By Tajudeen Sowole
Irrespective of style or technique used by an artist, the dynamic application of medium or materials is the hallmark of conceptuality, so suggests Ndidi Dike’s new body of work titled Unknown Pleasures and Competing Tendencies
CURRENTLY showing at National Museum, Onikan, Lagos, and ending March 26, 2012, the exhibition of painting, mixed media and installation reflects Dike’s recent leaning towards aggressive content.
Enhanced by a good presentation in the curatorial input, each of the mediums, despite seemingly competing for attention, engages a viewer in the immense application of materials as well as deep treatment of issues.
For example, a painting titled Lagos (2009, 91cm x 122cm, Acrylic on Wood,) derives its strength in the artist’s attempt to blur the line between painting and relief sculpture.
Turning acrylic paint into a leather-like form, and transforming it into shapes, which are collaged on flat surface of wood, Dike has taken the extravagant use of painting otherwise known as impasto to a new high.
While chatting with one of her guests, few days before the opening of the show, Tuesday, last week, she argued that medium and materials “should be taken beyond the regular way we are used to.”
And with a mixed media piece, Entropy of State (2010, 243.84cm x 121.92cm, Acrylic, Fishnet, Nails, Wooden Rings on Wood), her aggressive application in painting still stands out.
She explained that it was not just about “using materials as a means of depiction or representation, but instead I wanted to first emphasise the physical possibilities of the medium.”
The intention, she stressed, was to create object that would give way to “relevant forms of narrative and critique.”
In her past shows such as Tapestry of Life, Waka into Bondage… the last 3/4 Miles, even a photography display in a group show, On Independence and the Ambivalence of Promise, Dike appeared to have been warming up for Unknown Pleasures…
This assumption manifests deeply in the sculptures and installations such as The Constitution and Convergence. For example, a tribute to Adire in Convergence is awesome.
The similarity in the themes interrogated in the on-going show and her other recent works, was engineered, she recalled, by the “result of many excursions, since 2004, to Owode-Oniri (metal-market) in Lagos.”
However, in the artist’s progression, Uli – a form linked to the Igbo traditional design and art – which Dike and most artists of the eastern Nigeria profess, has been less visible in her last three solo exhibitions. Uli, Dike explained, might not be as visible in her work in the context that observers want, “but some other people can still see Uli in this,” (pointing at a mixed media work, Permeations).
Dike could not understand why her Uli critics “want me to express it in just a particular way.” She faulted the argument that she has deleted Uli from her content or art philosophy.
Really, for an artist who has been strongly linked to Uli, one may not fault her critics. In fact, Dike was among the artists who, under the theme, The Politics of Culture: Re-engaging Uli, took the gospel of this native art of Igbo to Graz, Austria, in 2007.
The exhibition, which was promoted by the late Peter Areh’s Pendulum Centre for Culture and Development, featured works of other three artists: Krydz Ikwuemesi, Okey Nwafor and Nkem Udeani.
With Unknown Pleasures… however, Dike may not need to bother about her critics as one of the custodians of Igbo culture, His Royal Highness, the Obi of Onitsha, Agbogidi Alfred Nnaemeka Achebe, who was present at the opening gave his nod.
He acknowledged the progression in Dike’s art, and was elated that the artist has stepped up her game.
And despite the recurring electricity challenge in most of Nigeria’s public monuments, particularly at crucial moment as witnessed on the day of the opening, the royal presence of the Obi added colour to the ceremony. He and other dignitaries such as High Chief, Dr. Amechi Obiora and Mr. Sammy Olagbaju patiently waited and had a feel of what His Royal Highness described as “the art of Dike he has been following for several years.”
On the theme of the show, the curator, Antawan I. Byrd, in a curatorial foreword of the catalogue explained that “Unknown Pleasures attempts to evoke the romantic tenor of mystery and experimentation, the confrontations and satisfactions of the creative process.”
And the idea of Competing Tendencies, he added, “speaks not only to the formal and conceptual tensions within many of the individual works,” but represents “conflicts that emerge between their juxtaposition.”
For a hard-line abstract artist like Dike, the glaring absence of non-representational art in the ongoing re-evaluation of Nigerian art, particularly through auctions, here and abroad appeared not to bother her. She argued, “for me, experimentation and pushing beyond the boundaries cannot be compromised, no matter the situation.”
Some of Dike’s solo exhibitions include Totems & Signposts, Goethe- Institut Lagos, 2002; Cultural Caravan, Maison de France, Ikoyi-Lagos, 2002; Textural Dialogue on Wood, Galleria Romana, Ikoyi, Lagos, 2000; Nigerian Contemporary Art: A Woman’s Perspective, Ragdale Foundation for the Arts, Lake Forest Illinois, Chicago, U.S., 1992 among others.