By Tajudeen Sowole
Whoever choses Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in North Miami, U.S., as a resource spot in appreciation or documentation of African art would not likely miss one of its newest collections; a fabric sculpture by George Edozie. Late last year, MOCA showed the works of Edozie at the 2014 edition of Art Basel in Miami as Shifting the Paradigm. It was the artist's first major solo exhibition in the U.S.
Edozie, whose career back home in Nigeria was largely in the painting genre until recently, appears to have shot his sculptures into a faster lane compared to whatever he has done on canvas in the past one and a half decades. In fact, his works in sculpture had only been exhibited once or twice at a major outing in Nigeria at a solo show at National Museum, Onikan, Lagos.
From Nigerian-born British artist, Yinka Shonibare's works in satirical themes that employ Dutch wax textile (ankara in Nigerian local parlance), in creating master pieces of great concept, to Peju Alatise's appropriation of diverse social challenges, particularly of feminine themes as well as some painters using fabrics to texturise their canvas, the creative application of textile art space is getting broader. Irrespective of the energy in contemporaneity, which fabric is widely enjoying among artists in the past one or two decades, Edozie's sculptural work - as short in history as it is in the public space - is already contributing to the vocabulary of art lexicon in that context.
From the 14 works, including paintings, shown at Shifting the Paradigm, MOCA, according to Edozie "has acquired ‘Okpulu’ (Grandma's Basket)," he stated during a post-event chat in Lagos recently. "The curator of the exhibition, Prof. Nkiru Nzegwu called me after I left the U.S. and disclosed that MOCA has added ‘Okpulu’ to its collection," Edozie clarified.
Apart from having his work in the collection of MOCA, Miami, Shifting the Paradigm also made what could be termed tremendous impact at Art Basel. "Prof Nkiru also said my show was listed among the best four at Art Basel, 2014."
A non-figural piece, ‘Okpulu’ is rendered in woven-like moulding, done with pieces of shred clothes, perhaps wrapped over some metal skeletal frame that hold the fabric. Beyond the supposed aesthetics of the works shown, the cultural contents, Edozie said, were as important. For example, the artist stated that ‘Okpulu’ was inspired by his grandmother's basket. What's special about a woman's basket? The basket, he explained, is not the same as the regular one for daily domestic chores or farm. "Mostly found with elderly woman in the past, the basket is used for keeping cloth" as a sort of wardrobe, Edozie who spent his formative years in Eastern Nigeria recalled.
Just like ‘Okpulu,’ most other works at the exhibition depict quite a number of native contents of Igbo origin. Some of the works include ‘Thoughts on Obiageli,’ ‘Oniarozor's Dream,’ ‘Ogilo and Emegini,’ ‘Obinka’ and ‘Aso Mma.’
While showcasing native contents of African value was not exactly the core of the exhibition, it was an opportunity for Edozie to present his work, as a window into African art within the context of the global market.
He boasted, "We wanted to shift the paradigm from Europe and the U.S. to Africa." But it didn't appear as if his audience or visitors to the show were as liberal as he thought. "Surprisingly, there are still people in the U.S. who thought that nothing good could come out of Africa".
However, Edozie's Shifting the Paradigm was well prepared for the task of promoting African creativity to an unwilling audience: it wasn't just an art exhibition as part of a huge Art Basel. The show also featured conference, which had a prominent traditional ruler, the Obi of Onitsha, His Majesy, Nnemeka Achebe, as "father of the day and special guest of honour."