Friday 21 September 2012

On rug, oriental crafts meet Nigerian art

By Tajudeen Sowole
Printmaking takes another form as select Nigerian artists dissolve into 2000 years of traditional rug making of Afghans, Tibetans and Indians in an experimental venture of Sweden-based art gallery, Modernafricanart.

Although described as ‘painting on rug’ – a derivative of reproducing original painting works onto rug – the process, which is basically hand-woven, could be grouped in the family of printmaking. Some of the works viewed in Lagos ahead of the opening at Quintessence Gallery, Falomo, Ikoyi where the show titled Africa on the Floor: A New Voice and Medium for Contemporary African Art is currently showing till September 22, 2012, revealed a finished set of works that could serve decorative and functional purposes.

After showing in Lagos, the exhibition continues in Abuja at The Nordic Villa, Abuja, on Saturday, September 29, ending on October 7, 2012. Artists, whose works have been reproduced, include Bruce Onobrakpeya, Muraina Oyelami, Nike Davies-Okundaye, Sam Ovraiti, Ehi Obinyan and Tola Wewe.

Among the reproduced works on rug is one of Onobrakpya’s Social Unrest periods (1995-1999), a figurative rendered in drawing, which coincidentally was represented by Nudes and Painting (oil on canvas), featured in the master printmaker’s 80th birthday celebration show, Ore Idjibuli (Jubilee Festival).
Some of the works in a one-piece collage
From what is known as Davies-Okundaye’s signature in the blue hues pattern of adire comes motifs that stress the resilience of the centuries old tie-and-dye Yoruba printmaking.   As innovative as the concept or technique of ‘painting on rug’ is, copyright issue could be raised. Reason: the artists of the original works did not produce the rug versions. Lande Anjous-Zygmunt of Modernafricanart Gallery who showed four of the works during a preview in Lagos allayed fears of plagiarism issue. She disclosed that the artists were well aware that some unknown artisans outside Africa would reproduce their works on rug. 

Accompanying the exhibition, Anjous-Zygmunt said, is a catalogue of 68 pages in book form, with over 50 full-colour photographs and illustrations, which outlines the background of the collection and its place in the contemporary art world. She said of the works: “With their extraordinary texture and visual richness, they will be used, appreciated and passed on from generation to generation.”
On the process, she disclosed: “Each rug has been painstakingly hand-made over the process of several months.”And most importantly, she explained that the concept was born out of the mission of “returning African art to the context of everyday function. It’s about celebrating the past even while refusing to be bound to old forms.”

The catalogue, according to her, “goes far beyond the collection itself.” On the supposed barrier between art, craft and design, the art promoter concluded that balkanizing creativity was unrealistic. “We feel that the hundreds of years of knowledge that is handed down to generation after generation of fine craftsmen and women is indeed the artistic expression of a whole culture and, of course, in Africa this distinction was never traditionally made.”
The book is a full-colour photographs and illustrations, which she described as “a book about the history of three continents told through the creative imagination, as well as about how the whole category of ‘fine art’ came to be invented.”

Anjous-Zygmunt explained the making of the painting on rug technique: “Tibetan rug making is an ancient art and craft dating back at least 2, 000 years to the Han Dynasty. For centuries, Tibetans have been making and using rugs as bedding, saddle blankets and meditation mats in monasteries. The Tibetan rug making process is unique in the sense that everything is done by hand. “Following the Chinese occupation of Tibet in early 1950, a large numbers of Tibetian refugees migrated to Nepal bringing with them the ancient art and knowledge of rug making. Today Nepal has a thriving community of Tibetans producing rugs for the local and international market.
Sweden-based promoter, Lande Anjous-Zygmunt
The wool, particularly the length of the fibre and oil content, is the single most important factor in determining the quality and beauty of the finished rug. The Tibetan wool comes from the Himalayan mountain sheep, which roam freely on the highest plateau in the world. Because of the extreme climate and altitude, their coats are strong, long and rich in lanolin, a natural protective oil. What is exceptional about the wool is that the dye permeates deep into the fibre, resulting in lustre that is resistant to fading and stains. This makes the Tibetan wool fibres one of the finest and hardwearing in the world for carpet making and makes the Tibetan rug unrivalled in texture and richness.”

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