they had become the ‘majority’. Though they stayed under, their voices soon started wearing recognizable faces in the din of mourning voices in the cities and villages. Suddenly, everyone knew the suffering ones by name- You, I and Theirs. We gathered together, soon we will become their nightmare. Soon after ours is gone with the dawn.

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.