Saturday, 20 December 2014

Intervention… 'large is art' colour goes deep at art contest

By Tajudeen Sowole

Despite a seemingly modest use of space by all the 12 finalists - except one - at the 2014 National Art Competition themed Intervention, the yearly event could not get out of the 'large is art' syndrome as another huge, wall and floor work was announced as the first prize winner.

In the past four or more editions of the African Artists' Foundation (AAF) and Nigeria Breweries (NB)-organised art competition, art contents have been confined within huge or massive size context as all the winning works in the top prizes were always the largest of the finalists. But production, aesthetics and presentation - not sizes - were usually among the criteria in interpretations of the competition's central themes. While the organisers always argued that the jury had the final say and size was not part of the criteria, most of the past winning works would pass for coincidences too many, raising suspicion about a possible hidden agenda to promote a specific kind of art.

Winners at Interventions: Paul Mbah, Outstanding Production (left); First Prize Winner, Erasmus Onyishi; and Modupe Fadugba, Outstanding Concept.

One moment, shortly before the wall and floor assemblage collage Lines, Patches and Pathos by Erasmus Onyishi was announced the first prize winner inside the Civic Centre hall, Victoria Island, Lagos, one hoped for a change. But the Prof El Anatsui-led jury insisted that none of the other works among the 12 finalists were not (large?) or good enough. The two other winners for Outstanding Concept, a game house-like titled The People’s Algorithm and the Butterfly Effect by Modupe Fadugba and Outstanding Production, The T’ Eye Meline by Paul Mbah were only fortunate that no other works were as large as the first winner, perhaps, the two would have been left out winning nothing.

 And could it be a coincidence too, that Anatsui, who is highly revered at the global art space with his gigantic series of sculptures, mostly rendered in soft metal, has been heading the jury of the competition in nearly all the editions? Indeed, the AAF’s national art competition has too many things, coincidentally adding up like a movie screenplay being directed by some coverts agenda, to promote ‘largeness’ as art.

 Despite the burden of conspiracy haunting the competition, the 2014 edition would go into its history as one of the best in richness of real art contents, among the seven editions: works such as Paper Dolls by Jacqueline Suowari and Mat-matics from Emmanuel Dudu lifted the art essence of the yearly event.  But, sadly, the seemingly covert large is art agenda of the competition denied creativity and the essence of art the rightful reward.

 However the competition has sustained its prize money despite the economic challenges. First Prize Winner got N2,000,000, Outstanding Concept won N1,000,000 and Outstanding Production was given N1,000,000.

Recall that at the 2013 edition, the First Prize winner, I-DentitiTrees by Sesu Tilley-Gyado, which populated the headroom of the venue with poles, hardly found any breathing space at Art Twenty One, Eko Hotel and Suites exhibition gallery.  In 2010, Sangodare Ajala’s The Fire of Nigeria Burns Strongly was a massive adire textile; the duo of Uche Uzorka and Chike Obeagu’s loaded installation as well as the 2012 winner, Chinenye Miriam Emelogu’s Human Hive, which occupied nearly the half of the Grand Finale space at Civic Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos were all top winners and the largest of the finalists works.

Speaking on the competition's choice of theme for the 2014 edition, Mr Nicolaas Vervelde, Managing Director, NB Plc explained that it was aimed at stressing the intervention role of art in politics, social and economics aspect of a nation building.
 The theme explores how contemporary art serves as a catalyst for positive social change and engages artists to think about their relationship to the social, political, and cultural framework of the society that they live in, Vervelde told audience shortly before the winners were announced. He recalled how “a hundred proposals from across Nigeria of which 12 finalists were selected.”

Something new was introduced into the 2014 edition as what appeared like best losers were also rewarded. Nkechi Edubedike and Amarachi Okafor were each given cash prize of N 500,000, a consolation described as a “special jurors prize.”  

Mirage of life, according to Balogun

By Tajudeen Sowole

From the notion of elusive goals, comes sculptor Adeola Balogun's thought expressed in his just held solo art exhibition titled Mirage, and held at Quintessence Gallery, Lekki, Lagos. 

 Recalling the inspiration behind his choice of the title, Balogun listed quite a number of situations, including water-like reflecting surface seen from a distance on asphalted roads but disappears too soon. But the artist, sub-consciously sent a chills down one's spine when he listed, as example of a mirage the recovery of the much-awaited return of the Chibok girls kidnapped by Boko Harram terrorists. He recalled how he likened the return of the kidnapped girls to the mirage of reflective asphalt surface. "I was in Abu Dhabi, UAE during the heat of the debate over the kidnapped Chibok girls." He added that "I saw the mirage constantly on hot asphalt in Abu Dhabi and decided to use it as a metaphor on the missing Chibok girls."

Mirage Series from Adeola Balogun’s art exhibition

From using metal in most of his works, about six to seven years ago, Balogun has, in the last few years added discarded materials such in shredded rubber from tyres. For Mirage, it's a mix of the rubber, wire-mesh and steel sponge as well as paints. Some of the works included a chilling mixed media that has a bar piercing through a heart. Titled Through Our Hearts, it underscores the mood of a country like Nigeria at a period of unprecedented state of insecurity. Also, in works such as Hiding Place and Protective Ring, Balogun implores the power of creativity to scold the leadership of the country on what he described as state of lawlessness. "A lot of impunity going on in Nigeria shows that the country is a haven for lawless people."

Some of the works also reflect his residency programme in Abu Dhabi. He explained that the residency was based on the participants' experience in the host country as well as thoughts on Arabs in general. For him, a popular Arab's folktale Aladin and the Magic Lamp came into focus. To interpret the themes at the residency, some of the works he produced and also shown at Quintessence included Mirage Series.

And as a tribute to the mothers of the Chibok Girls, he also showed Veil Series, a set of works that attempt to peep into the "feelings of the mothers of the kidnapped girls, in comparison with that of sympathisers.  

Surprisingly, the sculptor showed more drawings than sculptures at Mirage in the ratio of over 20 to about eight. Reason: "I needed to quickly contribute to the exigency of this trying period." The drawings, he said, "are dedicated to the Chibok girls." He however noted that "from time to time, the hope of getting the Chibok girls back has become a mirage." But despite a seemingly hopeless situation, the artist prayed that the girls would one day return to their families.

 Balogun explained his work as a "reflective of either spontaneous engagement or long contemplation on my visual encounters depending on circumstance."
 His artist's statement read in parts " I often engage in resuscitation of seemingly ‘dead’ discarded objects by redirecting the inherent energy in them in order to offer a different life imbued with fresh multilayered meaning pertaining to my sensibilities.

  "My charcoal drawings are spontaneous exercises that channel a layering of real and surreal ideas coalesced to reference my multiple cultural interactions in recent times. The spontaneity in my rhythmic mark making in varied thicknesses with dramatic rendering alludes to the notion of people’s divergent perspective and opinion on any particular issue which is often determined by numerous factors such as religion, culture amongst others.
People, places, books, music, myth, folklore in conjunction with used/ready-made objects serve as stimulus towards my visual contemplations. Thus, it is pertinent to state that every piece in this body of work is imbued and charged with the current and dynamics of the experiential encounter and available material that evoked its production."

How Asidere brought his Muse into family value space

By Tajudeen Sowole
Viewing challenges of women through the prism of his childhood, painter Duke Asidere places the softer gender on a scale of societal value in a new body of work titled The Artist and his Muse, exposing generational shift in family value.

On this sundown and second day of the two weeklong exhibition of Asidere and his Muse at Omenka Gallery, Ikoyi, Lagos, little or no surprises in the paintings and drawings on the walls welcome the audience of largely artists. Something new should be somewhere in the gallery, perhaps hidden, so one's curiosity continues to sniff the walls. But none, so it seems; not even in the brief curatorial statement or guide at the right side of the gallery's entrance.

 One of Duke Asidere’s works Discussion of the Soul, 2014, oil on canvas, 183.5 x 244.5cm

 Unmoved by critics of repetitive themes, Asidere has consistently used woman figure in quite a diverse analogous narratives, including protest art against Nigeria's unexplained and elusive dearth of leadership. Would there ever be a pause for the artist's palette on woman as thematic tool? It's getting close to that break, Asidere tells me over a chat during viewing at the gallery. "I already has a male model I am working with," he discloses. Good, a change is coming. But the exhibition is not exactly devoid of surprise or revelation as Asidere explains the genesis of his woman themes.

One’s attention to the piece, Eyabe, one of the paintings leads to the revelation about Asidere's long interest in woman-related subjects. The retrospective piece, indeed, seems to fill the space in one's search for something new about the artist and his women. Perhaps there is something more about the central theme of the show that is being de-emphasised. Who is Eyabe? "My mother," he says. It's a native name from Isoko, Delta State, South-South of Nigeria. "It means women are difficult." From the eyes of a child to the senses of adulthood, Asidere sees her mother as a role model for every woman who desires to contributes to nation-building of a just society through her primary responsibility of raising a well-behaved child.

 It's all about her mother's domestic challenges. He recalls, for example, how "one's mother used to threatening, just to make your future better." And now as an adult who has crossed his 50 years, "I become more responsible committed," coming from a strict background. Among the works that attract one's attention within the context of the theme as well as the artist's seemingly erratic styles are For My Daughter, Grace, a painting and Women, Women, drawing/painting respectively. The painting, is though from the familiar stylised figures, it underscores the influential spot of women, no matter the age. Still on women, the painting with highlights of drawings that mixes pastel painting in deliberate disharmony excavates another side of Asidere's spontaneity from the beneath of his common covert cubism palette. Whatever the spiritual link that art history suggest for artists and muse, Asidere brings onto the canvas, the strong side of the softer gender.

Oliver Enwonwu, the curator at Omenka Gallery writes: "Characteristically, his elongated figures often appear headless or limbless. This device employed by Asidere draws its origins from historic masterpieces like the Venus de Milo, a well-known classical Greek statue with missing arms. The dismemberment of the body in late Twentieth Century art is no accident. It is the result of living in a world in which violence, oppression, social injustice, and physical and psychological stress predominate.”
Enwonwu notes that Asidere revisits a “stereo-typification and objectification in his paintings of non-erotic women by offering a critique of patriarchal communities with accompanying social practices and political structures that hide sexual abuse, and normalize assumptions that women are subservient to men.” He argues that the 24 paintings and drawings of traditional beauties and liberated women presented in this exhibition raise awareness about the issues on women. “Many of the enigmatic forms appear regal and are engaged in mundane activities including neighborhood banter and preparations for a party, their masklike faces and haughty appearances lending weight to the artist’s ongoing investigations into cultural perceptions of blackness; its physiognomies and behavior; his artistic journey advancing several questions regarding the meaning of contemporary beauty."
Asidere was born in Lagos in 1961 and is one of Nigeria’s leading contemporary artists. He studied Fine Art at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and graduated with a first class in Painting in 1988. He also earned a Masters in Fine Art from the same institution in 1990.

New Conversations, art facility opens in Abuja

After nearly a decade of promoting art in Abuja, Thought Pyramid Gallery has elevated its activities to the status of Art Centre, with a group art exhibition titled New Conversation as well as a new edifice, which was recently unveiled.

Thought Pyramid Art Centre
According to Jeff Ajueshi, Creative Director at Thought Pyramid Art Gallery, the centre, which is located at Wuse II Abuja, has been designed to include a large art exhibition space, cafĂ© and restaurant for those who wish to relax in an art space. pieces, "The centre is a place for lovers of art and culture to connect to cross-pollinate ideas. It is a place for new conversations and connections”.

Opening the facility with the ongoing art exhibition New Conversations, Ajueshi explained was aimed ay presenting visual dialogues between modern and contemporary Nigerian artists, living and departed. The show, he stated was conceived with  the hope of creating a shared vision of who we are as Nigerians especially as this vision is approached from different perspectives.

The recently completed Thought Pyramid Art Centre, Ajueshi assured, will bring collaborations with a range of organisations to execute projects that encourage exchange of ideas and discourse. He also promised that the centre jas the potential for museum of art. "With our rich and vast collection of works from modern and contemporary African artists including Ben Enwonwu, Bruce Onabrekpeya, El Anatsui, Ablade Glover, Ben Osawe, Bisi Fakeye among several others, the Centre intends to establish the first Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) in Nigeria."
In addition to hosting exhibitions and artists-in-residency programmes, Thought Pyramid Art Centre has commenced a series of creative workshops to actively engage the Abuja populace. These workshops include art club, international language workshops, reading/writing club, and a ballet club for children, Iheanyi Onwuegbucha,  Assistant Curator/ Education coordinator  stated. “The Art Club offers young artists the opportunity to explore a broad range of artistic media and practice with experienced gallery artists and volunteers. Projects will take inspirations from Thought Pyramid Gallery Exhibitions and the works of other artists”.

Other programmes of the Centre listed include the international language workshops, which features Cooking Nights, Games and Puppet Shows, Concert/Film Nights and foreign holiday trips. The management stated activities at the centre  will add a significant dimension to understanding of foreign languages and cultures. It is structured to complement classroom studies with long-term benefits. The languages will include French, German, Spanish, Italian and Chinese.”

Onwuegbucha mentioned “the Reading and Writing Club that presents young people the opportunity to explore their innate potential without the pressures of a classroom. The activities will include creative writing and poetry workshops as well as opportunities to publish these works”. To kick start these workshops, Thought Pyramid Art Centre had organized a free art workshop for primary and secondary schools in Abuja with prizes for the best artists.

The Centre also has a Saturday Ballet Club for children with periodic ballet concerts.