Saturday 5 May 2012

Cequel 1a… Amoda’s metallic offering confronts oddities in art-space

By Tajudeen Sowole
Between metal artist, Olu Amoda and the Nigerian art space, a line of contrast has been drawn, which, though keeps exposing the latter’s defects, but also makes the artist’s idealist posture more vulnerable.

WITH the on-going solo art exhibition at The Wheatbaker, Ikoyi, Lagos, titled Cequel 1a, Olu Amoda appears to be challenging certain disposition to artistic delivery that seems to have become the norms in the local art space. Indeed, the show is a continuation of Cequel, a body of work the artist opened late last year at University of Ibadan (UI), which lasted till January 2012.

From Cequel 1a, it can be deduced that, for an artist to contribute to the recurring debate on the stability of Nigeria, the art environment cannot be at variant with the increasing thematic dynamics of artists.

The controversy between Amoda and the space available for his art first surfaced during a visit to one of his past solo shows, Objects of Art, at Didi Museum in 2005. The heavy metal works on display were like a whale stranded on a dry sea: despite the higher headroom of the venue, the thematic attraction of the show was almost lost because of lack of space.
Susiki A eetal work of Olu Amoda
In addition to the artist’s battle with physical space, also glaring was art enthusiasts and connoisseurs’ perceptive imbalance in appreciating metal, particularly of the heavy kind expressed by Amoda.

Seven years after, neither the artist, nor the space – mental and physical – are shifting position, hence Amoda’s subsistence in his grouse with a space he can hardly afford to abandon. 

With Cequel 1a, however, he has to take a break from this “inadequate space,” perhaps to prove a point. This much is glaring as Amoda’s works of monumental dimension currently find a more friendly space, but appears unnoticed as a body of art. At The Wheatbaker, the exhibition-flavour is missing as these works, particularly those mounted outdoor, are helplessly, blending with the space as architectural showpieces, rather than non- functional art.

And when he declared that Cequel 1a is part of “a tool for making art viewed through socio-political prism to reflect my reality since I turned pro,” his challenges drew sympathy. Like some purists, who always implore less popular medium to address issues of wider scope, Amoda makes the complexity of his battle with space more sympathetic. He argued that Cequel explores the alternative spaces such as lawns and living rooms of private homes, lobbies of hotels and shopping malls for displaying works. This alternative, he insisted, offer wider space and even much longer periods of shows, compared to the regular art gallery space.

Art, from Amoda’s metallic perspective would not be an island, particularly within the socio-political prism. This, however, has exposed the artist’s long held position to a covert compromise or flexibility, which, if not articulated may make his identity vulnerable. For example, lately, the textures of some of his works are changing from natural metal to coated emulsion paints.

 This change of skin was first noticed during a group exhibition, The Last Picture Show organised by Cameroonian promoter, Catherine Pittet at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, last year. At the show, Amoda’s Sunflower Series I and II appeared like a shift of ground, perhaps to extend an olive branch to the other divide of Nigerian art community whose perception of art is incomplete without colours. In fact, the metallic depiction of plants blurred the line between metal and painting.

Imposing at The Wheatbaker, are two of such works aesthetically bathed in nails and plates, but spiced with paints.   

Being an idealist, an artist, he agreed, is not compelled to proffer a solution to issues, but “by extension when the works are exhibited, they ask questions or raise issues,” that may “negotiate change.”

Using the challenges of a Nigerian artist as analogy in addressing issues that affect the larger society, Amoda noted that there are similarities. He explained how the “manifestation of these issues in artworks evokes serious debates as I often like to play on words in the titling of my artworks.” Some of these titles, he noted “may seem commonplace, but are often culled from politician’s addresses, and are metaphorically imbedded with codes which may not be grasped at first encounter with my visual narrative of the works.”

When Amoda returned to Nigeria after about four years’ break from his teaching job at Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, he disclosed that his future works would delve into visual interpretation of some literary best sellers. He, specifically, listed the George Orwell novel, Animal Farm, as one of his early targets. Cequel 1a has taken a lead in this direction as the theme, centrally, likens the socio-political situation of the country to the theme of the popular novel.

 New Bride, One of Olu Amoda’s works,
  Still on analogy, the prominence of horses in Amoda’s themes, Cequel inclusive, has a link to what he described as his fond interest in horses he sees in movies as a youth growing up in the Niger Delta.

  In his search for stronger expression via literary works, horse appears unavoidable. And in one of such books, he found an established theme on horse when he had a solo show titled Template, at Skoto Gallery, New York in 2009. It was a revisit of Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka’s classic, Iku Olukun-Esin (Death and the King’s Horseman).

At Wheatbaker, the horse themes appeared less in details and aesthetics compared to what he presented in New York. However, as a metaphor to his youth days’ likeness of Nigeria’s horses in the Coats of Arms, Amoda stated that two horses of the national unity symbols “are now my Benjamin and Clover; the eagle is drowned in the oil polluted creeks of the Niger Delta.”

As the Cequel series open a new period in Amoda’s art, and contending with space issues, metal as his identity is being strengthened, yet struggling with shrinking space.

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