Thursday 15 September 2011

Mike Irrifere

Uncelebrating Irrifere in Lagos
By Tajudeen Sowole
(First published in Dec 2006)

Over a decade after his last exhibition in Lagos, veteran artist, Mike Irrifere recentlty returned to the state for a solo show.
  If he thought the terrain that used to hold him in high esteem was waiting to role out the drums on his return, Irrifere, one of the most widely exhibited artists of the 1980s and early 1990s was, unknowingly, waiting for a shocker.
  At the Harmattan Workshop Gallery, Victoria Island, Lagos, venue of the show entitled Celebration, the opening day was unusually quiet for an event of this kind, right from the 5pm scheduled time of the ceremony to the time night gradually set in.
Save for the presence of  the president of Society of Nigerian Artists, (SNA), Kolade Oshinowo, no other guests was visible at the event. Shocked beyond words, Irrifere waited, but no response, despite the large numbers of invites and letters that were said to have been sent out to art collectors, art enthusiasts and artists alike for the events.
  This is certainly how not to celebrate artist of Irrifere status. It was meant to be a day of Celebration with colleagues and well wishers, but the artist was left in the cold on Saturday December, 9 2006  with his 25 paintings.
  Without labour, and perhaps adventure, one cannot rejoice, Irrifere says of the idea behind the theme of the show. Celebration, he states is the flavour of hard work. Speaking further, the artist who is the Head, Department of Fine and Applied Arts, Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo State, adds that as an adventure he owes humanity a duty. This much reflected in some of the works presented at the exhibition. Arrival of the Hero, oil on canvas, may have its aesthetic imperfection, but the piece on the coming of president Olusegun Obasanjo  on to the mantle of leadership as he rides on horse to the admiration of the people reminds one of the role of time in the life of a nation. The work, which according to the artist, was painted in 2000 seemed like a paradox as such enthusiasm displayed by Nigerians then has over the years turned to disappointment.
  However, the position of the artist seemed to suggest that he has a soft spot for the leadership of Obasanjo. Irrifere in his reaction was unapologetic about his belief in the economic reforms projects of the present administration. "The man (Obasanjo) is sent by God to stabilise the country. I think he is trying his best," Irrifere argues, adding that the president has given Nigeria a sense of direction, therefore "we should be celebrating" rather than be angry with the administration . And to depict what format the celebtation takes, another piece, Arise  O Compatriot has the artist explains that it is time to rejoice in the Lord because "for once we can boast of our country  Nigeria – the Giant of Affrica"   
  Other works within the context of leadership and development presented at the show were Happy Days, Solidarity, 1999, Pragmatic Leadership and Development and Man’s Receptivity to Change.
  On the social front, Life, E Bere Mole K’ emu Nomba, (Time to Dance), Hunters and their Game, A Beggar’s `PleaPatience, Wisdom, Understanding the Maiden and Brotherhood to mention a few are of the artist’s perspective of his environment.
Not completely shut out of the gallery during his long stay away from Lagos, the artist says he has had four shows outside Lagos even though all the events were held at Adeyemi College of Educaion.  Rhythms, Celebration and Mustard Seed, he discloses were the titles of the exhibitions held between 1994 and 2006.
For an artist who is credited as one of the frontliners in art exhibitions during the 1980s to early 1990s, spannning 15 solo and nine group shows home and abroad, why was he suddenly shut out of the scene, particularly in Lagos? Commitments within the academic, he says, gave little or no space for exhibition. "The challenge in the academics environment was such that the thought of an exhibition outside the school hardly exists. And when one have such plans, like this, the execution becomes another hurdle," he laments.
  Irrifere, 59, had his last exhibition in Lagos, a group show, Homage, Art Grads-UNN which was held at the Italian Cultural Institute, Lagos in 1991.

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