Saturday, 28 July 2018

Dazzling beauty in Ananaba's 'Long-Drawn Shadows' captures ugly trajectory of Nigeria

'Waiting Till Infinity-I' (acrylic on canvas, 40 x 60 inches, 2018), by Ibe Ananaba.

From Nigeria's recurring nationhood challenges, every citizen has so much to highlight. Artist, Ibe Ananaba does too, but with contrasting beauty and glamour on canvas.

Visual culture, specifically, fine art, as a medium for activism or radical narrative contents, most times, gets the message caged or lost in aesthetics. For Ananaba, an artist whose work emits enormous beauty in contemporary fashion and life styles, the task of making economic activism statement with painting on canvas without losing his signature is like bringing the beauty and the beast together for dinner.

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After being flooded daily with Nigeria's troubles via the mass media as well as through some conceptual art expressions, occasionally,
one would think visiting Ananaba's Long-Drawn Shadows at Art Twenty One, Eko Hotel and Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos, provides a relief and escape from disturbing news. Not so as works on the walls - and floor too - send the message that we are at a time no one can afford to pretend that commentary in whatever form about the state of the nation is exclusive to some 'professional activists'.

Specifically, Ananaba's Long Drawn Shadows picks the immediate ugly past of fuel scarcity across Nigeria as a pedestal on which he mounts the general retrogression of his country. But the fuel crisis appears like a central focus of his exhibition. A set of watercolour paintings in small pieces that lead one's view into the main space are like the appertizers. Next on the immediate left are line up of rubber container usually used for fuel in this apart of the world. What exactly are these yellow rubber containers, lined up underneath a set of paintings, all about? As installations, the rubber containers, known in local parlance as 'Jerry cans', serve the purpose of drawing attention or complement(?) the beautiful paintings on the walls.

ALSO READ: MUSICAL STROKES OF ANANABA IN RHYTHM WITH NSOFOR'S MEANING

Populated by youths, the canvases revisit those moments when cities across Nigeria groaned under recurring fuel scarcity. Viewing these set of paintings that are lavished with aesthetics, quite a number of things run through the mind: the country just got out of the dreaded fuel crisis few months ago, and not likely to experience it again, given the avalanche of political sabotage undertone revealed during that period

However, artists, like most Nigerians, are not too different from the country's policy makers and leaders who are reactive rather than proactive. Artists, always get stimulants for concept and contents based on bad news and tragic events rather than preempting negative things when the signs appear.

"I usually feel like the most affected person whenever the fuel crisis happens," Ananaba interrupts his visitor's thoughts. He recalls having to "shut down practically", each time of searching for fuel. This much agony of the artist is expressed in works such as 'Waiting for Infinity', 'Give Us This Day Our Daily Fuel', 'Forced Crown and
'Cabals In Everyone', among others.

From one set of painting to another, the stories replicate people, mostly youths, in distress searching for fuel.  And the artist's mastery in control of colours and hues that capture sceneries of notorious yellow dominance resonates loud enough. In fact, yellow is the star colour that leads Long Drawn Shadows of recurring agony in the tragic narrative of Nigerian nation's fuel crisis. Interestingly, the Nigerian paradox of beauty in the midst of ugliness is best captured in Ananaba's great draughtsmanship skill and resplendent of colours that diffuse the ugly narratives. In reality, the texture of visual expresions on socio-economic and political issues should not be left in the exclusive space of 'junk' objects as art. With his rendition of splendour on canvas, Ananaba challenges artists' general mentality of 'the uglier; the stronger the message' in visual activism.

Ananaba, an artist In his mid-career is not fresh to the Nigerian question of a just and fair nationhood. "This exhibition is my response to our system that never worked right from the period I was a kid".

As much as Art Twenty One is still one of the most ideal spaces - almost purpose-built for creative contents - illumination control, sometimes poses curatorial challenge.
For example, works mounted close to the windows were over lit from the natural light, thereby paralyzing the effect of the spot lighting.

Ananaba is undoubtedly one of Nigerian contemporary artists whose palettes are unambiguously figural in identity, and exceptionally skillful in draghsmanship. He takes his figures straight into your view, most times in full size. And even when the figures are in halves, his rendition creates life-size effect, sometimes with illusion of stepping out of the canvas.

More contextual are Ananaba's subjects that radiate youthful aura, particularly appropriating fashion and style in any topic. Are these contents deliberate? "I don't know if they are deliberate... but I subconsciously accumulate somethings all the time that eventually form part of me".

Indeed, traces of Ananaba's evolving style of 'razzmataz' on canvas was noticed when he showed at Rele Gallery, Onikan, last year. As that exhibition creeps into our chat, "yes", he confirms that "after my last show at Rele, I found myself in mental state of fashion". He must have thought of expanding it so soon. "But here, I bring it to the socio-cultural issue we face regularly in Nigeria".

Yes, the themes reflect the artist's traumatic experience of a Nigerian born and grew up at the wrong period of the country's history. Such works include 'Faded Memory', set of monochrome figural paintings about reminiscence; series of nudes in both monochrome and colour titled 'These Houses Are Not For Sales',  about child trafficking and prostitution; and a kind of respite titled  'Strength From Within' in drawings on paper.
A set of paintings with installation at Long-Drawn Shadows

Excerpts from Artist's bio:
Born in Belgium in 1976, Ananaba was raised in Aba – a commercial city in eastern part of Nigeria.
Ananaba studied Fine and Applied Arts at the Institute of Management and Technology, Enugu, Nigeria where he majored in Painting and graduated with Distinction in 1999.

He worked Nigeria's advertising induatry for 15 years while a studio artist till 2017 when he turned fulltime. He also works as Chief Art Consultant / Coordinator Studio programs for GirlChild Art Foundation – a non-governmental organization.

Ananaba is listed in the Smithsonian Institution Libraries Collections. He has exhibited in Nigeria, South Africa, Israel, United States and London. He has his major public collections at the National Assembly, Abuja, Nigeria. In 2016, he collaborated with the Canadian High Commission, Abuja, Nigeria on the African Child Advocacy Campaign. Asides a couple of publications about him, he is among the artists published in Fashion Ilustration Africa – A New Genwration (Shoko Press. -2016) and Artiaats of Nigeria (5 Continents Editions. – 2012) to mention a few.
-Tajudeen Sowole.



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