Friday 17 August 2012

Expanding art horizon in Okediji’s New Modern

By Tajudeen Sowole
Art may have been taking a discourse-space on the quest for a stable Nigeria, but U.S-based artist Moyo Okediji adds another perspective, saying the unfolding security challenges in the country offers artists a new way of expression.

Okediji’s argument formed the crust of his solo art exhibition titled The New Modern: Explosive Imageries, Incendiary Times just held at Watersworth Gallery, Lekki Phase-One, Lagos.

Explaining what he called “cultural shift across the world,” he noted the 2001 terror attack on U.S. now known as 9/11 as a major reality of the changing face of the world’s cultural landscape. Nigeria, he argued, has its own 9/11. “I call it 6/16, which marks the first suicide bomb attack in Nigeria on June 16, 2011,” Okediji told his visitor during a visit to the gallery.

Indeed, the Boko Haram insurgence in Northern Nigeria is the window through which Okediji addresses the effect of “cultural shift,”. However, the challenges of multiculturalism over the last few decades have been threatening the unity of the country. 
And as government seems not to consider the reality of multiculturalism, blaming the Boko Haram insurgence on power shift, art, so suggests the texture of Okediji’s work, cannot afford to be lost in the whirlwind of insecurity challenges facing the country. 
Moyo Okediji’s Things Fall Apart (hand-woven metal, 2012)
A near mural-size mat piece mounted at the far right of the gallery, he said, represents the central theme. The woven texture of the work, and indeed others in similar theme, he explained, “is a metaphor for construction and not destruction.” 
Okediji’s rendition and imploring of materials, unlike some artists of the Diaspora, who recently showed at home, indicates his understanding of the changing dynamics of the Nigerian art space. In fact, he appears to have brought additional mentality onto the discourse arena. He stated: “The Boko Haram angle is a new dimension invisibly embedded in the conscious and subconscious of the New Modern in Nigerian art and culture.” Art, he stressed, “cannot remain the same in this landscape of instability and discontinuity.” This much, works such as Ceremony of the Innocent, No Man’s Land, Point of No Return, Falcon and Falconet and Widening Gyre stress.

Although Okediji’s thought on Boko Haram dominates the air of the gallery, but he expands his themes on multiculturalism via a set of figural and stylised images grouped under Pharaoh Series, and “inspired by post-disintegration of the Yoruba military conflict.”
With the series, he shows a deeper intellectuality that enlivens the seemingly dominant abstractive and soft metal collage works. Without these equestrian images and others that depict contemporainety, it could be difficult to place Okediji’s art in proper perspective, given his long absence on the local art scene.

It’s easier, for example, to connect Alex Nwokolo’s new works, laced with extensive imploring of soft metal, to his recent periods well known to Nigerian art scene such as Oju and streetscape series, or Kolade Oshinowo’s new fabric to his well established image in representational forms.

For Okediji, the closest one had of his work came in the clay frieze-dominated joint show he had with Tola Wewe titled Return of Our Mother – a tribute to Wewe’s kidnapped mother – showed at The Civic Centre, Lagos last year.
Really, did the work represent Okediji’s art not known to the Nigerian art scene? “That’s me, exactly,” he declared sharply, recalling that he did the works in Nigeria, accidentally, when his friend Wewe was about to dispose of some clays as studio-wastes. “I thought I could do something out of the clay, so I packed them and started working,” he said. From pieces produced out of the rescued-clay, to his current work Okediji may just have started a renewal of his identity at home.

A founding member of Onaism art movement, Okediji’s second journey towards his possible lionising of Nigeria’s art space within the new modern context would not come as a surprise, given the scope of his art tutelage back home three decades ago.
He reminisced: “During my graduate days at the University of Benin (toward the end of the 1970s), I began to explore various alternative materials as means of color, as part of my desire to define an African painting aesthetics.”

He added that his innocence offered him the gamble “to build an African aesthetics of painting around mixed media and found-objects, superimposed on indigenous techniques.” One of such techniques, he disclosed, was weaving, which he learned to do via mats.The weaving technique, indeed, resonates in The New Modern, particularly in the soft metal works. 

Okediji is currently an Associate Prof. of African Art History at the University of Texas, Austin, U.S. He relocated to the U.S. in the early 1990s after a teaching career at his alma mater University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), Ile Ife to pursue his PhD in African Art History at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

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