Berth of a trilogy…lensing a lost 'paradise'
By Tajudeen Sowole
(First published April 8, 2008)
AS the Niger Delta is revisited in the last of the three solo art exhibitions debut project of new entrant, Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA), Lagos, content and contextual art is being redefined just as there are challenges ahead for the centre.
Currently on at the centre, Paradise Lost: Revisiting the Niger Delta, a photographic exhibition by George Osodi and the last of the trilogy, had visitors to the event engaged the artist during the Art-Talk sub-event on Saturday, April 5, 2008, one week after the opening.
|Mobil Oil Plant, Bonny, Niger Delta, nigeria|
The maiden project, Democrazy, 3 Solo Exhibitions and A Publication took off last December with the first of the three events, Fela, Ghariokwu Lemi and The Art of the Album Cover. The project which the director of CCA and curator, Bisi Silva described as "provocative art documentary", continued with abstract painter, Ndidi Dike's Waka Into Bondage, The Last 1/4 Mile. As observes await the berth of the trilogy in a couple of weeks and expect the Publication, the challenges of the centre, Silva disclosed is partly that of generating more support to sustain other projects ahead.
As the two earlier shows lasted five weeks each, Lost Paradise: Revisiting the Niger Delta, which opened on Saturday March 29, 2008 is scheduled to run through May, 2008.
As volatile as the Niger Delta is today, the region, according to Silva, could have been one of the most attractive tour destinations in the world. This lost prospects and current struggle to regain are what the exhibition attempt to encapsulate, she explained.
For the photo artist, Osodi, his working experience in the creek could be likened to a man who found himself in the den of the lions, dinned with his hosts and escaped, unhurt. The works, he said, are one of the most challenging captures in his ten years career as a documentary photo artist.
Out of over 300 pictures from the Niger Delta, taken by Osodi, about 40, which made the exhibition, in the opinion of the organisers, would communicate better if grouped in to sub themes. These groupings: Landscapes, Militancy, Flaring, Bunkering and Portraits, represent the shades of interests in the conflict ridden region.
Devastation to the environment caused by oil explorations as captured in different locations by the artist was part of the Landscape section of the show. Among this environmental degradation, however, Osodi's lens was able to get a very attractive aquatic scene. In fact, the water and vegetation of this work are at odd with the rest of the exhibits.
In emphasising what it means to be in the struggle or be confronted with the militants, just three close shots of masked gun men in their fierce mood with heavy arms was all one needed to know how man's injustice to man could be so devastating.
The Flaring section of the show presented shots that looked like stills from Hollywood sci-fi movie scenes. The pictures, Osodi said , were taken at the gas flaring scenes and could have passed for shots from some other planets. The radioactive effects of the flaring, clearly shown in the yellowish dominance of the environment, speak volume of what the inhabitants go through, daily.
Bunkering, by whatever definition and under any disguise, remains a crime before the law. But here, the people of the Niger Delta, though at the peasant level, as captured in these works, are not different from the criminals of Niger Delta, are they?
These set of illicit petroleum dealers, Osodi argued, are "insignificant because their strength do not go beyond the use of jerrycans, compared to the big time bunkerers who are making the mega bucks".
In the agony of the people, traces of cultural vibrancy however made part of the exhibits in the Portraits section of the show. From youth activities to squalour and solace in cultural events, to the aged, one saw a people who live in despair and has no idea of an end to their agony.
Earlier at the opening of the show, Osodi explained: "I wanted to show the duality of life in the Delta regions; the beauty of ugliness, children playing football in a green field with gas flaring high in the background and women in traditional attire waving their symbolic white handkerchief as they danced. I wanted to put a human face on this paradise lost."
Art from the context of documentation as content programming of Silva's CCA suggest is more challenging than the regular exhibitions at art galleries. Such centres, in other parts of the world, are mostly run by communal or government-funded groups because of the non-for profit characteristics.
Between the take off and now, the consistence that such an initiative needed, so far has been demonstrated.
The topical themes of the three solos, though represent a great depth in the curatorial ability of the centre, but the support of the public to gain sustainability is the crust of such mission. So far, the response in terms of attendance has been very encouraging through out the opening of each of the exhibitions.
But for Silva, it is too early for assessments.
"I think it will be inappropriate for me at this early stage to evaluate my performance or that of our exhibitions."
During the Art-Talk of the first exhibition, Ghariokwu argued that art, both from the music perspective of Fela and his (the artist's) album designs, have a role to play in shaping today's democracy.
And when Ghariokwu thought that radical approach to illustrative album cover took a low with the demise of Fela, some of the next generation musicians were ready to pick up from where the Afrobeat legend left. From that breed of this radicalism, one of the exhibits at Ghariokwu's show is an album designed for hip-hop artiste, Eedris Abdulkareem – a popular critic of the poor result of democracy in Nigeria. The album cover of the musician's hit work titled Nigeria Jagajaga, a rendition of photo and painting, which was done by Ghariokwu was also on exhibit.
Sandwiched by the first and the last, Dike's Waka-Into-Bondage: The Last 3/4 Mile, turned out to be a very rare show in recent time as sculptures, photographs and installations took visitors at the centre back sixteen centuries ago. This exhibition went in to records as the only statement from this part of the world on the bicentenary of slave trade being marked in the U.K. and the Caribbean.
What statement really has the CCA Lagos and Dike got to make? The crust of this, still under the centre's democracy budget, Silva said, is that contemporary leadership under the disguise of democracy is in the same family with the obnoxious slave trade that was abolished 200 years ago.
In sculptural work like No Easy Walk to Freedom, the thoughts of Dike could be felt as the artist implored the mixed media advantage to say volumes in just a single work. Objects like rope, ifa divination board, police batons, copper nails, appropriated and reconfigured harbour pallets, manilla cowries and wire mesh, all depict this treacherous journey of which spirituality of the native kind and some other powers could not find answer to rescue the people from the jaws of horrors.
For Dike, it makes no difference if for example, African leaders continue to, illegitimately, move huge resources meant for the development of the continent to Europe and the U.S. "What is the difference between slave trade, then and now? I don't see any difference. Once again, African rulers voluntarily exchange the rights of their people for dollars and pounds sterling. In Nigeria, governors are taking our resources to purchase houses abroad, for themselves and their families, under the pretext of democracy," the artist said.
If people are sympathetic to the Jews as a result of the holocaust, Silva, the curator of the exhibition argued that Africa's loss in the advent of the slave trade deserves as much or more compared to that of any race. "The loss of 21 million Africans, either captured, enslaved, killed or died are more than the holocaust." She agreed with Dike that democracy is not solving the problem currently confronting the country.
|Nigerian photographer, George Osodi|
"Democracy is about freedom, but we are not getting the freedom, even as we sit here today. We started this project with Fela as a subject of recent past, and now slavery within the context of today and centuries gone past," Silva stressed the focus of the project.
Three different situations, Dike had explained, influenced the choice of her project. For Waka-into Bondage; the thoughts were fired by her visit to Badagry in 2002 and 2007, she recalled. Another motivating factor, she continued, was her tutelage at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka under professors Uche Okeke, Chike Aniakor and Obiora Udechukwu. Also, she added that her growing up in the U.K., surprisingly, aided her interest in African heritage.
With adequate support for documentary of this nature, the art stands a stronger chance to shape the future.
For Osodi, Paradise Lost is a familiar terrain, having been involved in photo journalism at the international level.
Osodi has covered many assignments, home and abroad. His works published in many international and local media such as the New York Times, Time Magazine, The Guardian, London, The Telegraph, USA Today, CNN, BBC Focus on Africa magazine among others.