By Tajudeen Sowole
It is ironic to suggest that artists who live on their art should place less emphasis on the economics or business side of the profession, particularly, in Nigeria, where grants are non existent for the creative professionals. But beyond art appreciation, artists have the responsiblity to link nature and humanity, says painter Emenike Ogwo.
"Artists don't need much money, but nature," Ogwo argues, while chatting with a guest inside his studio, a modest space located at the extreme end of a growing residential area. "We need to seek nature for the benefit of humanity. Running after money all the time is not the calling of artists."
Very few artists would disagree with Ogwo. In fact, artists, in recent times, are flaunting traces of financial success. Such artists, he explains, are being pushed to prove a point that art is not for poor people. "I think some artists believe that they need to prove that artists too can be rich as against the perception in Nigeria that artists poor." He however thinks this is unnecessary. "As artists we don't have to impress anybody, but get close to nature and spread creativity across humanity."
Indeed, the journey of appreciating the artist beyond financial status is still quite a long distance to cover. And in fairness, some artists are actually spreading the 'gospel' of art appreciation, particularly at their tender age level. For example, art workshops are being organised, for both kids and older persons by artists across the country. Similarly, along the same street where Ogwo’s studio and residence are located is Viridian School, for crèches, nursery and primary. Under the management of Mrs Ogwo, the school, he discloses, includes creativity and appreciating nature among its subjects. Ogwo traces the loss of value in the society of today to the emphasis placed on material things over more valuable natural factors importance that endures. "The best way to correct the current ills in the society is to offer good and balance education to kids as they grow." Teaching children the elementary of creativity, he explains is fundamental. "At Viridian, we catch them young through art alongside teaching other basic and regular subjects.”
As artists are realigning with individuals and groups with whom they share something in common, the Guild of Professional Fine Artists of Nigeria (GFA) added a new set of members to its fold early last year. Ogwo was among about 20 new members inducted at an elaborate ceremony, which had the artists in corporate outfits.
Since GFA formally emerged in 2008, the guild appears to be the dream professional group for artists, particularly those who pride themselves as full-time studio practitioners across generations.
A professional body for visual artists was long overdue, Ogwo states. GFA, he argues, "is what Institute of Charttered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) is to the accounting profession."
Close to one year in the guild, his experience, so far, suggests that the new set of members have something to cheer about.
"I am among the members whose works are showing at the next Transcending Boundaries art exhibition in the U.K," he discloses.
The Transcending Boundaries show debuted in 2013 with works from GFA artists making 90 per cent of the exhibits. For the screenings, two works, he says, are submitted by each artist from which only one will be picked" for the Aabru Art-organised exhibition holding in March.
Ogwo is not exactly new to having his works shown abroad. In 2008, he showed Cultures in Colours, a solo exhibition of paintings at the Gosforth Community College, Visual Arts Gallery, U.K. The event was said to have been sponsored by School Partnership Trust, a shared Trust with five member schools and three external partners, all in the UK. The three partners are Leeds PCT, Lead Trinity & All Saints and West Yorkshire
Between then and now, the organisers of the exhibition, he says, "has been writing me to have another show at Gosforth." A solo exhibition in the U.K, he argues, "is something I want to be well prepared for." Hopefully, he looks forward to including a U.K show as part of activities to mark his 50th birthday. "In April this year, I will be 50 years old. I hope to mark it quietly, but planning a show towards the end of the year in Nigeria. And I might just extend the celebration to a show in the U.K."
Sometimes, an artist and his art do not connect; it is unnecessary, anyway, so anthropologists would argue. For Ogwo, an impressionist, his art is like an opaque canvas through which to guess or view his behaviourial pattern. And as suggestive as impressionism appears to be, Ogwo's work attempts to bare it all, most times with palette full of the natural environment. For example, at his last solo exhibition, titled Observation, two years ago, he stresses the prowess of an impressionist whose palette makes no pretext about deliberately engaging a viewer of his work in visibility test, as the theme of the show, indeed, complement his technique. The works explain the difference between the ability to understand the composite of images on his canvas and having a great sense of observation. And bringing such combination into his thoughts about the environment and hidden opportunity, stresses a strong intellectuality imbedded in the artist’s approach to motivational theme.
BUT in the coming years, his impasto-textured canvas of over a decade may have an additional period in what he describes as "acrylic on treated paper." He, however, cautions that whatever new technique delved into "would still retain my identity." One of the works in progress, a two figures piece framed in non-glass screen confirms the Ogwo identity despite not on the traditional canvas.
As the secondary art market is fast increasing the sale value of Nigerian art - home and the Diaspora - agitation for artists' right to resale is quietly gaining attention.
Apart from the art auctions, quite a volume of resale goes on, daily, at the art galleries, clearly leaving out the artist in the transactions.
Observers note that artists do not need additional rules for resale as the existing copyright laws of Nigeria already covers such transaction and gives the original creator of an art work the right to benefit from resale. "Yes, the law may exist, but it is not enough," Ogwo says and challenges government to enforce it. He, however, notes, "the artists' bodies are not active either." Again, the respite for him is GFA. The guild, he hopes, will look into it.
Understanding Ogwo’s work, a revisit of Observation is still crucial. From Lagos to Owerri and the northern part of the country, Ogwo’s palette perches on the peculiarity of each city and suggests how opportunities are hidden, but only those with keen Observation make the best of the situations. In one of the textured works titled, Yaba Market (oil on canvas, 2013), for example, the foreground and the depth appears almost similar in thickness of activities. But somewhere in the seemingly lack of easy ways to navigate, a fortune could just be waiting to be uncovered. “Someone might find a fortune, after making a good observation from the distance,” Ogwo explains to his guest few days before the end of the exhibition. The work, adds visual narrative to the expanding ‘industry’ of motivational literary works.
|A painting Yaba Market by Eemenike Ogwo.|
Others included; Fisherman, which represents the major occupation of the riverside people of Ilaje and Ijaw settlers; Reflections, Black Woman, Akanu Ohafia; First Storey Building, Cassava Market, Child Labour and Conversation, which he said, were among the over 40 works exhibited at the UK event.
Ogwo studied at Federal School of Art & Science, Aba, Abia State in 1989, and later at Auchi Polytechnic, in 1994.