Sunday, 7 October 2018

At 58th independence, post-colonial Nigerian art tests strength with 'The Contemporaries II'




'Disillusioned Edition-2 of 4 by Kenny Adewuyi (bronze, 15 x 21 x 35 cm, 2011).
In the mood of Nigeria's 58th independence anniversary, the art integrity of the country is being viewed through the works of three artists. Significantly, in Lagos, the city of Nigeria's independence in 1960, the artists' works also represent current dynamics of the country's post-colonial visual arts expression.

Currently showing as Contemporaries II at Wheatbaker Hotel, Ikoyi Lagos, it features works by Kainebi Osahenye, Kenny Adewuyi and Kelani Abass. In 2015, the organisers, SMO Contemporary had the first edition at the same space and with 11 artists.

Just like the modern art, avant garde as well as nearly all the art movements that generated issues in the west,  contemporary context, even within the Nigerian space keep breeding emotive contents. Whatever the issues are, it's very obvious that 'contemporary' has become the new face in Nigerian artistic expressions. Apart from SMO's The Contemporaries editions, there exists Young Contemporaries series by another space, Rele Gallery, in the same Lagos. In fact, the city also has it's own Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA), Lagos, which is over 10 years old as a space for convergence of radical interpretation of visual culture. 

In content, Osahenye, Adewuyi and Abass are no doubt artists whose works radiate contemporary aura. As painters, Osahenye and Abass, in recent years, have changed the textures of their canvas so drastic away from the traditional forms and context. For Adewuyi, his rendition of sculpture gives a broader meaning to form and perspective, even though his style has a faint Giacometti's.


In The Contemporaries II gathering, oil spray paintings and charcoal titled 'Some Have Eyes But Cannot See' and 'Round and Round We Go' expose the new aggressive visual expression of Osahenye. For example,  in 'Some Have Eyes...', the artist implores five human imageries masked in spray technique over ochres of rthymic shades, to generate an analogy of sight. The relativity of sight, in each of the figures, is profound. The artist's thought centres around the Nigerian question of still waiting for the desired change in governance.

 
'Some Have Eyes But Cannot See' by Kainebi Osahenye, (oil spray paint charcoal & pastel, 72 x 120 in 2016).
Adewuyi, a sculptor whose mouling embosses  distorted imagination into reality, in this exhibition, lifts sculpture beyond three dimensionality.  For example, in 'Distinguished Edition 2', Adewuyi deconstructs the rule of perspective with a dramatic expression. For another  piece titled 'Dignity of Labour', bronze as a medium complements strength as the artist, again, shows that breaking the basic rules in depth and perspective goes beyond generating stylised figuative sculpture.


Arguably, Abass, is one of Nigeria's young artists whose canvas in a short while, has been transformed very drastically. From being a realism painter, Abass has unearthed his family trajectory in printing technology and built same into his art. Put of that narrative, the artist generated Man and Machine in 2011 when he had his solo exhibition of the same theme at Omenka Gallery, Ikoyi. The artist's 'Man and Machine' theme, basically collages technologies, mostly from modern era with contemporary imageries. Among such works in this current exhibition is 'Chronological Remuneration IX, (acrylic, oil magazine, cutout, corrugated card and twine on canvas diptych, 122x184cm).


Also, at The Contemporaries II, Abass appropriates the controversial reiteration by Barack Obama about 'African-Americans' role in building of the White House. The painting titled 'Man and Machine: Wanted', the artist explains, "is inspired by Obama's comment on blacks buiding the White House". More conceptual are set of miniaturized assemblage about native Yoruba belief in prosperity and success as he appropriates such as 'Ajidewe' (replenish) and 'Aje' (success).

 
‘Man and Machine Chronological (Remuneration IX)’, by Kelani Abass (acrylic, oil, magazine cut out, corrugated card and twine on canvas, diptych 122x184cm, 2018).
Simultaneously opened at 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair in London and at the Wheatbaker, Lagos, the exhibition asserts the expanding strength of Nigerian artists beyond the home base. "The Contemporaries II exhibition presents strong visual narratives and powerful figurative abstractions, which explore historic socio-political narratives, the dignity of labour, technology, and the environment vis-vis unbridled consumerism" says, SMO, in its curatorial statement. "The exhibition  marks the nations’ 58th  independence day, presenting three artists who have contributed significantly to the vibrancy of Nigeria’s contemporary art scene". 


Supported by the Wheatbaker and Louis Guntrum Wines, the exhibition also marks the space's seventh anniversary as a boutique hotel. “As we celebrate Nigerian independence day and the Wheatbaker’s seventh anniversary, this important exhibition reaffirms our commitment to celebrate the very best of African creativity, ” says Mosun Ogunbanjo, Director of the Wheabaker.  “The second edition of the Contemporaries continues the impressive standard set by the first quarterly exhibition we hosted in 2011, providing a regular platform for celebrating our exceptional local and international talent”, the curator, Sandra Mbanefo Obiago enthuses over showcasing the artists simultaneously in Lagos, and at London.

 The curator and founder of SMO argues that “Art is an important avenue for addressing global issues, and we depend on our artists to be good global ambassadors for Africa.”

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