‘Art not about money, but value’
(First published on Saturday, 21, June, 2008)
Duke Asidere is an artist who is not for, or against you. The painter whose signature ranks among the top in Nigeria’s art market challenges sensationalism and mythology in the art. He spoke with TAJUDEEN SOWOLE. Excerpts;
Some artists live their arts; others keep a distance. Painter, Duke Emuyenwomano Asidere belongs to the former. His art, like the artist behind it, strikes you with 'am not here to impress you' kind of aura.
But this is really deceptive because Asidere's impact in the art scene is at a very competitive pedestal with other artists of his generation. You come across an Asidere piece in the dark or among other signatures, and one cannot but identify it as such. That perhaps explains why his works, Women II, oil, Untitled enamel and Seated Queens went for N1.2m, N1.1m and N700, 000 respectively during the last art auction held in Lagos.
Inside his Egbeda, Lagos residence cum studio, one noticed that the synergy between an artist, his art and the taste for other things was obvious. He sinks his bulky weight on the settee and mumbles: "The auction really will add value, determine so much. But nobody should have an erection that the rating of artists at the auction is automatic. No, we should all go back to work and do more to justify that ratings." As he goes ahead with the chat responding to various issues on the art scene as well as development on his art, something strikes one that the artist has the kind of disposition that is needed in the academia.
He was actually coming from that wing of the art. In fact, the artist’s first stop after graduating at Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria was Auchi Polytechnic, Auchi, Edo State where he was a lecturer.
|Duke Asidere's The Brain Drain Silence (122 x 122 cm, 2009)|
"I was a beneficiary of good art teachers, like late Gani Odutokun, Jerry Buhari, professor Gutip. They were all spectacular teachers. When one had such people as role models, you cannot afford not to get it right. For example, as I was drawing inspiration so was influence. This was probably why I went to Auchi to teach after my degree in ABU. "Four years after, I got frustrated because I was not used to treachery; people stabbing you in the back. So in 1995 I left to do something with Delta State Government which took me about two years. Rather than stay there mourning, I moved to Lagos." Ten years after can Asidere review his position? Perhaps he was too emotive when he took the decision to dump teaching. "I don’t think the backbiting has stopped in the school system. Similar situations push other professionals like doctors, lawyers to private practice. Not about money, but value.
"If money was all I wanted, I would have been working in the banking sector. I had the opportunity, but I chose art. Those who are running big companies are not smater than us (artists)." It wasn’t all tales of woes after all. In the school, he must have found friendship in two colleagues of like minds. "My stay in Auchi was interesting, sharing experience with people like Ovraiti, Ben Osaghae."
As liberal as Asidere appeared, intellectuality of the art is not lost in his concept. That brought one to his last solo show. The exhibition, Third Semester Examination, held at Nimbus Gallery, Ikoyi a few years ago, was one political statement and a satire of the unpopular third term bid of the then president, Olusegun Obasanjo. "Artists, at such crucial period, needed to take position. That was why I had the show, Third Semester Examination. You know that there is no third semester, so Obasanjo didn’t get third term." That was in 2006. Between then and now, Asidere had just only one outing in the group exhibition, Diversity, sponsored by Elf/Total. He does not appear like an artist so much keen on exhibitions, does he? "To a large extent, I am more of a studio person than exhibition." That must have prompted his gaze as he looked at one of the works on the wall, waiting for attention.
|Solitude (oil on canvas 36 x 36 cm)|
He rises from his seat and walks to the wall, removes the piece and mounts it on an easel. "Art is spontaneous," he said as he looks at the work as if he wants to distil a substance from a liquid state. "I laugh when some artists want us to believe that they paint one work for so many years. Blatant lies my brother! You either gets it right within a time frame or not. I have been on this work for a while and I think I am stuck. I could start all over," he said, challenging anyone to fault his experience of 13 years in studio practice out of 20 years post-graduate. In search of alternative or additional outlet to energise the art, he had a private viewing recently at the Lagos Business School annex of Pan African University (PAU), Victoria Island, Lagos. Curated by Jess Castellote, the idea, he said, was to build a relationship with the business community. At the end of the exhibition, the gains did not take long to emerge. "Not really about how many works sold. One of the works is in the university’s collections. This show offered me to meet a lot of new people. It is an intellectual environment, marriage of community and the university, intellectual marriage. I enjoyed the two day I stayed there."
And what does colour mean to an artist like Asidere whose appearance is anything but colorful? Again in his no hold bare attitude, the artist confessed that his pocket could determine his choice of colour. "The color yellow was my main thing in that show-I had 18 paintings, water colour, pastels- works of 96 till date- 97/98. But for the yellow dominance, I had no option but yellow because I was broke-I had no money on me then to get tubes"
On the business of art, artists, he argues are not as dump as people think they are. Art, he says can do more than what music is currently doing, adding that Nigerian artists can compete with the bests anywhere in the world. But some thing is wrong somewhere, isn’t? "yes, we have not given individual commitment to the SNA. For example the Nigeria Breweries’ art competition and exhibition, Unbreakable Nigerian Spirit was an initiative of an individual secured while some professional bodies would have spent longer time trying to secure the same deal without success. We need to re brand SNA to get to the next level. PMAN, for example, is better organised than SNA.
“I heard SNA plans to sanction galleries that hang works of non-SNA members. I for see trouble if they try it. A lot of litigations would come in. Art is not law or medical profession. This is creative business, and people have the right to express themselves. As a gallery owner, I have the choice of artists based on my clientele. Also SNA is not an authority on people’s thoughts and have no right to vet works. “Artists are not paying their dues because they are not getting anything from the body. It is a joke to say SNA is the only body recognized. Different groups are springing up now. I am a member of Guild of Professional Fine Artists of Nigeria, GFAN. But I am still a member of SNA, everyone in the guild is an SNA member. The guild would make the difference. PACA like some other groups, are more effective.” If SNA is getting so much bashing left and right, who will take SNA to the ‘promised land’ and re-brand it? Apparently not accountants, engineers, lawyers or any non-artists outside the system. Asidere argued that, "SNA should be managed by core professionals just as PMAN is not run by some teachers teaching art in schools, but by musicians who are on the field. I don’t know the last time anybody audited SNA account, and yet you want artists to come and pay dues. We need to move away from this ‘majekobaje’ days of compromise and get to the roots of the matter."
|Doulbe Faced (oil on canvas, 38 x 38)|
From the government agency end like National Gallery of Art (NGA), a lot seem to be waiting, if not already happening to better the lot of artists. This much Asidere confesses, is exciting. From the recent NGA sponsored-trip to Dak’Art 2008, to ARESUVA and planned trip to take some artists to the U.S, Asidere believes the director-general of NGA meant well. "Musa is doing fine. Dakar is okay. I also learnt that NGA planned to take some artists on a trip to the US for ArtExpo. I was not in Dakar, and I am not involved in the US trip either, but that is good. Everybody cannot go. Musa no doubt is changing the face of art, but at the end of the day I pray that he leaves a legacy. Asidere graduated with First Class in Fine Arts, specialising in Painting at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, 1988.
He went back to ABU for MFA in 1990 and continued his research on the use of fabric off-cuts collage At Auchi Polytechnic where he taught Fine Art for five years his teachings included methodology, painting, drawing and art history.
Auction record: Women II at N1.2m (ArtHouse Contemporary auction, Lagos, 2008)