By Tajudeen Sowole
Artists’ increasing penchant for broader or alternative outlets of expression is cutting across generations and status, so suggests master printmaker, Dr Bruce Onobrakpeya’s choice of showing his new body of work at a non-regular art gallery space.
Titled Recent Experimental Prints, Paintings and Low Relief Sculptures, it’s Onobrakpeya’s solo art exhibition, opening to, perhaps, expectants public from Sunday, December 1 - 15, 2013 at Temple Muse, Victoria Island, Lagos.
Apart from Onobrakpeya’s exhibition organised to mark his 80th birthday last year, at Nike Art Gallery, Lekki, Lagos, and taken on tour, the artist has not had a solo show in seven years. His coming out at this period of new vigour and consciousness in art appreciation, coupled with the initiative of taking art to new audience, courtesy of the curator, Sandra Mbanefo Obiago, indeed demystifies the ‘cultic’ perception in art appreciation. His last solo show at a gallery was Jewels of Nomad Images held in 2006, at Quintessence Gallery, Falomo Ikoyi, Lagos.
Panel of Six, (copper foil) by Bruce Onobrakpeya
Onobrakpeya’s Recent Experimental Prints, Paintings and Low Relief Sculptures is actually swelling the list of artists that have been shown at Temple Muse after designer, Victor Ehikhamenor’s Amusing the Muse opened the space early this year. Next was a group show Metal Fusion that featured works of Billy Omabegho, Alex Nwokolo, Fidelis Odogwu and Uche Peters, as well as the last, Germany-based Chidi Kwubiri’s Mother Tongue.
In his experimental restlessness, Onobrakpeya, 81, keeps stressing that the continuum of thinking is the lubricant for an enduring creative intellect. Although known to have traversed medium and genres – despite being iconised more as a print artist – some of his works presented during a preview have so much for art historians to chew. Onobrakpeya, for example, in this exhibition revisits a dance scene in Amos Tutuola’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by regenerating the concept and reflecting his experimentations and time lapse across decades and ages. Titled Gala Day Under, the painting, he says, depicts a dance scene of the spirits in the forest as written by the late author. He describes the techniques as “triptolinen on canvas”, adding to the artist’s family of prints. Dated 1998/2011, Gala Day Under is not exactly new, but that the technique seems fresh to the artist’s followers makes it a new print technique from his studio.
Remember the 2008 masterpiece panel, Greater Nigeria, bronze foil on board, which set the then local record of N9.2m at Arthouse Contemporary auction in Lagos? Something similar to the historic low relief is on display in this show. It’s titled Panel of Six, (1981-2012, copper foil) and highlights the artist’s strong belief in African tradition and spiritualism. With the exception of the difference in the medium applied, the two works stress the dynamics of a country’s diversity. Within the context of the artist’s penchants for experimentation, Greater Nigeria, which was made of bronze-foil-and-Ivories-mounted-on-wood, dated 2007), appears more refined. Perhaps the periods of production makes the difference. “Not really”, Onobrakpeya says. The medium most likely draws the line. “Sometimes the bronze and copper used makes the difference”.
But thematically, the master’s oeuvre is covertly haunted by the 1960s to 1970s glorious periods of Nigerian literature. This much one of the Panels of Six with a sub title Eru (Fear) explains. Interestingly, Eru, last week, had resonated in an auction in which the artist presented a large canvas painting of the same title. So, what is the Eru all about such that it keeps hovering over some of Onobrakpeya’s themes? It’s inspired by one of Nigeria’s renowned novelists, D.O. Fagunwa’s ‘fear’ description. “Fagunwa stresses the fear of the hunter in a forest. I think every hunter, in reality, has similar fear of the known and unknown”. For the panel version, the images are few: distressed face of a hunter and his imagination of the wild animals composited on his head.
Other five panels of the floor piece say much about the artist’s perception of the spirit world and cultural values in highlights such as folklores, perhaps only for the ‘initiates’ who sees what others cannot; ‘Kabiyesi’, the sacrosanct of traditional authority, even in modern times; and ‘Parenting’, a tribute to the artist’s mother who died in 1981.
Being a printmaker could not have evolved in a vacuum, Onobrakpeya explains to his select guests as he talks about another six pieces he titles Pillars Time. The artist who is also known for taking some of his themes across relief and installations appears to have taken into full sculptural rendition with Pillars of Six. The closest to a full 3-D by Onobrakpeya, perhaps, were the column or caryatid-like Nomadic Masquerades he had used as installations or relief such as Totems of the Delta in the past. For Pillar of Six, the 3-D taps into the artist’s known theme like the Sahelian Masquerade “The low relif work has metamorphosed into 3-D sculpture”, he notes.
the significant of the exhibition holding at Temple Muse, Mbanefo-Obiago explains is to send the message that collection of master’s works such Onobrakpeya’s is not always the exclusive of the rich. “You don’t need to have a N9.2m to have a Bruce”, she assures.
And to keep spreading the passion for art appreciation at all level, Recent Experimental Prints, Paintings and Low Relief Sculptures has the support of two sponsors, Heritage Bank and the world’s oldest champagne group, Ruinart. “We see Onobrakpeya’s legacy as a quintessential symbol of Nigeria’s rich heritage and culture,” managing director of Heritage Bank, Ifie M.P. Sekibo states. Ruinart is known to support leading global art events like Art Basel Miami and PAD London, Paris.
Gala Day Under (triptolinen on canvas, 1998/2011), by Bruce Onobrakpeya
Indeed, with 63 works on display, including metal foil, prints, serigraphs, plastocasts, sculptures and paintings, some of them in other form like hamlets, the exhibition appears like the true demystification of the so dreaded exclusivity in art appreciation.
The curator links the show to the artist’s career of over 50 years period. “There are serigraphs from his famous “Sunshine period” of the 1960s-1970s, and paintings and etchings that feature images from his “Dance to Enchanting Songs” series”.
For the artist, change is the most important constant part life. He notes that as “Nigeria is in the throes of change; it requires a type of art that will reflect its on-going effort to achieve meaningful development and cultural identity“.
Over f15 years ago, Onobrakpeya must have seen today when he started his now famous Harmattan Workshop, a forum that get artists of all shades mixed together in an informal setting. He reflects on the workshop and noted that “when artists meet, they exchange ideas and skills, and that helps them develop; over the years. He recalls that participants for the workshops have increased.
Still on bringing new art enthusiasts into art appreciation, Director of Temple Muse, Avinash Wadhwani says that the design collection shop “is honored” to show Onobrakpeya. “His art typifies what is truly magnificent and unique about Nigerian modern art.”