Saturday 19 November 2011


After 20 years in self-exile, Ogundipe tests the home gallery 
(First published in August 2008)
 An air of freedom after the storm of military dictatorship brings U.S-based painter, Moyo Ogundipe home to have his first solo art exhibition. He spoke with TAJUDEEN SOWOLE on his mission to help use his art as part of re-building Nigeria.

Seated in the living room of the Ikeja, Lagos house where he received his guest, Moyo Ogundipe appeared like a laid-back kind.
   For an artist whose work could be easily mistaken for some prints from a textile machine, his appearance contrasts the details he releases on canvas.
   Ogundipe holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Fine Art from the University of Ife, Ile-Ife, and a Master of Fine Art degree in Painting from The Hoffberger School of Painting, Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, U.S.
  In addition to the machine-finished details he gives his work, the sizes are usually in the mural ranges.  Big works of such magnitude, one would think are hard sell. he responds softly: "Maybe you are right. Mural size works are not common. But for me, art is not really about selling. I am just having fun; art is the oxygen I breath-it is beyond the economic reason. Despite that, I have been able to sell my works for good prices, in fact my paintings are very expensive. I sell to museums and galleries."
  And like some artists, he also discloses spiritual relationship with some of his works. "Even at that, I sometimes find it difficult to part with some of the works. There are some works that I am so much attached to, I don’t like to part with because you know it is difficult to reproduce that, mentally."
  But coming back home to test the art gallery scene could be a different ball game, even though the prospect for art here is on the rise. Whichever way it goes, the artist must have garnered some confidence. "I believe that my people would not have any problem identifying with my work- if Americans and Europeans could appreciate me, why not home. I have this show, a solo, coming up this year, September 19 at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos. I hope to exhibit 24 paintings of mural sizes. Though I was forced to part away with a lot recently, I still have quite a lot of those big sizes that survived. Despite my long stay in the U.S., I have not lost touch with home-mentally, culture wise, am still in touch. I have come to do a retrospective, coming to Nigeria since 20 years ago."
  The content of his work are all there to show that the artist remains at home. From the nativity of his forms to the African settings of the subjects, Ogundipe is a traditionalist-artist. 

Three Lagos Socialites by Moyo Ogundipe

  As globalisation is reshaping every aspect of life, art inclusive, African art, courtesy of Western art critics remains locked between modernism and contemporary. For an artist that has practiced across these divides, Ogundipe argues that period rather than geographical location should determine the identity of an artist. "First and foremost I am an artist. I happen to come from Africa, a continent rich in art that it helped change Picasso’s art for good. I don’t see myself as an African artist, but a Yoruba artist because that is my identity. You may refer to people like Picasso as modern artist, while contemporary artists are those that are still living. Modernism, of course, started after the renaissance. The world of art changed when Western art came in touch with the African art. Western art used to be about designs, aesthetics, but African art has always been philosophical, the unknown, mysticism, abstraction, spirituality. We have contributed to the world of art in no small measure, taking art to the level of spirituality. So nobody can make derogatory of African art. For example last summer at Denver, U.S., where my work was exhibited, they saw me basically as a modern artist. There is a permanent display of my works there now after that exhibition."
   An admirer of one of the most gifted sculptors in the world, the late Olowe of Ise, the artist recalls that exhibiting with the Efon Alaye-born artist in the U.S. was a high point in his career.  This love for the sculpture work of Olowe, apparently plays a role in the nativity of Ogundipe’s art. "Though I traveled out of the country, but not without the spirituality of African art. I needed to be in touch with home. I could have been on Mars, and yet remains an Ekiti man, a Yoruba. In fact I got amplified being away. I had always admired the Yoruba native sculptural works, the spirituality, the Egungun masquerade; dialogue between the ancestors and the living. So while there, I had a show that featured works of late Olowe and I was so thrilled."
  Humbly, Ogundipe would accept that he is not known back home. But for him, forgetting home is like a self-shot in the legs. "People know me in the U.S. and part of Europe, but not in Nigeria. It’s about time I came home from self-exile to give people the evolution of my art. The saying that "the river that forgets its source will dry off" is the compelling factor here. I have not been getting time to go and promote my works because I spend so much time in the studio. Each work takes me at least six months to complete. I couldn’t come home because I needed to build a body of work and still maintain my identity as a very detailed painter."
   Ogundipe would not stop referring to his sojourn in the U.S. as self-exile. "Because I was totally saddened, discouraged by the dictatorship of former heads of state, General Ibrahim Babangida and Sanni Abacha which pushed some of us into exile. Even though there is no covert political statement in my work, I hated the haunting of people into jails. So I couldn’t ses me realising my dreams under such despotic regimes. Growing up in the 1960s here, I thought Nigeria would, by now, be as great as other developed nations. But the 80s pushed me out to go and fulfill my dreams outside the country."
  That emotive outburst, as it turned out must have been coming from an agitating youthful Ogundipe who, as a staff of NTA in the 1970s once dared the military government when he used his office as a controller of programme to anger the authority.
"I have always stood my ground to right the wrong. In 1978 when nobody would touch Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s work, I was then the controller of programme in the NTA and had total contempt for the military regime. I was a very rebellious man. I showed Fela’s performance in Berlin, on NTA, unedited. I could do that because I have a smart and charismatic General Manager, Dr Yemi Farounmbi. He trusted me and believed in my ability. After the Fela’s Berlin show was broadcast, I heard that the SSS were looking for me but it didn’t bother me a bit."
  What difference has the nine years of democracy made, anyway? Not a few Nigerians back home have asked this question, over and over again. An economy still in the wilderness, lack of electricity, erratic education sector and almost a zero social infrastructure. But Ogundipe still thinks there is cause to feel a relief. Freedom of expression, he explains, is the first thing a people needs before other things would fall in line. "For the past eight years we have a democratic system of government. And based on the reports I had from friends who have been visiting home from the U.S., I think hope is in sight. I got good results, particular of the visual arts scene. Though the government needs to do more for the people to enjoy the dividends of democracy, but without the freedom we are enjoying today, nothing can be done. I agree with the popular saying that the ‘worst democracy is better than the ‘best’ military rule." 

Moyo Ogundipe
   Having this in mind, one wonders how Americans see the work of African native artists. A recipient of the 1996 Pollock-Krasner Award, Ogundipe says his last 20 years in the U.S. has been very adventurous without any racial bias. "As a matter of fact I didn’t have any issue with my art and admirers in the States. I have a good relationship with the people and even the media. When the people noticed that my work is different; a celebration of positive aspect of life, it was easy for them to see my work from a philosophical view. My work is derivatives of European and American. In fact, not until my final year at Ife that I found a fusion between western and African art, Yoruba art in particular, as a balance."
  Having been away for such a long period, and coming home to be part of rebuilding his fatherland, Ogundipe discloses that he wants to use the opportunity of his visit to give back to the society. In the art sector, he plans to set up a base in Ibadan for his studio. The studio, he discloses, would be designed for training of the youth. "I am passionate about the prospect of this country and want to contribute to the development of the youth, even though I still have my eyes at taking my works around the world for exhibition. I have this plan to set up my studio in Ibadan and see how I can assist in training our youth."

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