By Tajudeen Sowole
When Juliet Ezenwa Maja-Pearce stepped up her game from drawing and painting identity of mostly figural to her current form in print, inspired by traditional religion objects, it’s indeed a sharp turn, though it raises apprehension about acceptability.
And perhaps to conquer such fears, which a sudden change in her art could bring, she took a bold step and showed the works at a solo exhibition titled Migrations. Not entirely new works, a few of the nearly 50 works on display at Nike Art Gallery, Lekki, Lagos, represented her oil on canvas period.
She said the works are an assemblage of stages in her art development over the last five years, representing “some of my experimental prints and plates for the first time, together with a few oils on canvas.”
Quietly shown during the 2010 Lagos Art Expo held at National Museum, Onikan, Lagos, she calls the technique paintergraph - a combination of painting and printmaking. Before the Lagos show, Maja-Pearce had exhibited the a body of works at Kings Theatre, Portsmouth, U.K., in absentia after the British High Commission in Nigeria refused her visa to travel for the event last year.
Interestingly, she also showed plates of the prints, which gave an insight into her process of art making. On themes, and to a large aesthetic extent, it’s still the Maja-Pearce of the figural painting, but the technique and medium are the obvious differences.
And, for some of the works that depict objects or images from traditional African shrine, traces of her old drawings appear faintly. At the last edition of Harmattan Workshop in Agbara-Otor in Delta State, where she shared her experiment as one of the instructors, the artist’s new technique in print was well noticed. This much could be seen in such works as the Migration Dances Series and Masquerades.
|Grand Popo series by Juliet Ezenwa Maja-Pearce
For her, depicting religious subjects is not a recent passion as she recalled how, “I have long been intrigued by the ancient masks of Africa. I think that the artists who created these masks wanted to create objects of worship, which would invoke fear and wonder”. She argued that ancient African art has imparted the world’s art landscape, and therefore “inspired me” to create pieces that would invoke some ancestral feelings, irrespective if faiths.
Explaining her journey through the technique, she disclosed how the first attempt was not so satisfactory in her previous show in 2008. Unrelenting, “I kept experimenting with new material until I stumbled on the materials I currently use, which are a combination of re-cycled newsprint, resin, PVA glue, wood and any found objects.”
For different reasons, artists have been recycling materials, particularly in found objects. Maja-Pearce’s reason for veering into experimentation is a commitment to join the global campaign about making the environment greener and safer for all. She noted that “art itself, being life-affirming by its very nature, should reflect the contemporary imperative in terms of these most pressing issues while at the same time attempting to create a thing of beauty.”
And as a matter priority, her concepts, irrespective of themes, appear to be conveying her passion in ancient art along. “The idea is to produce art works which would invoke the same fear and wonder of the ancient African masks.” In fact, more precisely, she hoped that her work would speak to the contemporary society to embrace the noble virtues of the past.
Maja-Pearce argued that our ancestors held strongly to values “where corrupt money was abhorred for fear of the consequences inherent in the very word ‘corruption’, which is death, and not merely of the flesh.” Analogically, her argument is further stressed in mirror-collage of some of the works. As less aesthetically built into the composites as the mirror pieces are, their presence in promoting value is instructive. “A mirror only reflects what you put before it. For all of us who desire a better society, we must first of all begin by looking inwards and work hard at creating the kind of society we want to put before the mirror,” she said.
As an artist, who puts so much intellectual energy in her experimentation, particularly the last show, she would need to be back in the gallery soon to correct certain observations made in the presentation of Migration. Perhaps, she has noted the grey area of the show, hence a plan to return soon.
Recalling her journey so far, Maja-Pearce said she would not forget the influence of Onobrakpeya and the staff of the Bruce Onobrakpeya Foundation (BOF), particularly her participation at the 2011 Harmattan Workshop in Agbara-Otor, adding, “Dr. Onobrakpeya has been more than generous in sharing with me his vast knowledge of various techniques, which I have hopefully incorporated successfully.”