Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Taiwo Akinkunmi: Hero of Nigeria’s 54th Independence Anniversary

Suddenly, the designer of Nigeria’s national flag, Taiwo Akinkunmi, 77, becomes the hero of his country’s 54th independence amid kudos and knocks for the government’s gesture.
Taiwo Akinkunmi
On September 28, 2014, President Goodluck Jonathan Jonathan, few days ago, conferred the national honour award of the Officer of the Federal Republic (OFR) on Taiwo, during the national award ceremony where over 300 awardees received various hounors.

For Akinwunmi, the national honour just added to several awards he had got in the past. Some of his honours in the past include Grand Master of the Order of the Niger of the Students Union of the University of Ibadan (2005); Merit Award of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Oyo State Council (1996); Merit Award of Support to Services to Humanity of the Nigeria Council of Women Societies (2004); Merit Award of the WAI Brigade of Nigeria, Lagos State Command (2009); as well as the Human Rights Hall of Fame Award of the Centre for Human Rights Research and Development (2005). In 2009, he got a Distinguished Nigerians / Friends of Nigeria Golden Jubilee Special Presidential Award.

Original design by Akinwunmi
In 1958 Akinwunmi was a student of Norwood Technical College, U.K. when he designed Nigeria National Flag. He participated in a Nigeria competition about designing the national flag.  And among the over 2000 entries, Akinwunmi’s green white green design was picked. He got one hundred pounds (100 pounds) prize award for the design.
Akinwunmi attended Baptist Day Secondary School (1949) Ibadan and Ibadan Grammar School, Ibadan (1950) for his secondary education. He got a job in the civil service at Secretariat Ibadan. After working for a few years, he ttraveled overseas for further education to study Agric. Engineering at Norwich Technical College.

Nigeria's national flag

After his school abroad, he returned to Nigeria and served in the Ministry of Agriculture.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

For Adejumo, creating art comes first, identity later

By Tajudeen Sowole
 When an artist is webbed in dual characters as Olusegun Adejumo is, the search for identity takes the backseat and best left for the future to decide. Adejumo's practice exudes that of a painter in the day and sculptor at night. 

Also, to many of his followers, he is a full-time studio artist. But he is a quiet and natural teacher who takes time off the practicality of the palette to engage in teaching through workshops and seminars. And when the occasion arises at gatherings or on social media, he argues fiercely in support of the kind of art he holds dearly.
Olusegun Adejumo, during one of his lectures.

As a painter, Adejumo has established his skills through many solo and group exhibitions spanning a period of 25 years post-training. He has leaned more towards portraiture themes, consistently using his palette to research women and their elegance of fashion as well as exploring the anatomy of the softer gender's sensuousness.

For his sculptural indulgence, little was known in two and a half decades until now as he prepares for a solo art exhibition holding in a few weeks. But the same cannot be said of his art resource part, which he says happens quite a lot. And having regularly engaged in the intellectuality of creating art, he appears grounded in the battle of superior argument, particularly on issues relating to art and its contempporaneity or otherwise of it.

On the academics or intellectuality of art appreciation, as well as appropriating art, Adejumo discloses that "unknown to many, I have spent more time lecturing, informally, on art as a quiet lecturer." Some of his activities in that context include History of Nigerian Art, given this year at Red Door Gallery, Victoria Island, Lagos courtesy of The Nigeria Stock Exchange; in 2013 Breakfast With The Creatives, also at Red Door Gallery; Sharing My Work Experience in 2012 at Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile- Ife, Osun State; in 2011 at OAU Ife, Surviving As a Visual Artist in the 21st Century Nigeria; in 2008 Nigerians at Work at Africa Art Resource Centre (AARC), Lagos; and in 2007, Young Artist and His Market Place- Swimming Against the Tide at Art Zero, Lagos.

As if reading the mind of his guest during a chat, he asks: "who am I?" The rhetorical question comes after his response on the gradual, but long-awaited changing face of Lagos art scene. From the conservative and perhaps "repetitive" themes, artists who derive strength from the modernist tradition appear to be imputing, faintly though, quite some change of contents. Adejumo is a consistent and stable portraitist of the modernism rendition. Are the modernists succumbing to the pressure from advocates of contemporary contents? "Not necessarily," he cautions. Artists, he argues, are not expected to be static. "We have to move from one state to another, and still maintain your identity." He notes that contemporary art, as being proclaimed these days "is not fine art."

Indeed, contemporary practice has, over the recent decades, been expanding the scope of visual arts beyond the confinement of fine art, making the relativity of creative or conceptual contents more subjective. But Adejumo, a member, Guild of Professional Fine Artists of Nigeria (GFA) insists that fine art embodies or defines visual arts more explicit. "You can find contemporary art inside fine art, but not the other way round." Art appreciation, he stresses, should be truly based on how the content appeals to the viewer, noting that most "contemporary art thrives on volumes of literature to get people's attention."

But can literary support be divorced from contextualising and appropriating art, particularly in the 21st century? "A work of art does not need literature to be appreciated." In fact, Adejumo submits that conceptual content such as "installation and performance should have fallen under something else, not art."       

Although he denies being under any influence of the contemporary tide, quite some changes are, of recent, emerging on his canvas - away from the traditional portraiture styles. For examples two of his works heading for auctions in Lagos and London exude some contents completely different from the Adejumo one knows too well. "It's part of the change every artist desires," he insists. And still on the change, his next solo art exhibition titled Emotion, he discloses, takes a step further into the making of portraitures. It's about sharing the feeling or chemistry that exists between a model and the artist; and the evolvement of a girl into womanhood. The themes of the show are spread across paintings, drawings and sculptures.
WOMEN as subjects on Adejumo’s canvas have been given quite a large space over the decades. In his last solo Ideal and Ideas, held at Nettatal Luxury, Port Harcourt, Rivers State three years ago, Adejumo delved into Niger Delta narrative. He also touched on ladies' subconscious arrogance of beauty, stressing his artistic passion for beautiful women of the south-south region. This much he expresses in works such as ‘Figure Narration’ — a semi nude painting; a social gathering depiction, Sitting Pretty and Gele, as well as a charcoal work, Wrap. He adds poetry, not "literature" to stress his admiration of the beauties from the region. “Beauty is an attitude for these women; you don’t need to tell a southern woman she is beautiful because she knows it already.”

However, that exhibition also had traces of contents sharply away from his usual style of brush romance with ladies portraiture. For example, the piece, Take Six, melts the dreaded image of the Niger Delta militancy into hip-hop culture in a six-figure rendition of young males.

The exhibition, basically, was in sympathy with the struggle of the Niger Delta people. Undoubtedly, a Lagos boy, but Adejumo had part of his youth in Port Harcourt. So, among the works that express the sympathy are two sides of abstraction such as Pages Static and Pages Rotation, he ages the canvas, as an attempt to express the pathetic side of the region.  While insisting that the people of the region are peace loving, Adejumo argues, “it’s not the image of the Niger Delta that’s battered, but that of the entire country.”

And that he had chosen Port Harcourt for the show stressed his attachment to the region. “I lived in Port Harcourt throughout my secondary school days. I know the people and have friends among them.”

Over the decades, quite a number of factors, he notes, had fractured the unity of the country. “As a student at Unity School, we didn’t know the tribes of your classmates because we were not conscious of such diversion.”

In sympathy with the struggle of the people, the artist defends one of the heroes. “Saro Wiwa was not about militancy, but environmental activism.”

Adejumo the sculptor is an escapist. Moulding or carving, he discloses, are refuges for him to ease out tension or stress. “After a stressful moment, I find comfort using my fingers to mould.” So over the years, he has done qite some sculptural pieces that he thinks are worth showcasing. Some of them goes into the Emotion show.

A rebellious teenager, Adejumo abandoned studying Architecture at University of Lagos for Fine Art at Yaba College of Technology (Yabatech), Lagos. Two years after, he emerged the Best Over All Student in Painting, 1984. Again, he attempted Architecture, but “turned back on my way to University of Jos, and returned to Lagos for my HND.”
  History would record Adejumo as one of the young Nigerian artists who were bold enough to see the prospect in full-time studio practice. He joined the unfurling new phase of Nigerian art in the early 1990s,

Adejumo was born on September 30, 1965 in Lagos. He served as Assistant Lecturer, Painting at the Lagos State Polytechnic and later worked as a visualizer and illustrator at Advertising Techniques Limited from 1991 to 1992. He co-ordinated The Young Masters Art Trust.

Some of his past shows include Make a wish- fundraising exhibition in support of breast and cervical cancer, Bloom Project, City Hall, Lagos; 2007 Expressions, Sandiland Arcade, VI Lagos; 2004 Lately, Truview Gallery, Lagos; 1998 On Request, American Embassy guest house, Lagos 1997 Recent Paintings, Chevron Estate, Lagos 1994 Recent Paintings in watercolour, Fenchurch Gallery, Lagos; and 1992 Diverse Siblings, Centre Culturel Francaise, Alliance Francais, Lagos.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Four years after, LBHF artists reconvene for Our United Heritage

By Tajudeen Sowole
 Emerging from the rubbles of the short-lived Caterina De’ Medici-inspired Lagos Black Heritage Festival Painting Competition, a group now known as 3rd Black Heritage Artists attempts to keep the spirit of the gathering alive. Formally reconnecting after about four years, the artists will, from October 4, 2014 show about 60 works under the title Our United Heritage, at Nike Art Gallery, Lekki, Lagos.

Recall that the artists participated at the third Lagos Black Heritage Festival’s art competition section in 2010. The competition LBHF Painting Competition themed Lagos, the City of A Thousand Masks, which was a franchise from Florence, Italy’s yearly event, Caterina De’ Medici Painting Awards, debuted in Nigeria, courtesy of Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka. Won by Abbas Kelani, who got $20,000 prize money, the competition ran into a hitch a year after, leading to unresolved conflict of interests between the organisers and Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA), Lagos State chapter.

Wheels by Dr. Kunle Adeyemi

One of the artists, Dr. Kunle Adeyemi, who is among the promoters of the third Black Heritage Artists, stated during a preview that the regrouping of the artists was premised on the rarity of the 2010 gathering. “I do not think the Nigerian art scene has witnessed such a large number of well established professional artists in one art competition,” he stated. And to keep the memory of the “historic competition alive, we have formed the 3rd Black Heritage Artists”. The group, Adeyemi disclosed, “has been duly registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC),” apparently to avoid any plagiarism or link with the ill-fated Italy franchised art competition. However, the LBHF Painting Competition currently holds as age group for school children.

Exhibiting artists of ‘Our United Heritage’ include Adeoye Silas, Aimufa Osagie, Akintubode Gbenga, Akinwolore, Bimbo Adenugba, Ekweme Harriet, Folami, Idowu Abiola, Ighpdalo George, Ike Francis, John Onobrakpeya, Abbas, Kunle Adeyemi, Munza, Omidiran Gbolade, Oni Stephen, Sola Olamuyiwa and Uchenna Umeh.

Some of the works for the show presented during the preview cut across medium of painting and mixed media. Adeoye’s rendition of ancient form figures in The Repent and Egun 2 as well as Osagie’s modernist’s stylized portraiture in Family Ties and Passion stress the diversity of the gathering. Also, in the abstraction Spacerithim by Francis and Adeyemi’s Drummer and Wheels, come contents that seem to justify the gathering.

For Abbas, who won the grand prize at the rested competition, quite a lot has changed in his art between 2010 and now. This much he continues in works such as Family Album Series, Ale and Irole as well as The Printer. Of recent, Abbas has changed the tone of his canvas, delving into portraiture of highly archival themes and rendering them in concept of photographs, acrylic and prints on canvas. Adding to the richness of the gathering are Gbolade’s sea of mask themes depicted in Market Transformation and Music Matters.

Rasheed Amodu who writes a piece for the cataloque of the show notes that the gathering offers the public to assess the artists, individually. He adds that it “will help the artist to make positive professional progress.” And not afinality for those who were less prepared for the exhibition. “Artists with works that are not so great for now can produce great works and masterpieces in the near future. It is a truism that all artistic genius were students or apprentice at some point in their career. Thus, let the show go on, but there must be other shows from the group after this first step.”

The maiden edition of Caterina de’ Medici International Painting Competition took place in the city of Florence in year 2002.The coordinator of LBHF Painting Competition, Foluke Michael led three Nigeria artists to the awards. Ten winners were chosen, and at the end of the six-day event, one of the Nigerian representatives, Olubunmi Ogundare was among the top 10.

Also, a Nigerian artist, Sam Ebohon won the Grand Prize of the Caterina de’ Medici International Painting Competition a year after.

Enter Indigo’s Photo Book.. Innovation in event documentation

By Tajudeen Sowole
 Documenting social and corporate events in visual content takes a fresh digital photographic leap in a new medium known as Photo Book. Introduced into the photography aspect of Nigeria's growing event management business by an Indian, Anthony Isaac, Photo Book takes creative documenting of events several generations into the future beyond where the traditional photo album stops.

The new Photo Book innovation by Indigo Digital Press

The difference between Isaac-led Indigo Digital Press concept and photo album is the creative book form and texture of the former's hard papers.

The Photo Book derives its format from the characteristics of page layouts and implanting texts into the photographs. But more explicit, the difference from photo album is the silver halide material and a technique of production that eliminates photo-shop. And quite interesting the press machine, according to Isaac, has been designed to fasten the process of making the Photo Book.
“The most critically acclaimed photo-books would celebrate the creativity of an individual photographer. It is handmade and exclusive work, carried out using high-quality photographic digital equipments for printing & binding”, Isaac, a trained photographer stated.

From having "started digital photo printing in Nigeria 12 years ago and silver halide Photo Book production 10 years ago," Isaac stated that Indigo pioneered synthetic album in the country six years ago. He recalled, “then, there was no demand”. But three years later, the company set out to bring the HP machine to Nigeria, “And last February, we got the machine.”

Having come this far, remaining in business as well as allowing professional photographers make a living out of the Photo Book is the priority of Indigo, Isaac said. “For the end users, we want to get to as many as possible through the photographers and create more job opportunities”. The three focal points of Indigo, he disclosed are “the photo labs, press and events management.”

Managing Director, Indigo Digital Press, Mr. Sethu, argued that the new process“is truly revolutionary." Isaac described Photo Book as the next evolution in photo album. The process, he added, "will open the doors to a host of new businesses for our company." 
 Other innovations of Indigo include Indigo Special Silver Finish Album, Metalic Pearl Album, Classic Album, Synthetic Album Matt Finish and Synthetic Album Glossy Finish.

“Photographers and those in the photography industry who are looking for innovation and something new and effective to showcase to their potential customers and clients have identified with the innovative products being turned out by the company.”

Isaac stressed that Indigo is one of its kind and quality in this part of the world with a A-3 size format and a unique product that would drive the adoption of digital press into the mainstream of printing by fitting seamlessly into the existing offset environments, an area which has witnessed a huge shift in the photographic segment. He noted that the “traditional silver halide prints are rapidly being replaced by HP Indigo Press due to the excellent quality output of the machine.”

He further explained how the HP Indigo has proven to be the right technology for photography reproduction business in Lagos and the country as a whole. For the Indigo Photo Book, there are two types of texture: the Glossy and Matt. Quite interesting, as soft as it looks, is cannot be torn to pieces.

He described Synthetic Album as the next evolution in photo album, adding, “The page layout makes a significant contribution to the overall content. The most critically acclaimed photo-books would celebrate the creativity of an individual photographer. It is handmade and exclusive work, carried out using high-quality photographic digital equipment for printing and binding”.

Conceptuality according to Kehinde Wiley

By Tajudeen Sowole

Critics of repetitive themes and Nigerian artists whose confidence are being eroded by misappropriation of contemporary art have a lesson to learn from the rising profile of Nigerian-American artist, Kehinde Wiley.

Wiley, based in New York is a portraitist who has made name, in a short period, consistently pushing a medium of visual arts that most Nigerian artists would not want to publicly identify with. Wiley conceptualises portraits using subjects of his immediate environment as icons and adding fresh flavour to portrait painting as if the art world never had great portraitists in the past. His work takes the battle for conceptuality into the realm of contemporary context and appropriation.

Kehinde Wiley and his portraiture works

At 20, in 1997, Wiley, born in the U.S. visited Nigeria for the first time and got inspired by the Ankara fabric (Dutch wax) widely used in Lagos. Back in the U.S., he started developing striking technique of immersing his subjects into fabric designs that are similar to what he saw in Lagos.

And with a documentary Kehinde Wiley: An Economy of Grace shown on PBS recently – viewed via the Internet – the artist’s creativity celebrates the value of merging natural instincts with self-expression. Wiley’s portraits of ordinary people on the streets and African-American male celebrities, over the years, have been taken to shows across the world with fantastic responses.

Basically, Kehinde Wiley: An Economy of Grace discloses the artist’s newest works, and perhaps another period in his career. It has been shown at Sean Kelly Gallery, New York in 2012.

Wiley states: “The phrase ‘an economy of grace’ speaks directly to the ways in which we manufacture and value grace and honour the people that we choose to bestow that honour upon, and the ways in which grace is at once an ideal that we strive for and something that is considered to be a natural human right. I am painting women in order to come to terms with the depictions of gender within the context of art history. One has to broaden the conversation...This series of works attempts to reconcile the presence of black female stereotypes that surround their presence and/or absence in art history, and the notions of beauty, spectacle, and the ‘grand’ in painting.”

One of the portrait paintings by Wiley

The documentary film by Remy Martin®, and directed by award-winning filmmaker Jeff Dupre conforms the uniqueness as well as rising profile of Wiley. The artist may just bring back the past glory of celebrating portraits.

Sean Kelly Gallery notes that Wiley’s works have been shown at exhibitions “worldwide and are in the permanent collections of several museums.” Some of the his works are in the collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Studio Museum, Harlem, New York; Denver Art Museum; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; High Museum, Atlanta; Columbus Museum of Art; Phoenix Art Museum; Milwaukee Art Museum; and Brooklyn Museum, New York.

Shortly before the start of the last World Cup in Brazil, Wiley was among over 30 artists whose works opened as FĂștbol: The Beautiful Game at Lacma, Los Angeles as part of the preparation for Brazil 2014 World Cup.

The exhibition, according to the organisers, examines football and its significance in societies around the world, noting that “as a subject, football touches on issues of nationalism and identity, globalism and mass spectacle, as well as the common human experience shared by spectators from many cultures.”  The show, which lasted till July, featured artists, both living and departed, Andy - Warhol inclusive - from around the world who work in video, photography, painting and sculpture.

After the display at the global exhibition in preparation for the Brasil 2014 World Cup, Wiley has also been listed among the honourees of the Brooklyn Museum, U.S as part of the museum’s yearly fundraising gala, which celebrates the community’s creativity.

Late last year, Wiley had his first U.K solo exhibition titled: The World Stage, at the Stephen Friedman Gallery, London. The show was the seventh in the artist’s series of focusing Black communities in Israel, Sri Lanka, Senegal, Nigeria, China and Brazil.
 Some of his solo shows are: Economy of Grace, Sean Kelly Gallery, New York, NY 2011; The World Stage: Israel, Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA; and Selected Works, SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah, GA 2010.

After a Residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem, Wiley received his MFA from Yale University in 2001. 

A Journey of painting, foil defines Ufuoma's art

By Tajudeen Sowole
A combination of Dr Bruce Onobrakpeya's print technique and his son, Ufuoma’s evolving styles dominate the body of work at the just held solo art exhibition.

On a quiet afternoon, the paintings, relief foil prints and mixed media pieces of the young Onobrakpeya, under the title My Journey So Far are deserted inside the conference hall at Ford Foundation, Banana Island, Ikoyi, Lagos.  The exhibition had opened to the public, formally, about a week earlier, perhaps with traffic of guests who viewed the works.

Tribute to Fela (deep etching print) by Ufuoma Onobrakpeya

But this afternoon, My Journey So Far had only one guest who was being received by a security officer inside the room where the works were being displayed. Not exactly a regular art exhibition atmosphere, but the beam of daylight, through the glass doors, onto the works mounted on room dividers diffuses the sternness of the space.

A series titled Ekenwa Landscape, A Tribute to Fela Anikulapo Kuti and Fish Market in Dakar are some of the pieces engaging one's attention. "The body of work represents my environment and culture," Ufuoma tells his guest as he comes in, breaking the serenity of the room.  The contents of the show summarise the artist's career of over a decade of post-training practice. "It's about my paintings and prints spanning 12 years since graduation from University of Benin, Edo State in 1995."

There is something about the 12 number and Ufuoma exhibitions: when he had his debut solo show titled. My Environment, My Culture at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos, in 2011, the works, according to him were "compiled over a period of 12 years."  And as the first and second of the 12 years roll into each other, the tone of the works suggests that the artist has quite a pool of experimental deliveries. While the debut solo had deep etching and lino prints competing for space, his Journey So Far has paintings and relief foil prints seeking the artist’s preference. 
Ufuoma’s Journey offers a clue about which side of the medium - painting or print - his practice has allegiance. For painting, his strokes, as fragile as they appear, may still be accepted as style if the consistence is sustained. His heart, perhaps passion too, goes for painting, but something else indicates that the artist is unconvinced. "I see myself more as a printmaker than a painter."

The Ekenwa Series, he recalls, were done in his university days while the tribute to Fela, a foil print is dated 1996.
Other works, he says, are based on “my daily travels within the city and events.”  And in far away Senegal, comes Fish Market in Dakar. He recalls how the environment inspired the work. “Every morning at a beach in Dakar, there were so many activities relating to fish such that I could not resist expressing part of it in my art.” In fact, there are series of the Dakar fishing scenes of which “one was sold at the last Bonhams auction.”

After obtaining a degree in Fine Art specializing in Painting, Ufuoma has also bagged a Masters of Arts degree specializing in Printmaking from Camberwell College of Arts, University of the Arts, London, U.K in 2002.

He is currently a lecturer at the Department of Fine Art, School of Art, Design and Printing in Yaba College of Technology, Yaba, Lagos.

His solo and group exhibitions include My Genesis (Lekki Restaurant Gallery, Chevron Nigeria,Limited in 1997); New Trends in Nigerian Art, organized by Texaco Overseas (Nigeria) Petroleum Unlimited in 1998. Promoter of Nigerian Art: Bruce Onobrakpeya arranged by Goethe Institute Lagos (1999).

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Painter, Ajayi gets Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA) Fellow honour

Olu Ajayi (left), receiving Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA) honour of Fellow from Kolade Oshinowo during the ceremonial event recently, in Lagos.