Saturday 21 April 2012

Fresh Vernacular… Vibrant, young vision weds sound corporate support at Signature

 By Tajudeen Sowole
The expanding prospects of African economy, which is attracting greater number of foreign investors is also opening a new chapter of interest in the creative sector, so suggests an ongoing group exhibition aimed at taking the art to the realm of mainstream investment. 

In many ways, the ongoing exhibition at the Signature Gallery on Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, opens a new vista for art display in Lagos  art circuit. 

  Titled Fresh Vernacular, and curated by photographer, Mudi Yahaya, the exhibition, which opened two weeks ago, indeed, presents new ideas even in the thematic focus and stylistic preference of the participating artists – many of whom are fresh faces on the scene.

  In a way, the show also signifies a new template in relationship between artists and corporate Nigeria as it enjoys generous attention from a corporate organization,

Renaissance Capital, a member of a global firm, Renaissance Group. This indeed is a feat that is rarely seen in corporate Nigeria’s intervention in art packaging or promotion.

  The quality intervention by the investment bankers can be easily glimpsed from the quality of the show, and in particular, the literature (brochure) that supports it.

WHILE artists such as Cyril Oma, Adewale Fatai, Uthman Wahab and Soji Adesina bring fresh energies and perspectives expected of  the young-up-and-coming, the established hands like Ndidi Dike and Yahaya invest their experience with varied forms and techniques and resourcefulness as tested artists even as they showed their new styles and techniques.   

  Instructively also, the Fresh Vernacular is raising the bar in art display and appreciation as it is scheduled to run for one month, ending April 30, 2012; that is unlike most shows that struggle to run for maximum two weeks.

   And what’s more, the CEO of Renaissance Capital, West Africa, Yvonne Ike, responding to a question on the motive of her organisation in sponsoring the show, said, “we are not in this to make money by selling art works.”

   Perhaps it’s a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) venture then? She said,  “It goes beyond CSR,” Ike insisted shortly after taking her guests to see the exhibits.

 Portrait of A. Lasekan, by Cyril Oma

FROM the curatorial design for the gallery, which created more breathing space for the works, to the rendition of the artists in refreshing styles and techniques Fresh Vernacular brings new way of promoting and appreciating art.

   As if responding t the yearnings of the art community who still look forward to the recovery of Nigeria’s most wanted art piece, Tutu (a portraiture of an unidentified lady Ben Enwonwu met at the palace of Oni, in Ile-Ife), the young artist, Oma says, Here is Tutu. It’s a tribute to the late master, a closer view of Enwonwu’s Tutu: not exactly satirical, but quite an amusing portraiture. Perhaps Oma tries to bring closer whatever Enwonwu ‘missed’ in details when he painted that work in 1973, ten years before the young artist was born.

  Also, Oma, in another similar work, Portrait of A. Lasekan, re-enacts the Portrait of A Man, originally painted by the pioneer cartoonist and art teacher, Akinola Lasekan (1916-1972).  

  With fragmented strokes, western ochreous tone and exorcising-like images in the series, Face It and Wog, Adewale’s rendition roves around impressionistic form. Though not a form or style that can be easily linked to a young artist, it might just grow with Adewale, and perhaps becomes an identity.

  Although Uthman’s thought on beauty challenges the western notion in the portraitures, Victorian Lagos series, there appears to be what looks like Africans’ identity contradiction. For example, it is disturbing that these characters who are dressed in Victorian fashions are agitators for emancipation: each of the three portraits, paradoxically, expresses freedom, so suggests the inscriptions OMINIRA (Freedom) on the piece of papers in their hands.

  Uthman’s work also confirms the increasing popularity of fabric in concepts among artists, though with different approach. In ths experiment of form with fabrics, he joins Nigerian-born British artist, Yinka Shonibare, Nigerian-American, Kehinde Wiley and recently hosted-in-Lagos, South Africa-based American artist, Gary Stephens.

  Loss of identity, which is often blamed on individual’s poor state of finance, appears to have found an argument in the Torso series of Adesina. Like the semi-nude images of Blue Torso, Red Torso, littered with currency notes, explaining different levels of modern day slavery via sexuality, within Africa and across the seas, loss of value keeps finding blame, wrongly in poverty.

   A re-visit of the old postage stamps on canvas could be exciting as Adesina’s design pieces remind of the British colonial rule, and the balkanization of Nigeria into North, South and Lagos.

Postage Stamps Series by Soji Adesina

STRENGTHENING the freshness of this show, Yahaya brings his digitalised imaging technique to the fore. In his Masquerades and the City series, old architectures — some well preserved and others fallen apart — matted with not too colourful egunguns draw attention to what the photo-artist described as a metaphor in loss of identity. He argued that the “masquerade is a metaphor for African dignity, respect, greatness and authority, reminder of social codes.” Yahaya however, lamented that that these codes have been “eroded” by western architecture.

  Few weeks before the opening of Fresh Vernacular, Dike, in the solo show Unknown Pleasures and Competing Tendencies held at National Museum, Onikan, Lagos unveiled a style and technique, which dwelled more on fresh ways of using materials. This, she continues in the linear and splashing abstractions in the show at the Signature.


REALLY, what kind of investment is Renaissance Capital focusing by gathering six artists in an art exhibition that lacks traces of commercial venture? Ike disclosed that it’s about a focus on emerging market, and new approach to doing things, hence the choice of the artists and the theme.

  “When we get to any place, we actually establish our presence; work and collaborate with the local experts.” The arts, she explained, is one of the ways to disseminate this value.

  “Supporting the arts is to contribute to the environment, and most importantly, it’s a way to express the vast opportunity in Africa; talk about young artists doing new things in different ways.”

  She stressed that Fresh Vernacular is a refreshing attempt to promote thought-provoking art that will stimulate intellectual encounters. “This exhibition is the beginning of many innovative initiatives by Signature & Beyond to expose the works of emerging yet important Nigerian contemporary artists on the local and international scene.”

Victorian Lagos Series by Uthman Wahab
   She argued that for capital market to really get to their target, “we want the sector to open up. The show is also pushing this value out to open up the sector. And in terms of a cutting edge art experience, it resonates with how we operate in the market and we want to relate with more talents in the community. The art is another way to express the conviction of opportunity in Africa.”

  And wouldn’t this goal be better achieved exhibiting works of the masters alongside the younger artists, Ike said, “We are not using the old masters: we are looking for new ways of solving problem. You don’t need to be an old master to produce a masterpiece.”    

  Renaissance Capital operates in six countries in Africa as a member of a global Renaissance Group, which has offices in 20 countries.

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