10 years on, Onifade's Araism still on trial(First published Tuesday, July 22, 2008)
By Tajudeen Sowole
By Tajudeen Sowole
FROM a Yoruba three-letter word of diverse meanings, an identity that would stir the intelligentsia of the nation's art emerged a decade ago.
The word, Ara, depending on the pronunciation, which could mean: "community, body, wonder, and thunder" has a date with destiny. 'Wonder' takes the baton – in contemporary term – courtesy of painter, Mufu Onifade who in 1998 officially presented a new art form he called, Araism, to the public. But the source of Araism, Mufu had explained, "is Aesthetically Rich Art."
Currently mired in definitions: style or technique, Araism is also battling for acceptability as a movement.
At the event, Araism, 10 years on, Commemorative Seminar held at the National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos on July 17, 2008 and which marked one decade of existence of Onifade's identity, the attendance and content spoke volume of the intellectuality it has attracted.
Organised by Ara Studio and National Gallery of Art, NGA, the seminar was supported by the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilisation, CBAAC and the National Theatre/National Troupe of Nigeria.
The theme of the day, Araism: African Ideals and Authenticity of Creativity in Contemporary Nigerian Art had notable names in the academia sub-sector of the art presented papers. Chaired by leading art historian, Prof. Ola Oloidi of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, keynote address was delivered by Director-General of the National Theatre/National Troupe, Prof. Ahmed Yerima, who was represented by Shuaibu Hussein.
Dr. Kunle Filani, artist/scholar/critic/provost of the Federal College of Education, Osiele, Abeokuta, Ogun State; Dr. Ken Okoli, both of the Fine Arts Department, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and Dr. Aderonke Adesanya, artist/scholar from the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan were the core resource persons of the gathering.
Others were Dr. Mrs. Bridget Nwanze, artist/senior lecturer from the University of Port-Harcourt; Miss. Hellen Uhunmwangho, artist/lecturer from the School of Art and Design, Auchi Polytechnic, Auchi, while art and culture writer/critic, Toyin Akinosho served was the moderator.
Ambassador, Segun Olusola, under whose gallery, Ajibulu Moniya Gallery, Surulere, Lagos, the Araism prophet was baptized as a curator, opened the floor by reminding participants about the humble beginning of Onifade as well as brief journey of the movement. The artist, during his address revisited the launch supported by Ajibulu Moniya in 1998 and the public presentation of the movement in 2006.
Updating the public about development in the movement, Onifade in his address assured that the group would remain consistence since its launch two years ago,. "Araism Movement will have its 2008 edition in Abuja soon," he said.
While flagging off the presentation by introducing the chairman of the occasion, the moderator, Akinosho proved why he was the right man for anchoring as he briefly touched the art movements home and Europe where it all began. And just in case someone needed to be reminded how contemporary art history in Nigeria came about, Akinosho argued that it was started by Oloidi.
But between contemporary and modern, one thought there was a thin line drawn until the chairman, while addressing the gathering chided the West for what he described as attempt not to recognise African art. It is more acceptable to speak of African art in modern terms, and not contemporary, Oloidi argued. He said: "The West uses the term 'modern art' when it comes to theirs, but imposed contemporary in reference to African art."
However, the presentations, largely, apart from that of Filani did little to raise crucial criteria that lead to art movement. Perhaps in the future, the academia need to ask the question; when is a movement in contemporary art? In a dynamic age where individuality keep blurring the line of art movements, style and technique appear to be an issue, and not movement.
These presentations were directly or indirectly in sympathy with Araism as a movement. Uhunmwangho's Looking at Araism as a Modern Visual Language pleaded for support, warning that Araism should not be destroyed, but supported; Nwanze's position was that it's an unfolding technique to watch; Okoli argued that fear of sudden death of Araism is irrelevant. In her own presentation, Adesanya was more explicit as she described Araism as "a movement within a project.
Filani, one of the exponents of the much older movement known as Onaism once again used the forum to challenge Onifade's Araism.
Last year, Filani had, during the second edition of Araism Movement art exhibition noted that it was a style and not a movement. Last week, he went a step further to argue that Araism is a shadow of Onaism.
In his presentation tilted Ara as a Metaphor of Mirror and Memory in Contemporary Nigerian Art, Filani, one of the nation's leading art academicians analysed memory and mirror within the context of African artists' attitudes.
While warning that African artists must not repeat the mistake of the west by "arrogating to themselves the memory of knowledge", he said it is important to look at Araism in the context of a mirror. "The metaphor of the mirror is such that when you look at the mirror, you sometimes see others." Noting that 'Ara' as a Yoruba word has sub meanings like 'arambada', 'arakara', among others, Onifade's Araism, he argued, is a reflection, in a mirror of Onaism.
And if really there is an issue between Onarism and Araism, the 'ara' exponent, Onifade may have accepted that his style or technique is a reflection of Onaism. Filani quoted Onifade from the brochure of Thoughts in Araism, an exhibition held at the French Cultural Centre, Ikoyi, Lagos in 2005. In the brochure, Onifade wrote: "Olona lo l'ara, alara lo lona" (Whoever owns ona owns ara, whoever owns ara owns ona).
For the president of Society of Nigerian Artists, SNA, Kolade Oshinowo, what makes a movement or who lay claims to what was not his business. Though he was not among those selected to present papers, he however sounded a note of warning that "movement" in this context has the potential to make art student less creative as everyone would want to hide under a particular trend. Oshinowo was particularly concerned that Araism is enjoying followership from the youth and argued that the emphasis should be on the understanding of the basic rules of art to provoke creativity from such youths. That understanding of the rule, he emphasized, is what is needed to break it and get more creative. "Mufu is breaking the rules because he understands it. But those who do not understand the methodology of art could hide under Mufu's araism," Oshinowo stressed.
Oshinowo's warning of a possible intellectual deficiency among the disciples of araism, he continued, could be seen in the identical nature of the works presented in the past. "I was at one of the exhibitions, and the works produced seemed they were done by just one or two artists."
In July 2006, at the Harmmattan Workshop Gallery, Victoria Island, Lagos, 'Araism Movement' was launched with five disciples issued with certificates.
Out of the 34 works at the event, the teacher presented six paintings, while the disciples had amongst them the remaining 28 - with each having between five and six works.
Official disciples of the araism group till date are Olaniyi Omojuwa, Tope Oguntuase, Oludotun Popoola, Akande Abiola, Jonathan Ikpoza, Abolore Awojobi and Oluwanbe Amodu.
The concept started in 1988. Between 1990 and the launch of the movement about 25 artists had been trained on the technique of Araism," Onifade said.