Thursday 29 September 2011


Trip around our heritage
(First published Aug 19-25 2007)
Eyo by Nobert Okpu (2006)
 MAN often takes cue from his environment to replicate nature. Such is the tale of the musical instrument, Ojah,  believed to be indigenous to the Igbo people of South East of Nigeria, which comes with gender colouration.
  This instrument was recently brought alive on canvas at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos, during the just held art exhibition of painter, Nobert Okpu.
  The show, which had about 24 other works of Okpu, offered the rhythm of cultural renaissance inside the exhibition hall of Terra Kulture.
  This piece of same title, from the artist’s canvas account, has male figures larger in size than the female.
  Said to serve different purpose as the mood of the people dictates, the flute, interestingly, in Okpu’s movement of lines, create what appears like a whirl wind from top down and in perspective, adds a note to the imagined rhythm of the flutes.
  These couple of flutes may not be the only native musical instrument known with a gender identity, but what is perhaps unique about Ojah, according to sources, is that the male, when used, represents danger or disaster while the female is for ceremonial and other joyful occasions.
 AN abstract expressionist, Okpu, in this debut solo show titled, Our Heritage, journeys down the coast in another culture traced to the South West, Lagos, specifically. The popular festival of Eyo comes into the view of the artist in the piece he called Opambata,  the staff of the Eyo masquerade, usually of wood and taken around, for rituals, during the festival.
  The aerial view of the festival, though deceptive, however, reflects the red hat and white garment of the Eyo, making up for whatever distraction that may have arisen from that initial glance.
  Impressive is Okpu’s ability to balance colours: the inviting and subtle cream background, which enhances the well decorated Opambata paraphernalia is a good pointer to his aesthetic dexterity.      Next was the trip to the Northern part of the country. Another mixed media of oil and leaves on canvas he titled Our Passion, which captures life of the nomadic Fulani. These itinerant legends of the northern landscape win the heart of Okpu as he captures some cattle and the herdsmen in action. The people, Okpu notes, are very passionate about the profession that has been handed over from one generation to another over the ages.
  A visit to the Niger Delta, as presented in some other works, advocates that cultural emancipation will remain a mirage if political and economic injustice are not addressed. One of such works, Dance of Freedom, presented in mixed media of leaves and oil on canvas, has Okpu’s lines depicting women in dancing positions. These women, the artist says, represent the mood in the troubled Niger Delta. 

  But dancing looks like an expression on the paradox side of this context, isn’t it?
  The mood as captured here, Okpu explains, was the result of his research into the inner minds of the people. The Niger Delta people are peace loving. This work explains the high hope the people have in regaining the lost freedom, hence the dance, he says.
  The often perceived injustice in this region is also highlighted in another work that brought forth the ecological damage in the area. Two different era of the region are well depicted here, as leaves painted in processed green and others in brown remind a viewer of the despoliation of the ecology of the Niger Delta.
  OKPU, a Lagos based artist, had his last group exhibition, Changing Life in 2006 at the Didi Museum, Victoria Lagos.

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