Thursday, 21 February 2013

Ohiwerei’s Allow, a bridge across periods, themes


By Tajudeen Sowole

One of the very few Nigerian artists in the Diaspora who is still active at home, Pita Ohiwerei is back again to share the value of not being lost into the creative wilderness abroad.

Ohiwerei, whose new body of work titled Allow is showing from Thursday, March 7 to Tuesday 12, 2013 at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos, has been making his art relevant in Nigeria almost every other year since he relocated to the U.S. over 10 years ago. The artist’s consistency is indeed a rare courage when most of Nigerian artists in the Diaspora have, practically, been anonymous in the home art space in the past two decades.
Happy Day, from Pita Ohiwerei’s Allow.
It would be recalled that the tumultuous political era of the June 12 1993 Presidential election annulment had an exodus of Nigerian artists moved to the U.S. and U.K.

Although Allow is Ohiwerei’s second solo exhibition in Nigeria, in the past six years, he has been home for workshops, group shows and other events where his art has contributed to the growth of the visual arts sub-division of Nigeria’s recent cultural explosion. As the Lagos art scene gets stronger every year, creating more choices for art collectors, visitors to Ohiwerei’s Allow would vividly remember the artist’s works in several group shows as well as non-profit art ventures. After his solo last Simple Pleasure in 2006, he had exhibited in nearly all the group shows of Guild of Professional Fine Artists of Nigeria (GFA); participated in Lekan Onabanjo-led art workshops sponsored by Fullworks Foundation for his Alma Mata, Auchi Polytechnic as well as Promises Kept, a fundraising art exhibition for a foundation in memory of Late art patron Sefunmi Osioke Oyiofe.

From his past theme such as Simple Pleasures, and several other group exhibitions, Ohiwerei’s soft canvas has been well pronounced. However, Allow, he said, is another period of his art, though still retaining the softness identity; it says much about the artist’s thoughts on what he explained as freedom to expand the scope of his art while making the well-established identity and signature stronger. "It's about moving beyond the familiar terrain", he stated after a break at a friend's studio in Lagos suburb, few days ago.

In 2006, the artist’s canvas strengthened his 14 years-old technique christened scratchee. For Allow, the softness of scratchee remains, but something more exciting and rhythmic has been added: it’s a patterned and textured surface, which exudes illusionary movement of the images. This much he stresses in one of the works titled Happy Day, a capture of children playing at the beach. It could have been just as common as any regular or similar depiction of children having fun, but Ohiwerei’s expressionism stirs animation of resplendence.

And as simple as the theme appears, the attraction for him, he disclosed, “was the happiness of the children, despite not being from a privileged home.” The work is, apparently, the artist’s current period of a similar version Wave Knees II (oil on canvas, 30 x 40, 2009), which is on display at one of the world’s leading art fairs, U.S-based Art Off the Main’s virtual gathering. 

Having the dual advantage of growing up in Nigeria and living in the U.S., Ohiwerei seems to appreciate certain family values back home, particularly in participatory domestic chores. In Allow, he dedicates a series titled Saturday Morning to this nostalgia, depicting youth at domestic laundry. Although the textured and patterned surface appears like Ohiwerei’s new period, but a revisit of the scratchee still comes in one of the Saturday Night Series as well as Honeymoon.

However, the softness identity of the artist, despite thickened surface of his canvas remains. This is one factor that is not likely to change in his art. In a stressful environment such as Nigeria, mostly urban like Lagos, the softness of his work, he explained “is a form of therapy to calm nerves” after the stress of a day’s work.  

When artists move from one period to another, it’s often difficult to distill progression of contents as the shadow of the past still hovers around. While noting that it’s difficult to make a drastic departure from the past, Ohiwerei added: “at this stage of my journey, my quest is to allow the works guide me each in its unique way.”

Currently based in Atlanta, Georgia, Ohiwerei is a model and inspiration for young artists who might fear that art would not pay their bills. In fact, during one of his past visits to Nigeria, he disclosed how he worked in collaboration with African Artists Foundation’s Azu Nwagbogu to use his art as inspiration to encourage the children of the less privileged people “and create another generation of artists.”

Since Ohiwerei graduated with a distinction at Auchi Polytechnic, his most prominent and perhaps longest period is the scratchee technique. Purely a palette knife work, the technique, similar to water surface breaks has brought an identity of some sort to his work. His website notes: “Scratchee creates simple, yet interesting, colour impressions that emit tingling and misty illusions. The scratchee effect gives a peculiar three dimensional visual to his landscape paintings that gives the observer the impression that one can jump right into Pita's paintings.”

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