Thursday, 22 November 2012

Interrupted Lives… engaging social vices artistically


By Tajudeen Sowole
The relationship in visual narrative between Committee for Relevant Art’s Lagos Books and Arts Festival (LABAF) and The Edge Studio, in the past three editions or more of the yearly event took a deeper intellectual level at the 2012 edition.

Still in the art exhibition format, the sub-event for this year entitled Interrupted Lives, according to the curator Nkechi Nwosu-Igbo of The Edge Studio, examines the role of contemporary artists in documenting recent events around the world appropriately, as well as “the fluctuating paradigms of our existence.” The show explicitly explores the LABAF 2012 theme: Narratives of Conflict, the curator added.

At the ground floor of Kongi’s Harvest Art Gallery, Freedom Park, Lagos Island, where Interrupted Lives was mounted, visitors were trickling in at the spate of about 20 or more minutes per person, very much in contrast to the other events of the LABAF that enjoyed higher attendance. This, however, did not diminish acknowledging the deeper relevance of the message buried in the works of the artists on display: nearly every major changes within Nigeria’s troubled social-political sphere as well as global crisis were interpreted by the artists whose works were exhibited in Interrupted Lives.

Works on display included paintings by naturalist Abiodun Olaku, cubist Duke Asidere, watercolourist and abstract expressionist Sam Ovraiti, native motif impressionist Tola Wewe, installation and performance artist Nwosu Igbo and documentary photographer Uche James Iroha. 

At the extreme end of the gallery, Olaku’s theme of house on stilts, though appeared over stressed, but it blended clearly with the Interrupted Lives concept. Titled Bliss (Oko Baba Series), it reminds one of the recently “disturbed” people of Makoko in Mainland Local Government who were forcefully evicted by Lagos State Government from their abode of time immemorial.

It should be recalled that while the inhabitants felt their lives had been interrupted, government argued that the action was in the best interest of the evictees, who were apparent victims of unplanned urbanisation.

However, few months after Makoko inhabitants lost their shelters, what looked like the truth surfaced somewhere else when flood sacked people in another part of the country. Lives were lost, thousands displaced and billions of naira worth of property destroyed along the River Niger. The affected people of about five states, unfortunately, were not given the opportunity of having their lives “disturbed” or “interrupted” as the Makoko people in Lagos who were “rescued” from a possible natural disaster.

Nwosu-Igbo’s installation I Hated My Eulogy strikes one as a caricature of the usual crime scene, designated by police, and hardly leads to any justice. Central to her focus, so it seems, is the failure of the justice system, perhaps truncated right from investigation stages as seen in the so-much dramatised Police Line Do Not Cross, usually seen at crime site.

For Nwosu-Igbo’s installation, images from the recent jungle justice meted on the four students of University of Port-Harcourt, Rivers State, who were accused of theft exudes creative and conceptual composite, but also brings silence wailing and unseen tears. Not necessarily tears for the Uniport-4, but for a country where the justice system is in trash, encouraging street and mob trial of suspects.

As James Iroha’s linear captures, Ovraiti, Wewe and Asidere’s works also made thought-provoking inputs to the central theme, another performance artist Jelili Atiku’s Nigerian Fetish was being awaited at the time of the visit. It was however “presented, later in documentary format via slides.” 

In her curatorial notes, Nwosu-Igbo stressed that the show “is an art discourse that looks at the very complicated link between creative practice and political crusading.” She lamented that despite the pool of resources for “artists to explore”, arising from the Boko Haram insurgency and the Dana plane crash “it seems artists are not authentic in recording these and other recent histories.”

The exhibition also included what she described as ‘a lecture room.’ “It’s interactive about “issues of insecurity, strife, and uncertainty of our times using the role of art as an appetizer.”

At LABAF 2011, it was Do Not Resuscitate, also curated by Nwosu-Igbo. The exhibition offered exhibited artists space to address the socio-economic and political challenges facing Nigeria. It brought performance, video and installation art in the same space with painting, and portrayed an all-inclusive as well as democratic approach to conceptual art.

New faces: Bob-Nosa Uwagboe, Tolu Aliki and filmmaker, photo artist Aderemi Adegbite joined Nwosu-Igbo and Atiku, as each artist’s identity still manifested despite the mix. Performance poet, Iquo Eke, also lent her vocal prowess to the exhibition. 

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