By Tajudeen Sowole
As conflict between societal demands is contentious against individuals' right to independent expression, there seems to be systemic submerge, which makes people feel like aliens within their cultural space, so suggests monochrome, but painterly ink works of Austin Uzor.
On display in a conventional white wall space, till July 30, 2016, at Rele Gallery, Onikan, Ikoyi, Lagos, Uzor's work, aside the thematic context, challenges the widely accepted aesthetics and curatorial regiment of white or bright walls used by most galleries. Against the white walls, the artist's styles and techniques in ink wriggle through the combined intensity of the spotlights and emission of the walls.
Mostly in ladies portraits, depicting fashion and beauty, the unidentified figures expose how individual, either slips into the hole of societal confinement or get caged in self-expression while trying to escape from communal regimentation. And quite of interest, Uzor attempts some surreal, perhaps to expand the argument about norms and the other side of it.
With portraits such as Pool Of Thoughts, Adorable Allergies, War Head, Dusty Clouds, Whispers Of Destruction, Anticipants and Untitled, Uzor places emphasis on the head as the central point from which the energy that initiates any change is generated. Yes, the portraits could pass as illustrations for beauty products or services, but the intellectual depth in articulating the argument about individual versus societal norms is also loud in the ebullient of the images.
Further taking the subject into the realm of metaphysics are few of the works in surreal-like such as Patches Of Light, Food Is Ready, Mud Fences and Ashes and Rain.
Uzor notes that everyone, biologically, was "born free until society created a system and made us live strictly by its standards." And when he argues that for survival sake "we traded our values and in so doing have allowed shackles built by society on our wrists," one wonders what values an individual has pre-birth. Values - religious, cultural or professional - are naturally integral parts of man's extension as members of the society.
The catalogue of Visitors, interestingly, carries endorsement of Legacy Empire Management (LEM) a new art promotion group. Recall that LEM, made its debut in art exhibition with Olawunmi Banjo's solo Mind Revolution at Nike Gallery, Lekki in 2014.
For Uzor, Visitors appears like a good start in deep thematic context for an artist coming freshly into the Lagos art space. Excerpts from his artist statement: "In this transformation we find ourselves walking around in pain and intermittently in unprecedented joy and controlled laughter as Fela aptly called it, ‘suffering and smiling.’
He insists that the norms keep getting stronger because society provides the umbrella for ailing conscience. “Our minds are therefore bound by beliefs which are formed of dust and so our true nature is forgotten as we have transcendentally become visitors in our own land.
“Our true selves are non- existent and our conscience wanders away and fades off at the dawn of realities like the morning mist that just got ambushed by the rising sun. Society is the new landlord and we are only but loyal tenants at his mercy. This analysis has taken a visual and illustrative dimension as every aspect of our everyday lives has been narrowed down to figurative expressions with Ballpoint pen drawings body of work by me."