Saturday 2 June 2012

In Omoighe’s Portrait of A Nation, art presentation gets new template

 By Tajudeen Sowole
 Mike Omoighe’s experimental exhibition titled Portrait of A Nation appears to be interrogating reclusive attitude of artists in the academic environment vis-à-vis the challenges of their counterparts in the mainstream studio practice.

IT was an experiment that raised eyebrows as the artist declared that his solo show would open at five venues across Lagos State, simultaneously.
  Although, it eventually held at four centres, Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Quintessence and Goethe Institute, Lagos Island as well as Yusuf Grillo Gallery, Yaba College of Technology (YABATECH), Mainland, a statement on the state of Nigeria was however made. And irrespective of critic’s interpretation of the outing’s ‘success’, Omoighe also had an indirect affront on the issue of gallery space in Nigeria’s visual arts circle.
  Omoighe is one the very few artists who are not detached from the themes of their art; his unbending character and non-crowd or populist attitude reflects so much in his work.
  For instance, Portrait of A Nation, which supposedly addresses some of the salient issues of Nigeria’s under-development, is largely expressed in high intellectual abstraction.
  Although there were few figural and less complex works on display, largely, core abstract pieces dominate the walls. However, beneath the seeming visual-indigestive work of Omoighe, there is a basic philosophy of what the artist considers as man’s mission on earth. 
Mike Omoighe’s Dancing to D rhythm of Life.

  Few weeks after the shows opened, he again gathered his colleagues and art lovers at the Yusuf Grillo Gallery for his Artist Talk. Just in case the messages in the work did not sink well in viewers’ consciousness, Omoighe, during the gathering appeared to be in defense of Nigeria’s much-battered image.
  He argued, “having traveled across the continents of the world, I can tell you that Nigeria is a huge mirror from which we can see a lot; it’s one of the best places to live on earth.”  He was worried that “we talked more about our negative sides, whereas some other countries conceal theirs.”
  Some of the works on display included a native theme like Egbabonelimi Masqueraders, Dancing to D rhythm of Life, Windows of Opportunity, African Motif Totem, Posts & Pillars and Royalty.
  If Omoighe’s outputs were about issues that cut across all strata of society, wouldn’t it make more sense to soften the images for a populist interpretation? The artist agreed that, indeed, he might be communicating to an insignificant few, even within the art loving public, but argued that the “high level of visual illiteracy, eaten deep into our society, makes effective communication impossible”.
  And what perhaps may turn out to be a research issue for scholars is Omoighe’s observation that over the ages, Africans have lost their deep and high intellect in communication. Africans of old, he explained, used more of visuals to communicate, particularly at the elitist level. He noted, “In traditional African setting, the artist worked for a small circle or at best, the court royal art in the case of Ife or Benin kingdom. It was the golden era of the African people, when most members of a particular society were familiar with the aesthetic and the cultural codes used by artists”.
Windows of Opportunity by Mike Omoighe

  With his last solo show in 2005, it was crucial to make a stronger comeback, hence the four venues for Portrait of A Nation. Maybe, he would not have used more than one gallery, “but we don’t have such a gallery space in the country,” he noted. And having experienced the multiple centres – as if releasing a movie in chain of theatres, the experimentation, he disclosed, was exciting. In fact, “I realised that it is possible to even have shows in as much as ten centres simultaneously,” he stated during the Artist Talk. 
  Recalling that he set out in his pre-higher institution days with the intention of studying textile “because I thought that was much easier and faster sell,” Omoighe attributed his interest in painting to destiny. And perhaps the abstractive identity of his art as well as his non-conformist character have a link, spiritually, to his middle names, Akhaine Osebhajimete, which mean ‘choosing wilderness’.
  As a curator, researcher and critic, Omoighe is listed in Who is Who in Contemporary Nigerian Art, a Smithsonian Museum of African Art publication, U.S.
  He heads the painting section of the Fine Art Department at his Alma Mata, Yabatech. His last solo exhibition, Seasons and Chain of Coincidences, was held in 2005 at the National Museum, Lagos.

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