By Tajudeen Sowole
IN highlighting art's potency as a pivotal importance of human development, Duke Asidere excavates basics of painting and drawing, perhaps, more extensively, than he has not done in a single exhibition. He also uses the opportunity of his expansive expression to, again, spotlight a decayed socio-political terrain of Nigeria.
Coming about two months after his solo, Mood Colour Harmony, shown in Paris, France, Mental Space stresses how Asidere, in recent times has been exposing certain level of prolificity. And to keep releasing some of his ebullient themes, a wider window comes in Mental Space, as the exhibits are divided into series. Such series include Faces, portraits in diversity of expressions; Signature Forms, set of paintings, mostly from his seated figure themes; Sketches, drawings on papers of mostly ladies figures, that stress the artist's spontaneity character; and Power, his visual narratives of Nigeria's erratic electricity supply.
Two headless figures matted on brownish newsprint, with a full figure in the background titled Preservation describes the artist's preference for traditional way of reading newspapers, even in the growing age of digital medium. And whenever he chose digital or electronics generally, "distortions" he notes always took over the airwaves. Representing his thoughts on how radio, TV and social media airwaves have damaged people's sense of value and facts is a lone figure, Distortion Facts and Historical Lies. For examples, common expressions such as 'Muslim north', 'Lagos press', in Asidere's views are "distortions" that distract Nigerians from the real issues of under development. "These are not the real issues," he tells select guests during preview.
Still on distortion, his immediate environment, Lagos, currently, he argues, has not added to the sanity that existed in the state few years ago. But Lagos, under the current administration 'is working' at least from media perspective. "Lagos is back to the days of risk," Asidere insists. "Okadas are back everywhere in the state from IDPs in the north, and traffic lawlessness on the increase, particularly in breaking of lights."
Another piece, Living In the Past extends the issue of distortion by exposing how previous prejudices of story tellers had damaged young generations' perception of people that are not of the same faiths or ethnic groups.
An advocate of relevant art, Asidere maintains his position that "it's not enough for us to sell art, but we must use art to engage issues." As much as people's right diversity of political views cannot be denied in a complex setting such as Nigeria's, the posture of some individuals - artists inclusive - appear to have sympathy for those who want Nigeria to remain chained in the past.
"Worrisome," he agrees. "These artists have the right to their views. But sometimes, I ask them: why do you think like this in 21 st century?" He argues that a collective efforts is needed to ensure peaceful environment for progress, warning that "we must deal with criminals, and not throw money at militants."
Based in Egbeda, a suburb of metropolitan Lagos, Asidere keeps dragging his neighborhood, particularly Orelope Street, into his art. Several outdoor workshops organised by his Play Spot Studio in recent years had engaged the neighbourhood. For Mental Space, the attraction are women traders who operate shops along the street.
Having tracked the consistency of the women over the decades, Asidere brings Orelope into his current exhibition to spotlight how women are supporting families' earnings across Nigeria.
Curated by Sandra Mbanefo Obiago, sponsored by the Wheatbaker and Louis Guntrum Wines, Mental Space, according to the curator "explores the human form through detailed drawings which touch on universal themes of love and greed, war and peace, trade and silent meditation, play and serious discourse."
Obiago notes that Asidere's drawings "challenge us to reflect on a constantly changing political context, in which he highlights the crazy and controversial excesses in our lives with bold, often humorous poignancy.”
Between Asidere, Obiago and Wheatbaker, there is a camaraderie that works. Asidere's work was among the first set of pieces that opened what has become a new face in hospitality when the hotel started business in 2011.