Saturday 20 August 2011


Another Leap for Onaists
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FROM a common background of onaism, an art movement, traced to the Ife axis of Nigeria’s art school tradition, Tola Wewe and Moyo Okediji, took a leap from painting to moulding.Expressing the shift, the twosome revisited last year’s kidnap of Wewe’s mother, which informed the title of the joint show The Return of Our Mother held at the Civic Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos, and organised by the African Artists’ Foundation (AAF).
Wewe is currently the Ondo State Commissioner of Culture and Tourism while Okediji is, a US-based artist.
Though in terracotta, some of the works are not exactly sculptural as they were rendered on flat surface with elements of design to retain the characteristics of onaism.  Wewe’s My Little World, a seven piece fragmented work of designs and motifs bring a dimensional view different from his well-known feast of colours on canvas. His concept of ‘little world’, as the images show, include among others, the setting of the sun, wild life, man and his habitation.
And just to remind visitors of his native figural expressions on canvas, the piece Return of Our Mother depicts images of family reunion.
For Okediji, known for his bold and stylised images in themes such as Egungun and other cultural contents, his rendition with clay on flat surface, though sometimes in abstractive forms,, retains that identity.
From one extreme to another, the artists express so much in the clay and other mixed media in Return of Our Mother. However, part of the communication rests on the notes of the curator, Janine Sytsma, a PhD Art History candidate of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and Fulbright-Hays DDRA Fellow.
Bringing two artists of common background to a show that almost entangle them like Siamese twins, and yet, radiates individuality in content must have been tasking.  It’s a familiar form and technique, Sytsma says. In fact, her interest in the show, she explains, came because of the link of onaism with her doctoral research in the country.

SYTSMA notes that Wewe and Okediji had been working together on this show since 2010, experimenting with terracotta shards and other media. The result of the two years effort was the 35 works displayed at the show.
“I’ve known Okediji since 2003 when I joined the faculty at the University of Colorado at Denver (where he was Associate Professor of African Art History), and I’ve been working closely with Wewe since meeting him in Nigeria in 2009.”
The theme of the show, indeed, appears to be less emphasised in the works, isn’t it? The depictions, she says, reminds one that the woman or mother maintains social harmony and continues the preservation of the home. This, she stresses, was in appropriating diverse motifs to signal the possibility of the renewal.
Also, part of the highlights touched on the effects of the climate, as seen in some of the clay works. Perhaps, the artists are suggesting a better environmental management for the country.
Sytsma traces the closeness of the two artists to over two decades of relationship. “Okediji and Wewe met in the 1980s at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), Ile-Ife, Osun State before Okediji left for the US, where he is an Associate Professor of African Art History at the University of Texas, Austin.

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