Saturday 28 April 2012

Africa: See You See Me, Golden Jubilee Dance… Nigerian voices loud in Dak’Art

 By Tajudeen Sowole
Creative enterprise of resilient Nigerian artists may be the cynosure of the forthcoming biennale, Dak’Art, holding in Dakar, Senegal as two separate art exhibitions make the list of major highlights of the event regarded as Africa’s biggest gathering of artists.

  CURATED by the U.S-based Nigerian art scholar, Prof Awam Amkpa and his colleague at New York University, Madala Hilaire, Africa: See You, See Me is a photography tour exhibition currently making a stop-over in Nigeria.

   Nike Art Gallery, Lekki, Lagos was its first port of call since early this month until last Wednesday, when it moved to the National Museum, Onikan, Lagos. It would remain there till May 2, 2012.

 The exhibition is produced by Africa.Cont of Lisbon, Portugal and being hosted in Nigeria by Culture Advocates Caucus (CAC) with support of Nike Art Centre, Goethe Institut, and Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA), Lagos.

  Among the 34 African photographers whose work feature in the show are Nigerians, home and the Diaspora such as JD Ojeikhere, U.S-based Andrew Dosumu, George Osodi, Uche Okpa-Iroha, Soibiifa Dokubo and Ologeh Otuke Charles.

  Few days ago, master printmaker, Bruce Onobrakpeya unveiled Golden Jubilee Dance, an installation, sculpture and painting when the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF) visited him at the Ovuoromaro studio, Papa Ajao, Mushin, Lagos.

 Each of these exhibitions is holding either as part of the Off or Main segments of Dak’Art when the biennale opens on May 11 and ends June 10, 2012.

  Although, each is organised by different groups, the common factor, aside the Nigerian element, is the new dawn the contents celebrate.

  For example, works on display at the Lagos stop over of Africa: See You See Me reflect the creative prowess of Africans to tell their own stories, particularly through photography. 

  This much was seen in Cameroonian, Angèle Etoundi Essamba’s outdoor capture of a lady at the beach and a studio composite of models with conceptual flavour.

  Controversial South African artist, Zanele Muholi, whose erotic-like work featured in one of Centre for Contemporary At (CCA), Lagos shows, few years ago, again continues to challenge perception of female sexuality. One of her works depicting two females sharing a bath, seen at the CCA show, also featured in the Lagos segment of Africa…  
(From left, fifth and sixth, front row),

Robin Campbell of Nigerian Conservation Foundation and master printmaker, Bruce Onobrakpeya with members of the foundation in front of Golden Jubilee Dance, an assemblage by the artist, during a visit to his studio… recently.
   Going back memory lane in fashion, Ojeikhere, two Malians — Malik Sidibe and Mamadou M’Baye chronicle 1970s trends. Of note is the hairdo of women known as Onile-gogoro, particularly in Lagos of the 1970s, which Ojeikere presents in stunning black and white. It is of note that the Onile-gogoro theme is one of the highpoints in the career of Ojeikere, which has given the veteran photographer international fame, over the years.

  For Mamadou M’Baye, the exuberance male western outfits of the 1970s such as the combined baggy trousers, huge polo and ties, also revisit Africans’ evolving stories of self-expression in photography.

  Moroccan, el Maghreb’s stunt of an adult and young Arabs is as fascinating as the text attached. The artist states that his work is not among what he describes as “a terrible human drama shoot on the hoof.” He explains that it “bespeaks the depression, which is beclouding Moroccan youth and also impacting on contemporary migration issues.”

  Template for misrepresentation of Africans, via photography, appears to be as old as the exploits of the West on the continent, so suggests a section of the exhibition tagged Unknown Artists, from the collection of David Getbard c.1900.

 These pictures, taken of innocent Africans who had no idea of what they were doing by posing for the unknown artists, indeed, are no less different from the way African photographers of today present or represent their people.

  In fact, the curatorial statement notes that “African photographers inherited the templates for photographic representation framed by colonial archetypes of Africans.”
Moroccan, el Maghreb’s stunt capture, is one of the works at the ongoing photography exhibition Africa: See You See Me.
 Although the visit of NCF to Onobrakpeya’s studio was not specifically to see the master’s new work, Golden Jubilee Dance, but the display, however, served as a window to peep into the artist’s creativity and became the central point of the visitors’ interaction with him. 

    The lead work, an installation, which derives its title from the theme of the show, Onobrakpeya explained, is a series. The first of the series, he disclosed, was presented during Nigeria’s 50th Anniversary celebration exhibition in Abuja, 2010. He argued that Nigeria may have challenges, “but I believe that there is so much to celebrate; and dance.”

  Still the typical Onobrakpeya’s depiction of folk and traditional beliefs, rendering such in deep religious motifs, which has semblance of shrine assemblage, the central piece tells story of Nigeria in the past 50 years. Mystic and other spirituality woven around works such as the assemblage, and a hunter vest mounted close to it could send shivers down the spine of the ‘uninitiated.’

  Responding to issues on such fear, Onobrakpeya insisted that work in such categories are mere pieces of art, which could be “sanctified,” to remove any perceived fright.  
1970s fashion trends and Onile-gogoro hairstyles by JD Ojeikhere.

 And as Onobrapeya prepares to take the golden dance and celebration of Nigeria’s 50th anniversary to Senegal, perhaps it is also time to reflect on what Robin Campbell of NCF noted as the 1960s, the decade when Nigerian art blossomed and produced notable names. Campbell asked: “Do you see that period repeating itself?”

  Onobrakpeya agreed that the 1960s brought out the creative strength of artists like himself, Wole Soyinka, Uche Okeke, Ben Enwonwu, Chinua Achebe and others. This, he however argued, could not be separated from the pre-independence challenges and the euphoria of gaining independence. “Today, the challenges are different; after independence, oil and other economic issues as well as democracy bring new challenges.” Perhaps, these challenges, he said, may bring another set of creative Nigerians as “every generation is different.” 
Bruce Onobrakpeya in front of his new work, Golden Jubilee Dance as he prepares for Dak'Art 2012 show.

   For the Amkpa-led cross continental show, the celebration of African photography in Nigeria started shortly after the Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Raji Fashola opened Kongi's Harvest Art Gallery, in honour of the 1986 Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, at the Freedom Park, Broad Street, Lagos.
  The first exhibition mounted at the gallery and opened to the public was Naija-Italia, a segment of Africa: See You See Me as part of the yearly Lagos Black Heritage Festival (LBHF), organised by the state government.

  Naija-Italia, is the other side of the over-stressed negative stories of Nigerians in the Mediterranean, and a perfect rhyme with the theme of the 2012 LBHF, The Black In The Mediterranean Blue.

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