By Tajudeen Sowole
In conceptual application of materials such as discarded-objects, to highlight the Nigerian leadership question, a new body of sculpture, mostly in installation by Ndidi Dike is a frontal assault on leadership deficit. Shown at National Museum, Onikan, Lagos, tt's a State Of The Nation visual address by the artist, as the title aptly suggests, piercing into the conscience of everyone who, at different level of leadership and followership missed the opportunity to be responsible.
For an artist like Dike whose exhibition titled Waka Into Bondage, at Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA), Lagos, eight years ago still remains reference point in Nigerian art space, activism in creative visual contents comes with great expectation. Beyond gathering of 'junks' to fill space and fulfill the fad of installation and 'conceptuality', Dike, in her State Of The Nation makes quite some salient sculptural statements.
Apart from the artist's careful and meticulous use of the limited space inside the National Museum gallery, her touch of depth simplifies contemporary sculpture beyond the confine of regular visual expression. An assemblage of scrap parts of domestic cooking stove as Untitled 1, mounted left side of the gallery; a floor installation of metal bed with flood of slippers titled How Much Am I Worth?; and a wall to floor gathering of energy-related discarded objects in the far end of the space displayed as National Grid, all cumulate into an interactive pool where viewers engage the objects on display. Also, at the right wing of the gallery, a blackened room with a lone wheel chair radiates fear and perhaps warning that indeed, there is a consequence for every deed of deliberate irresponsiveness.
Assembled stoves of Untitled reminds one of the N5 billion naira worth of stoves for rural women announced during the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. The stoves were never seen, at least in public before the end of the last government. Has Dike found the missing stoves? "No," the artist replies during my visit to the public viewing. "But my work is opened to different interpretation, and the issue of the missing stove you just raised could come in here." Recall that Jonathan, according to reports, 'released N1.3 billion to the Ministry of Environment for the purchase of clean cook stoves for rural women, a project which is expected to gulp N9.2 billion.'
Still on Energy, a wall to floor installatiion, National Grid captures all the miserable stories of the sector of which Nigerians have been living with as dreadful as nightmares. Rendered in mural-style mesh sculpture of nearly all the known objects of energy such nozzles, other parts of fuel station and electricity generating set, fuel gallons electrical cables and other related scraps, the metal piece exposes the reality of a people whose search for lasting energy has remained elusive. On the floor, is an extension of the sculpture in line-up of mirrors: quite interesting that each of the mirror, unavoidably reflects individual viewers' image, suggesting collective responsibility of a failed-system. And of course, the situation could have been a glorious one, so everyone shares the responsibility.
Indeed, never has a nation been so embarrassed and stripped naked as the current situation of the missing Chibok girls. Ndidi captures the lack of responsive leadership in the installation titled How Much Am I Worth? Composite in a bare double deck metal bed, the work include sprinkling of slippers on the floor, which forms a kind of ring around the bed. Over 600 days after, the girls are still missing, perhaps more have been kidnapped. For Ndidi, missing of the Chibok girls challenges "the value that we Nigerians place on lives."
Call it site-specific art, a black clothed room with an isolated wheel chair, which occupies the entire room of the National museum gallery may fit the definition as it radiates much blend of art and metaphysics. Depending on which side of assimilation your nerve belongs, the installation tagged Untitled pierces into one's psyche like a bird suddenly caught in a cage. Despite the blank or no title given to this conceptual and great depth installation, the central theme is not missing: a place or spot that has no escape. And stressing the point about the spiritual or metaphysics contents is a broken wheel chair.
Most installation exhibits in this part of the world hardly have any second value beyond the first display at gallery or venue of a show. For Dike's State of the Nation, I think the catalogue of the exhibition exposes a strong second value in photography. In fact, the capture angles and tones of each work or installation as published in the catalogue suggest that a photography exhibition could be extracted from the display in future.
Recalling the idea that generated the exhibition, Dike says certain "occurrences and configurations that we encounter in our everyday life precipitate a quilt of mixed viewpoints concerning our collective experiences." Such, she explains "provided a catalyst or premise for exploration, research and visual conversations in the form of this exhibit. The idea was probably subconsciously gestating in my mind for years but most recently manifested itself in my identification, selection, and specific employment of objects as material metaphors for firstly power, petroleum and politics (political power can also be viewed through a strictly political lens as mirroring the many ills of a lack of a responsive government and the quest for power at all costs) both literally and figuratively as a phenomenon."
Treating such salient subject as state of a nation comes with sacrifice of detaching from her regular medium of soft materials like paints. "Realising that I could not express myself succinctly and adequately enough with media I had been known to have used in the past, I needed potent objects and materials that carried innate significance - discarded, physical and visual power - beside in-depth symbolism that could complement, harmonise and extend the life of what I wanted to say in State Of The Nation."
Ahead of the exhibition, Dike's work showed at the recently held Jogja Biennale XIII titled Hacking Conflict, Indonesia meets Nigeria, where she also had a one month residency with five other artists. She also exhibited her installation titled Trace: Transactional Aesthetics.
Of all biennales and other popular international gathering of artists, was special about the Indonesian experience? "The curator of 'Wok the Rock,' had previously made a research and explorative trip to Nigeria with a colleague Lisistrata Lucindiana, visiting artists’ studios , art institutions, museums in Abuja, Oshogbo etc. He came up with Hacking Conflicts?"
More home-based Nigerian artists are going abroad, either for fair, gallery exhibition or biennale, in the last few years. As much as such development is good to promote Nigeria art overseas, are we not scared that the best of Nigerian art might end up being foreign collection where they would not be tracked for adequate provenance?
Dike's assertion is not different from that of most Nigerian artists on the issue. "The culture sector, particularly, galleries and museums in Nigeria, are not up to date with the running, maintenance and use of 21st century environmentally controlled spaces, restoration and preservation techniques, specific storage facilities depending on the type of media used in works etc." She defends her colleagues, arguing that "considering this scenario artists may have no choice but to sell their works to collectors and museums abroad," she stresses the importance documentation, and notes that quite a lot of Nigerian artists "keep track of their works, for posterity.
Back to her Indonesian experience, some of the past installations and photography collage experimentations appeared to have ascended to a depth of pool for Dike. "I developed a project/installation using large scale photography and culled objects from markets in Nigeria and Jogja in Indonesia called Trace: Transactional Aesthetics, where my focus was on the numerous aesthetically arranged street market commodities. There is a strong sense of colour, synergy and vitality that is exuded by the activities and displays of the Lagos market place. This is epitomized in viewing of various products, textiles with customized designs to reflect local traditional cultures, secondhand clothes, jewelry, and a large variety of edible consumables. All the commodities at first glance appears to be in a seemingly chaotic state, but a second look reveals an aggressively ordered nature that serves as a fertile ground for exhibiting the aesthetically staged street market tableaus."
She explains how her idea is woven around "regeneration and interpretation of the aura of the Lagos market in inspiring the sense and feel of its internal dynamics."