Thursday, 20 December 2012

Ambassadors’ Nite-2… A peep into Edokpolo’s hidden treasures


By Tajudeen Sowole
A vast art of contemporary Nigerian origin, speculated to be in the personal collection of notable patrons, are not just in volumes, but in extravagant sizes, too.

On display at one of the leading patrons’ show, Chief John Edokpolo, is a selection of works from his collection titled Ambassadors’ Nite 2: Rare and Large, held at National Museum, Onikan, Lagos. While the exhibition was, indeed, a rare one, which stressed the dynamism of Nigerian artists, it also exposed a likely fragility of having the best of Nigerian art outside the public space: intellectual and cultural values imbedded in some private collections may never be known to some generations of Nigerians if such vast art remains under lock and key for too long. 

However, in displaying their magnanimity to share some of these rare collections with members of the public, patrons such as Sammy Olagbaju, Omooba Yemisi Shyllon and Omooba Olasehinde Odimayo, had in the past few years organised similar shows. 

For Edokpolo, sharing his collection has become a regular affair as Ambassadors’ Nite 2: Rare and Large came just about one month after Treasures, which he showed at The Metropolitan Club, Victoria Island, Lagos. It should be recalled that Edokpolo in 2008 had the first of the series titled Ambassadors’ Nite for expatriates and ambassadors at the National Museum, Onikan, Lagos. 

A visit to Ambassadors’ Nite 2: Rare and Large seemed to suggest that, perhaps, the best of Nigerian art is not on display at regular art exhibitions, auctions, fairs or the yearly Art Expo Lagos. For example, many agreed that show in Nigeria in recent memory had as many as seven large and rich paintings, each with a minimum size of 369 x 172 cm. Similarly, the sculptural pieces, mostly in wood were in their uncommon sizes. More enriching though was that the artists whose works were on display cut across about generations of living and the departed.

Among these works was master surrealist Abayomi Berber’s self-tribute Barber’s Panorama (oil on canvas, 369 x 172 cm, 2007). Mounted inside the gallery’s inner room, the master’s penchant for making fantasy out of landscapes seems at its enthralling peak in which his portraiture, right of the canvas admires a sprawling realm of animal kingdom where the skyline weaves into the creative ambience of wild life.

Toyin Alade’s Inheritance Menu (Oil on Canvas, 364cm x 175cm, 2005)
Two generations down the ladder, Edokpolo’s passion for large and captivating paintings searches Bimbo Adenugba out to render a three-theme-in-one piece Ekasa: Myths and Realities (oil on canvas 547cm x 183cm, 2012). Clearly among the largest of the works on display, it depicts a Benin traditional setting’s spirituality with other realities or frivolities of life outside the ancient cultural values.

From Bisi Fakeye, Amos Odion, Monday Akhidue, Rueben Ugbine to Bunmi Babatunde and Snart Owie, the wood collection assembled for Ambassadors’ Nite 2: Rare and Large showed that Edokpolo’s taste cuts across the various media, perhaps in equal terms. 

However, among the works on display, Toyin Alade’s Inheritance Menu (Oil on Canvas, 364cm x 175cm, 2005) offered a classic touch with a dimensional illusion of fragmented paintings on a single plane.

A curatorial note from Mufu Onifade says, “Most of the works research into those themes that penetrate our souls and prick our consciences”. And among the works that indeed lifted the curatorial direction of the show were Obi Ekwenchi’s Metaphysics (wood
197cm, 2001) and Odion’s  The Moon and The Sun (wood, 156cm 2011).

Every collector has a favourite artist in some specific medium. For Edokpolo, carver, Odion appears like the blue-eyed boy of his collection in wood. The artist’s works on display were 24 out of a total of 38 pieces from eight sculptors.

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