By Tajudeen Sowole
From fabrics in diverse textures that have become an extension of native fashion among Nigerians, particularly in the southwest of the country, is being elevated as icons in the new portraitures body of work by Kelani Abbas.
The Bourgeois 1 by Kelani Abbas
Pastel on Paper 44 x 96 cm 2015.
As Aso Igba reminds one of Abbas' classic style of which his canvas was known when he made a debut solo, Paradigm Shift at Mydrim Gallery in 2009, perhaps the ground is being prepared for a return to his early years. Not exactly a sharp deviation, anyway. His choice of genre or theme at a particular time is based on "flow of ideas," he says during a visit to the exhibition.
For Aso Igba, the great value of art in retrieving or rescuing and documenting periods is stressed. And while probing into the trajectory of some of the fabrics that have been with the people for decades, the paintings by Abbas also celebrate the wearers, particularly the common and everyday persons on the streets. In fact, between the style/technique implored by Abbas in Aso Igba and that of the famous contemporary Nigerian-American artist, Kehinde Wiley, lies the common factor of celebrating everyday people in classic portraiture.
A triptych titled Fila Odun, and a single piece Aso Odun, both depicting children in festive moods say much about the excitement of kids in new dresses, particularly on specific festive days. Each of the portraits painted against familiar patterns of damask explain the core of the artist's probity into aso (fabric).
Some of the other works on display in medium and small sizes plexiglas framed include Baba Alajo, Fulani Woman series, Iya Agba, Ore Meji and The Bourgeois series among others. For each of the works, there is something to pick, beyond savouring the touch of detailed patterns of the fabrics rendered in pastel.
Over the decades, the Yoruba people of southwestern Nigeria have adopted quite a number of foreign and overseas made fabrics to produce strictly native designs such as buba (male and female), sokoto and agbada (male), iro and ikpele (female). Among the imported fabrics that have been iconised – over the people’s indigenous aso-oke in the Yoruba fashion space for nearly a century or more - are damask, lace, guinea brocade and ankara.
As creative pieces of art on the seemingly compatible walls at Radison Blu, Aso Igba radiates quite a great aura of cultural value, even adding elegance to the creative contents. For example, The Bourgeois-I, a depiction of typical native Yoruba male outfit of three piece buba, agbada and sokoto with gobi fila (cap), which the artist rendered in triptych, animate how the guinea fabric compliments the resilient native design. More interesting, each of the three postures of the model exudes status or class statement associated with the flowing agbada.
For every painting on display, the bold patterns of damask in the background, enhances the figural images of the subjects. Clearly, the pattern is iconic in Abbas' Aso Igba; so he set out, curiously, to trace its effect on other fabrics. "I did a little research about damask and the influence the designs have on ankara and guinea." And he realises how other "fabrics derive their patterns from damask."
The influence of the guinea brocade patterns on other fabrics such as ankara seems to transcend cultural divides across the Niger, so suggest works such as Fulani Woman series. Still matted against the damask patterns, Abbas’ Northern subjects are clothed in ankara fabrics with free garment designs.
To appreciate Abbas' skill in details, works such as Iya Agba, an elderly woman; and Social Fabrics 5, two old men engaged in street musical band, all emboss wrinkles that have been carefully toned. Interestingly, the artist's choice of title such as Iya Agba brings back the memory of cultural and native value as against the current trend where nouns such as 'grandma' or 'grandpa' creeps into Yoruba language.
For a new space as Art Clip, Abbas' Aso Igba, appears like a good start, as the second of the first two exhibitions since it opened for business. The attraction for the new space is "the everyday people of our society, their ethnicity, wealth, values, interests and capacities," says curator at Art Clip, Rayo Falade. "The award-winning artist’s works continue to explore the possibilities inherent in painting, photography and printing to highlight personal stories against the background of social and political events, which engage time and memory."
A brief about the space reads: Art Clip is a contemporary space that promotes perceptive art across a variety of traditional and experimental media. Located at the Radisson Blu Anchorage Hotel, Lagos, Art Clip displays both established and up and coming talents. It aims to amplify leading new voices in contemporary art from African scenes with initial reference to social, economic, and political contexts in Lagos and Nigeria.
Abass (b.1979) studied at the Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, graduating with a distinction in Painting. The award-winning artist’s works explore the possibilities inherent in painting, photography and printing to highlight personal stories against the background of social and political events which engage time and memory.
Among his soloi art exhibitions are Man and Machine (2011) and Asiko (2013).