Saturday, 9 June 2012

Authenticity of Thought… Nwokolo takes on despotism headlong via aesthetic outburst


 By Tajudeen Sowole
In highlighting the hypocrisy in governments’ policies, Alex Nwokolo stumbles on sculptural and assemblage-collage, which may turn out to be the artist’s new period.
 Titled Authenticity of Thought, which is being presented tomorrow by Sachs Gallery at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos, will run till June 12, 2012. The solo show brings to the fore certain similarities among developing and developed nations, in the area of disrespect for human dignity.
  Some weeks back, at the artist’s studio, in Ajah, Lagos, some of the works produced via machines suggested that Alex has turned 360 degree from painting to flattening of metal sheet. But not exactly, as his guest engaged him from one work to another inside his studio, which shows that Nwokolo has just adapted his painting technique for soft metal construction, and still retaining the collage characters, which the textured surface of his painting is known for. The result is an assemblage of constructions in relief, via flattened or folded aluminum foil as well as papier mache on boards, and spiced with enamel paint. 
Subsidy Unrest, 67 x 48 binchs, metal and spray-paint by Nwokolo
       Quite instructive, and thematic is Nwokolo’s two examples of abuse of power and lack of human dignity, via despotic rules, which are not from the part of the world branded by Western powers as ‘rogue nations’. One is from the artist’s fatherland, Nigeria and the other is from the U.S. Still on paradox, each of these two nations, at the period of the artist’s focus, had one thing in common: populism.

  For example, Subsidy Unrest, rendered in flattened metal sheet and spray painting, depicting a sea of protesters, perhaps at the Gani Fawehinmi Park, Ojota, Lagos, revisits the anger against the fuel subsidy removal of January 2012, which nearly gave Nigerians the much-awaited revolution.
  In fact the response of Nigerians to the shocking announcement of hike in petrol pump price from N65 to N141, by Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) must have shocked President Goodluck Jonathan and his admirers, given the much-perceived popularity of his election in April 2011. And if Jonathan’s ‘popularity’ was, indeed, real, he appeared to have overrated it by the sudden price hike in petrol when debates and consultations were still ongoing.
  Recapping the protests Nwokolo, however, argued, “People believe that previous removal of subsidy had added no value to their lives, and that this was another opportunity for corruption to reign supreme among government officials and oil rich politicians, who are untouchables”.
  In fact, Subsidy Unrest captured from an aerial view, and enhanced by virtually all the known colours, suggests that the fuel subsidy protests – contrary to attempts by some people to give it ethnic and political colourations – was indeed, an unprecedented uprising against an insensitive government in the history of Nigeria.
   However, despite the monumentally ‘transparent corruption’ uncovered by the Hon. Farouk Lawal-led probe panel, Nwokolo appears skeptical about justice. He said, “This illustrates the Nigerian state. All those involved will definitely go free without prosecution.”

IF there was any sympathy for the U.S. after the infamous September 11, 2001 attack by terrorists, the issue of human right abuse at Guantanamo Bay, where the suspected attackers were held also worried allies of Washington. In what is now referred to as 9/11, over 3000 people died when two hijacked-planes were rammed into the Twin Towers in New York and two others into the Pentagon and another location in Washington, by terrorists.
  Analysing the U.S. government’s human right violations with the detaining of the suspected terrorists, Nwokolo, in a three panel-like collage of binchs triptych cans, metal and enamel paints titled Guantanamo Bay, presents a graphic impression of what the inmates of the notorious detention camp went through to have attracted the attention of human right watchers. With silhouette and semi-cameo application of light, each of the panel retains a viewer’s illusory perception through the dominance of black, white and red.
  The artist argued that since Guantanamo Bay came into the American public knowledge “in 1898 when the first U.S casualties of the Spanish-Cuban-American war were dumped there under inhuman conditions,” it has since garnered “a reputation as a place where the U.S. infringed on people’s rights.”
  The artist noted that “countless suspected detainees have been wrongfully held at the bay for years without trial. Many have suffered torturous, inhuman treatment and died.”
  It’s not just a concern for the rest of the world, but also a contradiction to the laws of the U.S., the artist stressed. “This is a violation and a breach of human rights according to international law and a violation of articles 5 of the American Convention, which prohibits torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.” 
 The three stages of the Bay, he said, are re-enacted in the colours as “the black and white panel represents freedom, the orange panel indicates inmates while the chained-figures stand for new and high risk inmates.”
  And that President Barack Obama, last year, failed to convince the U.S. Congress on the need to close down Guantanamo Bay, clearly showed that the U.S. appears to have scored higher than the ‘rogue nations’ on violation of human right.
  Nigeria also has its own Guantanamo Bay, so suggests works such as Holding Cell and Black Maria
  As unpleasant as the themes of these works are, the aesthetics, particularly as embossed in Nwokolo’s peculiar rendition of silhouettes, however, diffuses possible tearjerkers, which the human right abuses of constituted authorities may cause.
  For the Bernadette Umeri-Mjalli-led Sachs Gallery, which got support from Access Bank, Vueve Clicquot and Arra Wines, Authenticity of Thought stresses the gallery’s ability in “providing an ambience for the presentation of a potpourri of artistic expressions within the confines of acceptable aesthetic sensibilities.”
  Umeri-Mjalli noted that Nwokolo’s work “is intrinsically modernistic, while at the same time very expressionistic.”
  From cutting metal and wood, to nailing and assembling of these materials together, it does appear that there is a close link between the artist’s technical skill in the business of framing and his primary field of painting. Perhaps, these assemblages would not have been possible if Nwokolo were not into the business of framing?
  “Framing work or not, I would still have done this,’ he argued, recalling that technical works such as carpentry had been inculcated into his consciousness as “a primary school pupil in Lagos Island, and I continued in that line even as a student in secondary and higher institutions.”  
  However, Nwokolo must have stumbled on most of the concepts for this show as he disclosed that when he set out to produce the works “I started without really knowing which direction I was heading.”
  In the last one to two years, Nwokolo’s canvas has been dominated with bold faces, mostly in close ups, which he called Oju (Face). And a trace of the Oju period is in one of the soft metal pieces titled Witness.
 With Authenticity of Thought, however, this may just be another period for Nwokolo.

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