Saturday, 19 April 2014

'Masters Series'…unchaining national collection for broad viewing.

By Tajudeen Sowole
Bringing modern and contemporary Nigerian art into wide viewership via a non-governmental initiative enlivens shrinking popularity of the country’s national collection. 

Titled Masters Series, it's a group exhibition of select works by renowned artists from the collection of the National Gallery of Art (NGA), currently showing till May 11, 2014 at Red Door Gallery, Victoria Island Lagos.

 Sculpture titled Yemoja by Abayomi Barber.

When the exhibition opened on Tuesday, the presence of visitors such as the members of the corporate sectors, expatriates, even some of the masters radiated a new aura that brought freshness into the decades-old collection.

Without an adequate gallery space, the vast collection acquired over 50 years period are housed inside a section of the national theatre building and in the stores of the NGA, at the Abuja office as well as some outstations across the country. Over the decades, the dwindling popularity of the National Theatre edifice, coupled with the rise of Lagos and Victoria Islands as the hubs of art have drastically reduced human traffic who visit the gallery space of the national collection.

From Abayomi Barber's sculptural impression of Yoruba water goddess, Yemoja, mounted at he immediate entrance of Red Door, to the cubism paintings by Yusuf Grillo, pencil portraits of legendary theatre artist, Duro Ladipo and Picasso by Theresa Lucy Akinwale as well as Ladi Kwali's mastery of pottery among other works of. 27 masters on display indicate all is not exactly lost despite Nigeria's unexplained lack of a national gallery of art space. In the next three weeks or more, the two floor Red Door gallery where the works are mounted will continue to serve as a window through which Nigeria's history and rich artistic expression are viewed, most likely, by those who never saw the collections.

And for those who are familiar with some of the collections, it could just be refreshing seeing the works at new space outside the NGA environment. Ahead of the opening, director at Red Door Gallery, Bola Asiru assured that "many of the works on display will bring back nostalgic feelings amongst many people who have not viewed these classic pieces in decades."

He disclosed that the gallery, which made its entry into the Lagos art scene late last year has “a strategic collaboration with the NGA," to hold what he described as a "landmark exhibition."

Quite an unprecedented gathering of masters under one roof, outside the confinement of the NGA. Some of the other works on display include a sculpture The Academicians by Grillo, Man of the People‟ by El Anatsui as well as paintings and sculptures by Prof Ben Enwonwu, Ehrabor Emokpae, Gani Odutokun and Ben Osawe.

Other featured artists are Uzo Egonu, Tayo Adenaike, Sina Yusuf, Solomon Wangboje, Abiodun Olaku, Odita Udechukwu, Obiora Udechukwu, Muraina Oyelami, Kolade Oshinowo, Josseph Ajiboye, Jimoh Buraimoh, JD Akeredolu, Gani Odutokun, Haig David West, dele jegede, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Ben Osawe
Amos Odion, Ablade Glover and Akinola Lasekan.

A section of the visitors during the opening of Masters Series

  The last time a select group of masters were shown, it was not from the national collection. Organised by Mydrim Gallery, Ikoyi, but on display at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos in 2007, it was a also a show confined as Living Masters.

Apparently, the Red Door-NGA organised Masters Series is unprecedented. Asiru argued that the partnership  "is momentous because it is the first time that a private gallery will collaborate with the NGA to exhibit works of Masters on a large scale."
He explained that the show stresses the Red Door policy of adding value to the art and culture sector. "The collaboration is part of our policy to make the space not just a commercial gallery, but add other values."

Regular showing of the vast collection of NGA appeared to have been clouded or incapacitated by inadequacy of space and proximity to hub of art appreciation. However, the challenges of space, has not exactly stopped the NGA from showing the works, the curator at NGA, Lagos station Mrs Okoroma Ekene explained. Speaking through her representative Emeka Odiari during the preview, Ekene disclosed that NGA mounts new set of works in every six month inside the National Theatre complex. She added that the collaboration with Red Door Gallery is expanding the scope of such exhibition to include the private sector. Asiru insisted that the gallery’s “philosophy as an organization is to celebrate those things which are positive and great about Nigeria and Africa as whole. The global art community is increasingly excited about African fine art and it is critical for Africans to also celebrate their heritage and be excited about the great men and women who have left a legacy for the next generation of art enthusiasts and collectors.”

Indeed the aesthetic, cultural and education value of the works selected for the Masters Series speak volume of the broad benefits to the viewing public. For example, a painting titled Police. Brutality rendered in a burlesque expression and dated 1980, explains the long history of the recurring abuse of power by members of the Nigerian security men.

Also, Nigeria's colonial era under British rule is recalled in a portraiture, Nigerian Soldier Under Colonial rule by Lasekan, dated 1978.

And for scholars who may want to study the elongated and dance periods of Enwonwu, works such as Ghana Dance (1975), African Dance (1973)! Dance Form (1981) and Negritude may be of useful resources. In fact, Negritude, which is one of the most repeated series of Enwonwu is perhaps very crucial given the origin of the theme. It has a link to a global gathering of art and culture professionals of black descents in the late 1950s, of which the artist participated.

The Director-General of NGA, Abdullahi Muku who writes Foreword of the catalogue notes that “staging of The Masters Series, is not only a timely celebration of Fine Arts in Nigeria, it is the celebration of those wonderful creative brains that produced the works as well.”

He argued that the partnership “is not a coincidence,” and cited government’s policy of Public Private Partnership (PPP). “This collaboration derives from the Government policies that give fervency to the synergy and productivity of PPP (Public Private Partnership).”

CEO Nigeria Stock Exchange, Oscar Onyema (left); CEO Red Door Gallery, Bola Asiru; and Director General of the National Gallery of Art, Abdullahi Muku, at the Masters Series opening night.

Muku also writes that the Masters Series comes at a period when Nigeria is still celebrating her centenary. “The richness of Nigerian Art, as an all-important documentation of many spheres of the nation, and as evident in the works of Nigeria’s all-time greats in Nigerian Art, predetermines a rich, deep, and colourful heritage deserving of communal celebration. Indeed, Nigeria is in the mood of celebration, relishing the fruitfulness of her 100 years of amalgamation that began in 1914. The centenary celebration has overwhelmed the nation with pomp, pageantry and razzmatazz – all of which will continue, for a long time, to serve as mementoes and memorabilia of sweet reminiscences.”

Parts of Muku’s texts states: “This exhibition of masterpieces by revered Nigerian masters, which is the Red Door Art Gallery’s maiden staging of The Masters Series, is not only a timely celebration of Fine Arts in Nigeria, it is the celebration of those wonderful creative brains that produced the works as well. The show, therefore, is a salute to creativity. It is an acceptable traditional homage to the sages of artistic creativity in Nigeria. It is an outpouring of libation to the gods of creativity and to the fertility of creative heritage, the masterpieces that are sourced directly from the National Collection.”

Sunday, 13 April 2014

In Ile-Ife, archaeological exhibits herald fresh face of 60-year-museum

By Tajudeen Sowole
The revered city of Ile Ife, has stressed its status as one of the centres of ancient African civilisations as a new exhibition titled Ife Archaeology and Material Culture In Retrospect opened at the city's National Museum, Osun State.

 The exhibition replaces inaugural set of works that opened the museum in 1954 just as the event, held last week, provided the Federal Government an opportunity to disclose that the city may soon get a UNESC0O world heritage city status.

The government also pledged a yearly financial support for the state's popular festival, Osun Osogbo.

(Front row), Hon Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, High Chief Edem Duke (left); D-G, NCMM, Mallam Abdallah Yusuf Usman; and Prof Muhib Opeloye during the opening of Ife Archaeology and Material Culture In Retrospect…Recently        

Present at the opening were the Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuade, Olubuse II; the Deputy Governor of Osun State, Titilayo Laoye Tomori who represented the Governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola; the Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, High Chief Edem Duke; Director-General, National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM), Mallam Yusuf Abdallah Usman; and scholar, chairman of Ife Board, Prof Muhib Opeloye.

The works on display inside the 60-year-old museum included sculptures of figures and households as well as tools made in bronzes, stones, beads and terracotta. While some of them are dated to nearly a thousand years, others are as ancient as 12th and 15th century.

Duke premised the new exhibition on what he described as "the cultural and tourism statements of the Federal Government" as well as "the vision and mission of the NCMM." He argued that the richness of the works in the museum offer a broad research opportunity for visitors and scholars who have interest in "cultural history of the Yoruba."

Disclosing that the Federal Government has proposed to the United Nations Cultural and Scientific Organisation (UNESCO) a world city heritage status for Ile Ife, Duke hoped that if the international recognition is granted, the city and indeed, Osun State will "enjoy influx of tourists from across the world." Already, the state boasts of, arguably, Nigeria’s most popular internationally recognised yearly festival, the Osun Osogbo. But the minister also disclosed that Federal Government "will start giving Osun Osogbo a yearly financial support," to boost the state government’s efforts.

Aregbesola noted that the new exhibition stresses the importance of Ife "as the centre of civilisation." The city, he stated, has always offered “rich materials in sculpture, painting and memorablia objects that speak to us and inspired us about the future." He however warned that it is not enough to have rich cultural objects on display in a museum, proper preservation through regular maintenance is as important. "I call for discipline and proper maintenance of the museum."

From the Ife Archaeology and Material Culture In Retrospect exhibition 
In his Welcome address, the D-G, Usman, agreed that the city of Ife has a revered place in the world as one of the richest custodian of ancient art, culture and civilisation. He cited the European and U.S touring exhibition Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria as evidence of the city's enviable culture and art status. In 2010 Dynasty and Divinity opened at Foundacion Botin in Santander and Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Madrid, Spain; shown as Kingdom of Ife: Sculptures From West Africa at the British Museum, U.K., and moved to Houston, Richmond and Indianapolis, U.S. in 2011 and berthed in Nigeria, a year after.

On Ife Archaeology…  Usman stated, specifically, that the exhibition "brings to focus the journey of Ife clay, stone and bronze technology." He traced the period of the works on display to historians' estimation of "about 800AD and 12th - 15th century." He explained that the archaeological content of the theme pays tribute to "outstanding heroes of Ife archaeology and material culture."

Indeed, Ife boasts of memorable archaeological discoveries of great cultural objects, courtesy of British colonial era and controversial archaeologist, Leo Frobenius. But it is ironic that the Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile Ife, according to an observer, currently has no archaeology department. The chairman of the exhibition Prof Opeloye who also acknowledged the contributions of individuals like Frobenius, K.C Murray and former D-G of NCMM, late Omotoso Eluyemi, faulted the resting of OAU's archaeology section and urged the institution's authority to revive it. "We appeal to the OAU authority to resuscitate the Department of Archaeology of the school that was rested in the 1970s."

With the efforts of architects, K.C Murray who was Supervisor of Antiquities, Malin, the builder and Bennard Fagg, a government archaeologist, the national museum, Ile Ife began its journey in 1954 as the first regional museum.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

With 'Being and Becoming', Orimolade drags art into psychoanalysis

Installation, Igi Eleso, from Odun Orimolade’s art exhibition Being and Becoming

By Tajudeen Sowole

From the complex subject of man's state of mind, Odun Orimolade digs out visual interpretation of western and African scientific beliefs.

This much is loud in her solo art exhibition, Being and Becoming, which is currently showing, ending on June 10 at Art Twenty One, Eko Hotel and Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos. 

 The show also raises the bar in the new consciousness of Nigerian Avant-garde: Orimolade confirms that expansive space is compatible with contemporary expression of artists as noticed on the Lagos art space since the last half decades or little more.

While critics may not be comfortable with the notion that art appreciation is being confined or rated based on the size of a work of art, it appears that ؛massive is art mentality'  is the tide that artists, promoters and curators would not want to swim against. Even at the entry point of new artists such as art competitions, huge is the key word to win big prize.

But in fairness to Orimolade, Being and Becoming is not exactly about ‘huge is art.’ Just about two or three works, including a roof to floor installation titled Igi Eleso, which shoots from the distance extreme end of Art Twenty One space and a dark mural of floating illusion tagged Plausibility at right side of the entrance are clear enough on the art for size trend.

As a body of work Being and Becoming harasses one's sense of appreciation with the volumes of the wall pieces. Individually, the abstractive contents of each work stresses  Orimolade's passion for unseen subjects such as fantasy and state of minds. Recall that in October 2006, she had shown Facets of a Psyche at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos.
 About eight years after, the artist's thoughts rendered in drawings, paintings and sculpture as well as relief, in some cases, also explore the Yoruba perspective along western scholars' theories of psychoanalysis، fantasy and real state of minds. Sectionalised into Awamaridi, Blood and Bone, Space of Secret, Transcending Series, Igi Eleso, and Awofelebonu, the images though appear to articulate the abstractive nature of subject of the state of mind, but non-inclusion of illustrative representation confines  the presentation into academic sphere. Understandably, if the themes are “unseen,” the images are perhaps best presented in abstraction and subtle representational style she describes as “flowing figurative.”

However, there exists a duality of contents and appreciation, which brings in a balance. For those who are passionate about the infinite and complex world of psychoanalysis, the set of images under Space of Secret might just be of interest.  Some of such works include Unheard, Unseen, Tinu Eni, Within Sphere, Emanating and Seranko Seniyan. Softening the air in the loaded walls are the 15 set of works that populate the left side of the wall. Inspired by the work of a twentieth century chemist and anthropologist, Paul Julien, the mixed media of paintings and drawings, Orimolade explains, represent the scientist's "archive of images generated" in Africa during his expedition on the continent.

While Orimolade attempts visual probity of the scientist's photographic images about blood and bone research - clearly in an academic tone - the  flavour of aesthetics are unmistaken. Despite the importance of the anthropological subject that inspired the works, the aesthetics value and essence of art is strong.

In the current era of art appreciation that is widening the space beyond wall hangings and collectibles, every artist seems to be testing the waters of contemporaneity, within installation and performance medium. For Orimolade, an installation, Igi Eleso (Fruitful Trees), is a medium to flaunt her creative ebullience.

Orimolade, a lecturer at Yaba College of Technology, Lagos is no doubt a follower of great thinker, Sigmund Feud, so suggests some of her works that look like materials used by late renowned British filmmaker, Alfred Hitchcock in directing those chilling movies. But she argues that nearly everyone who has consumed western culture has tainted “contemporary idea of fantasy influenced by western psychology.” 

Documentation of native African psychoanalysis may not exist in the academic sense of it, the Yoruba perspective, Orimolade notes, is worth an attention. “Yoruba belief system accommodates the use of the other realities in various capacities to order physical responses.” She adds that such belief brings “a kind of equilibrium to the negotiation of life, which can temper one’s responses to everyday annoyances and upheavals.”

Apart from creating an atmosphere where aesthetics and academic or high intellectual values of art meet at a common space, Being and Becoming challenges the confinement of art appreciation. And of note is that The body of work is so eclectic that each of the installation and painting/drawing could have come from as many artists as sectionalised. In fact the Orimolade that followers of her oeuvre know exist in the set of wall pieces under Blood and Bone.

Space of Secret

Still exploring the Yoruba perspective, this time as a medium, Orimolade implores ewi (mono-narrative) in the poetry-like rendition for the performance version of Plausibility. “The performance is a tangent from the big drawing. It is like one of the many tiny bubbles in the drawing what could be and how it is impossible to fathom or limit.”

The complexity of digging into the unseen and unknown is explained in the artist’s statement. “We take account and can follow the progress of developing these innumerable aspects of our existence beginning from the point of the unknown, there is the travel through a mass of information that returns us right back to the point of the unknown. It becomes difficult to question the unseen other than to begin the cycle of research again.”

As an artist, digging into the science of unseen state of minds and contextualizing same in imageries, she says, is an effort in trying to “machinate emotional intensity and spiritual reaction through an exploration of the biomorphic, flowing figurative and abstract modes.”

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Ife opens 800 year-old objects at National Museum

Shortly before the opening of a new set of Ife art pieces dated to 800 AD and titled Ife Archaeology and Material Culture In Retrospect at the city's Naional Museum., Osun State, Southwest of Nigeria, few days ago. The exhibition replaces a  set of works that opened the museum in 1954.

In Ghariokwu’s African Icon Series, Mandela shines

By Tajudeen Sowole

"Our art needs to promote African heroes," he told his guest during a chat inside his studio, in Palmgrove, Lagos. He just completed a piece on former South African President, Nelson Mandela. It's a collage portrait, with newspaper cuttings of Mandela-related reproduced texts and images, creating a three dimensional illusion.

Titled Moral Capital, the work is rendered in black and white of large size into one portraiture, summarising a man whose life was one of the most eventful in the 20th century. Ghariokwu’s technique of a softened background and bolder foreground of collages sandwiches a profile angle shot of Mandela, perhaps, showcases the legend in a rare portraiture composite.

Ghariokwu noted that the legends of African descents that he chooses to highlight in his art have one thing in common. "They challenge the system and establishments of their time." He therefore asked? "Why can't artists of today use art in similar way?" He cited Fela as an example by arguing that his music was not just a representation of the environment he lived in then. "His music critiqued and challenged the system." But not so the visual artists, "art is too isolated," he stressed.

In his last three shows, which came in quick successions, some of the icons featured included Malcom X, Marley, Fela, Obama, Achebe, and Simone at the artist’s Art’s Own Kind show, organized by Ugoma Adegoke-led The Life House and Bloom Gallery at Didi Museum, last year; Ojukwu, Fela and Mandela in the Red Door Gallery’s debut of Ghariokwu’s Po-Lemi-Cs; and the same gallery’s London version titled Po-Lemi-Cs 2.0, under The Art Energy Series of Zircon Marine, which was held last month.

Quite unusual to see Ghariokwu’s exhibitions in such a back-to-back outing; he was hardly the gallery or public kind of artist. In fact Lemi did not have his first art exhibition until about 25 years into his career. The debut show tiled Welkom 2 Lay-ghus and curated by Paschal Lettelier was held at Mason de France, Ikoyi, Lagos in November 2001. Between 2003 and now, some of his exhibitions included Black President: The Art and Legacy of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, at Museum of Contemporary Art, New York in 2003; DEMOCRAZY, 3 Solo Exhibitions and a Publication at Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA), Lagos; and "Documentation is crucial," he explained, noting that icons are created not just by the activities of the celebrated individual, also through adequate documentations of their works. "This is what I have learnt from my work experience with Fela."

He recalled that Fela, consciously, had nearly every aspect of his works, including his personal life documented, to an extent that he employed a photographer, Femi Osunla, permanently." 
 Indeed, given the volume of photographs of Fela - on and off the stage – currently in circulation, Ghariokwu argued that the Afrobeat legend was more photographed, than even some western artistes of his generation.

 Ghariokwu's art, which has navigated through a sea of materials, over four decades, keeping his new concept of African Icons in tomorrow's memory comes with challenge. The regular paint on canvas or ink on paper work, as resilient as they have proven over the ages, seems unattractive to the artist, in the traditional usage of such medium. In the last few years, Ghariokwu has been applying a hybridised of arylic with Vinyl. But managing vinyl, particularly, for art such as the icon series that could end up as museum pieces "is complex." Alternative and resilient medium, he disclosed, is "aluminum composite panel." 

With Ghariokwu’s African Icon series, which is taking the patterns of his Fela themes, another Andy Warhol is, perhaps, in the making. Like the American legendary artist whose works include nearly all the known celebrities across music, movies and politics, Ghariokwu is using his canvas to document great personalities of African decents.   

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Awesome..Orimolade's Being and Becoming

During the opening of Being and Becoming, art exhibition of  Odun  Orimolade's recent works at Art Twenty One, Victoria Island, Lagos, on Thursday.

For TKMG auction, masters’ old themes chase the mega bucks

By Tajudeen Sowole

Whoever is still in doubt of the prospect of Nigeria's secondary art market may need to see how the established masters are making strong appreciation from their old themes.

Such masters like El Anatsui, Abayomi Barber, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Kolade Oshinowo as well as Abiodun Olaku are lifting the status of the Nigerian secondary art market, so suggests the texture of some of the lots for next auction of TKMG.

A Painting from the Landscape Series of Abayomi Barber among the lots for the TKMG auction

 In it’s seventh edition, which starts with preview from Sunday, April 6 to Thursday and auction on Friday, 11, 2014 at Intercontinental Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos, TKMG will be presenting what it describes as “exquisite pieces of art.”  

During a media preview, Bolanle Austen-Peters and Sinmidele Adesanya of TKMG assured that the auction continues the mission of the partnership "to lead the Nigerian art market into the world stage and build investor confidence in the art market," generally.  They noted that the past six auctions have "helped in promoting new collectors, who are inspired by the activities on the auction floor."

Among the works of the masters expected to go under the auctioneer, Yinka Akinkugbe’s hammer are Anatsui’s wood panel Untitled, Barber’s Farmer/;s Dream, Onobrakpeya's  Iso Ore Ri Canaan (Red Base). Kolade Oshinowo’s At the Party and Olaku’s Fade Out. 

For Anatsui, his wood period of over two decades would not go away, at least at auctions in Lagos, so suggests a 1987 triptych featuring in the TKMG auction as one of the favourites for the top of the sales. Another Anatsui, which the auction house said “is dated 2013” also confirms that the artist’s wood period is not ready to give way for the soft metal era currently boosting his profile at the auction markets and art galleries abroad. Anatsui’s two works, Adesanya assured “may compete for the auction's highest sales.”
  Similarly, Barber’s Landscape Series of subtle surrealism and Dream Series keep returning at auctions. For example, from an older work Pipe’s Dream, the Octogenarian’s series of the same theme seems to be sprouting from old collections. 
The TKMG’s new auction venue, Intercontinental Hotel is using the opportunity of the sales to create awareness for its charity project, the auction house disclosed. “Proceeds from the sales of one of the lots will go to the International Hotel’s Shelter in a Storm charity.”

With a new brand name of TKMG, the auction house seems to be saying that the partnership works, having added value to the secondary market since inception fewer years ago. "We are not really blowing our trumpet, but hope to attract wider clients," Adesanya said. She argued that the 90 lots going into the auction, is an ideal mix of old and new artists."

On the mix of artists across the ages, the lots, according to Austen-Peters are spread among "20 percent for the masters and 15 for the new artists,” while the rest slot goes to the regular and established names.