At 50, Asidere says ‘artists are too laid back here’
By Tajudeen Sowole
Duke Emuyenwomano Asidere is noted for his bold and assertive approach to life. He doesn’t hide his feelings, when norms and principles that guarantee flourishing artistic enterprise are violated. So, his 50th birthday on October 7, was an opportunity to reinforce his angst about happenstances in the creative industry and why he would not keep silent, even as he crosses the middle age. Trained at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria from 1985 to 1990, he graduated with B.A. (Fine Arts) First Class Honours in Painting. He also obtained MFA in Painting from the same school. Asidere has been a full time studio artist after he angrily quit his job as a lecturer at the Auchi Polytechnic, Edo State in 1995.
How do you feel at 50?
I DON’T know… (laughter)… I don’t feel old. I have been a bit more matured in the last four years?
At 50, the artistic vision becomes more clearer, you want to assess your performance: what have I done that I could have done better? I am more open to learning now. Above all, at 50, I think you are closer to the grave than at 20 or 30.
You have always insisted that being spontaneous is your strength in creating art, with your coming of age do you think this will change
Spontaneity has to do with some wave in one’s brain. If you remove spontaneity from art, you have killed creativity. Everything should not be so tailored. Spontaneity is still the core part of my art.
How does this apply to your personal life?
If you gave me my life 50 years back, I would never be involved in marriage. I am saying this because I think women don’t fall in love, they fall in place. Although, I have had many highest points in life, I think the lowest point in a man’s life is when your wife says you are not good enough as a husband. At that level, it took me three years to get my life back on track. I thank God I met someone like Dr Odumosu who talked me back into my life. In fact, it took the mercy of God to get me back. It’s not an experience I want to remember.
The outdoor painting workshop you have been running with your colleagues, is coming at the same period of your 50th birthday. Is this a coincidence?
I have always been an outdoor artist. When you paint outdoor, you bring the people around into art. In my area, people know me because I paint outdoor a lot. Suddenly, I said to myself: ‘call a few people who share this passion with you.’ And I got encouraged when I spoke with Uche James Iroha, who said ‘we can do it.’ So, I started calling artists. By 7 a.m. on that day (Wednesday, August 24, 2011) artists started coming. Two hours after, the street was filled up with artists. The outdoor painting workshop was not a new idea. When we were in Auchi Polytechnic, Edo State, Sam Ovraiti and I were not just lecturers, but makers of art. Every weekend, on our way to Lagos, Pita Ohiwerei would join us and we always stopped on the road with our easels to paint. It has always been in the plan. It is coincidental that it is happening now.
|Duke Asidere painting outdoor on Orelope Street, Egbeda, Lagos|
Orelope Street, Egbeda seemed to have benefited from this project, isn’t it?
I have lived on Orelope Street for 16 years, and had wanted to move before my 50th birthday. I am no longer in a hurry to leave. Maybe, I will move in two years time. I am a trader’s child and very conscious of economics of every decision I take. So, I asked myself: why do I need to move from Egbeda to go and pay N2m somewhere for rent? I realised that with technology, IT particularly, I don’t really need to go out much. Internet makes it easy such that there is so much you can achieve without really leaving your space.
Yes, Orelope has benefited from the outdoor painting project because the street is very important to me. For example, I did not have a child, six years into my marriage. I saw the resultant mockery before I got my three children, on the same street. It was first, two boys, and the third a girl. On that street, also, I learnt a lot, even as little as learning from my two years old boy, who ‘taught’ me how to pronounce banana, better. On this street, I had hosted people from different parts of the world, including two U.S. ambassadors. Orelope is my own little village.
I used to live two houses away before I moved in 1999. Maybe it makes a lot more sense to go and live in Lekki, but I would not steal money to do that. After eight to nine years, I needed a bigger space, so I moved to my current apartment. One of the most important and unforgettable period of my life also happened on this street. My boy was delivered in Kaduna, and brought to Lagos after three months. On the 16th day of his arrival in Lagos, precisely August 1, 1999, there was a strange inferno in my apartment. It was a miracle that we survived. The boy was to be consumed by the fire, but I told God, few seconds before I took the risk to rescue him: ‘if my boy die in this fire, you are a wicked God.’ Truly, He was (and is) not a wicked God, I went in there and I brought out the boy. We came out of it, stronger. Whenever I look at the boy, I always feel nothing can take him away from me.
Beyond 50, what’s your plan?
I am always worried that artists are laid back on issues concerning Nigeria. I wish I could change that from now on. I think artists should get more involved. It should not be that whenever there is an issue on state of the nation, the press asks only Prof. Wole Soyinka. Nobody is asking visual artists such as designers, ceramists, photographers e t c. In fact, the average Nigerian artist is so laid back, yet issues of the economy also affect the artists. If Nigeria fails tomorrow and there is violence or war, and you are running around, you can’t draw or paint. For Nigeria to work, the people at the helms of affairs should take the country seriously; era of looting the treasury should be over. And the best way to stop looting is for the man at the top to be clean. And for this to happen, everybody must talk, including artists.
It appears that visual artists are not making input in the ongoing debate about rationalisation of government parastatals and agencies. Is it part of the lay back attitude?
You know that in Nigeria, it is usually a square peg in a round hole. The parastatal-merging issue does not interest me because at the end of the day, the wrong people are given the resources of the parastatals to manage on behalf of the artists. There are three levels of artists: artists-politicians, who use tooth and nail to get anything from the government; those who do not benefit from government and know they are not part of the system; those who are in the middle, neither here nor there.
Government should not spend our resources on some parastatals. It is better to use the money to do the Benin-Ore Road, so that we can drive safely to our homes.
I heard that government is also planning to embark on another I.D. card project. Is I.D. card our problem in Nigeria? It is not. Our borders are opened to criminals, either in the south or north. People who run Nigeria are incompetent; if you are not competent in managing resources, it is likely you are corrupt. They should allow entrepreneurs to run Nigeria. For example, a man who started his business with one panel van or tipper and multiplied such is a better manager of resources, not people who rose to prominence or acquire wealth through government.
If Soyinka used the creative industry to gain respect and make impact across the world beyond his literary discipline, why is your generation of artists so laid back?
The problem with artists not being as courageous as Soyinka is the maje ko baje (don’t rock the boat) attitude among us. Artists fear that ki won ma pa mi (I don’t want to be assassinated).
Ironically, we have been led by government that believes in violence as a weapon of oppression. And now that government is confronted with violence, it wants dialogue. I dare say that any government that rewards criminal will have recurring issues.
On artists, I always asked; why are the press people not asking Bruce Onobrakpeya, Yusuf Grillo and other top names in art about the state of the nation? I still don’t know the answer. But I won’t be silent, in my generation, when others are making input into areas that affect my country. I think if you are passionate about issues, people would ask or look towards you for opinion. So, our era must change.
Soyinka has done extremely well because he is passionate about Nigeria than those who think it’s enough to make money from art.
You have the experience of both crucial aspects of art: taught art in the higher institution for five year and now a full time studio artist. What is your view on observation that the disconnection between art academics and studio is widening, hence the inability of young artists to survive after school?
The art schools are doing their best. However, it does not mean that what they are doing is the best. For example, some art teachers have not painted for a long time, yet they teach art. I don’t care which art schools trained such teachers, my take is that they have simply lost touch. A lot of lecturers are in the school for the money – because the salary is good – no commitment. The truth is that the art school can’t make you a good artist, the same as a bible college cannot make you a good pastor. Among the best clerics in this country are those that never went to any theological school. The artistic thing is a calling. The school teaches formal rules and guidelines. When we were in school, we had a lecturer like Gani Odutokun, who was one of the best painters in the country, the same for Kolade Oshinowo and Grillo in Yaba College of Technology. And let me shock you. Most of the art teachers of today were not the best in their school days. The ones who left school after us (from the 1990s) were not the best. Rather, they were the people who had time to do Master’s and Ph.D…
(Cuts in) The art teacher is in the academic environment, and has to adhere to the National University Commission’s (NUC) directive to get Ph.D.
That’s one of the problems of Nigeria. The NUC probably don’t know enough. The NUC is just like the other sectors of the country, which are run by people who think they know it all. If you check the formal art schools in Europe, the teachers who teach art are successful artists. Such teachers are very few here. One of them is Olu Amoda, who I see as one of the most active art teachers and probably the most hardworking artist in Lagos, currently. If you doubt me, go to his studio and see what he is doing.
And for those of us who are outside the academic environment, we are not doing enough to help young artists. We must train young artists without any fee attached. Society of Nigerian artists (SNA) and Guild of Professional Fine of Artists of Nigeria (GFA) should be part of this training, particularly in the areas of providing materials such as easels, paints e t c.
The lecturers, unfortunately, think we (studio artists) are their rivals. No, we complement each other. It is embarrassing, for example that undergraduate students don’t know the basics of painting.
Not knowing or still learning is what makes the student, isn’t it?
Maybe, but the teaching… When we were in school, art teachers such as Odutokun, Tonie Okpe, Tony Sharp, Ajayi Murphy and others were continuously working, painting, sculpturing. But today, some art teachers take advantage of students. For example, Ronaldo is one of the best footballers, but he trains and still plays 90 minutes.
And not the teachers alone, there are some full time studio artists who are making millions today, not because they are good artists. But when we put them where they belong, maybe in another few years, they wont make a kobo.
Is success in art not always about the work, but how connected the artist is?
The idea of who you know is only in Nigeria. Art is art anywhere in the world. A Chinese who does not speak English could like your work and buy it without reading or hearing any explanation on the work. That’s why great artists sell across the world, Fela, Bob Marley, even visual artists. As an artist, you have to keep practising. Sometimes, I drive from Egbeda, just to go and see Abiodun Olaku, Olu Ajayi, Edosa Ogiugo paint in their studio. Any artist who thinks he knows it all hasn’t started.