By Tajudeen Sowole
When society places less importance on family value, virtually everything may go wrong, so suggests a new body of work by Nsikak Essien simply titled Love Stories.
It opens at Nike Art Gallery from June 2 to 8, 2012.
As the artist prepared for the show he declared with passion: “Man is on pilgrimage on this earth to raise the consciousness of unifying people.”
And littering his four-room studio, in Ogba, Lagos, were works, mostly in large format as each attempts to shocase the artist’s revered image in mixed media. More importantly however, is the central content of these works: a mix between fantasy and reality.
Leading his guest into one of the smaller rooms, where one of the works, supposedly, reflects this concept of love story, Essien, like a preacher, insisted that everyone owes the environment, irrespective of tribe, race or religion, the debt of unity. The work, though a distance from reality is best enjoyed from the perspective of its aesthetic content. It’s a family from the land of fantasy: Yoruba father, mother of Benin origin, and the child Akwa Ibom. It’s surreal. “Well… maybe that’s the idea, the concept of unity, which can only be told through love.”
One of Nsikak Essien’s works, a painting on board, Letter From Abroad.
In another work he tagged ‘Foreplay’, a couple playing the native ayo olopon game in the bedroom with their infant, placed between them, he said, is his idea of family bonding. And as the couple’s legs do the fore playing, from an aerial view, the artist asserted that it goes beyond the sensuous meaning of it. It’s about the child, Essien said, arguing that children who grow up “seeing their parents in this mood would always, and also share love and peace with others, wherever they go.”
From the immediate home environment to the larger society, the communal value, which promotes peace, he said, has been lost, largely because of uncontrolled urbanisation. This much he explained in the work, Letter from Overseas. The work is not the typical Essien’s heavy-surfaced work as it subtlety roves around drawing and soft painting. He said it’s about the communal characteristics in the village where there is a collective effort to raise a child, irrespective of who the biological parents are.
An ecstatic father, centralized in a composite, showing to a letter to a gathered crowd depicts “a father whose child from abroad just sent a letter.”
Still trying to exhaust his Love Story concept, another work Sacrifice, about a father who sold his only cloth and used the proceed to send his child to school “is a tribute to a father in my village.”
Aside the group shows of his association, Professional Fine Artists of Nigeria (GFA) titled Thresholds, held in 2009 and Crux of the Matter, 2010, Love Story is Essien’s main exhibition in almost ten years.
In fact, it’s his first solo in over a decade. The artist’s concern for restoration of family value as an agent of change is indeed a passion. In the GFA’s Thresholds show, his work, a fantasy-like titled Papa Oyoyo!!! - (Dad's in, toys Out!), perhaps was a build-up to Love Stories.
Mixed media, Foreplay by Nsikak Essien
As a widely commissioned artist, it appears that Essien is still trying to free himself from an aspect of his career that has given him so much. For instance, the heavy surfaced characteristics of commissioned work still takes a chunk of his space. Perhaps, it also makes him undetached from working with board, giving a zero space to canvas. “I work with heavy surface, so canvas is ruled out,” he said.
And the traces continue as the studio is littered with quite a number of works such that, it’s difficult to know the state of production of each work. “I start all my works at the same time, and finish all at once,” he disclosed.
For Essien, concentrating on one work at a time could remove the spontaneous strength in him.
Born in 1957 and studied at Institute of Management Technology (IMT), Enugu, from 1975 to 1979, Essien’s three decades of practice appears not to be showing any sign of weakness, even in the physical energy.
At 55, and still a widely experimental artist, wouldn’t he need some studio assists to carry out his kind of work, which requires so much energy? Working alone, he insisted, “is part of my strength as I need to receive messages to get direction.” Messages? “Yes, spiritual messages, and I can’t get that with some guys around me here.”
The energy required in bringing his work to fruition would not also be detached from some of the wild concepts for this show. For example, a sci-fi kind of a three-headed horse flies into a viewer’s psyche with a 3-D quality.
Why such a wild composite in the midst of the artist’s preaching for love? It’s about the economic challenges the people are facing, he said, noting that “living in Nigeria is like a three-headed horse; but by His grace, one can still have the best from the country.”
Essien is also a founding member of Aka Group of Exhibiting Artists, a group that was last seen in public about five years ago.
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