By Tajudeen Sowole
At the art exhibition section of Nigerian-South African week, Thokozani Mthiyane’s paintings and installation, My Experience in Lagos, draws a faint line between the challenges facing the two countries. In fact, Mthiyah called for change of name for his country and return of “radical Mandela era.”
Mounted separately inside one of the two upper rooms of Kongi’s Harvest Gallery, Freedom Park, Lagos Island, it was part of the group show and artists’ talk of the week. As some of the other participating artists were exchanging ideas at a roundtable session inside the ground floor of the gallery, Mthiyah told his guest, “I needed a space like this because of my kind of work,” as he explained the context of his display inside the room.
Thokozani Mthiyah’s Nelson Mandela at the Nigerian-South African Week art exhibition.
Participating artists included Morakinyo Seye, Aluyia Exodus Adebesin Adedamola, Ogunnusi Dolapo Muyiwa Owoeye-Wise, Hodonu Nathaniel Adara Avoseh, Dele Oluseye, Osho Babatunde, Jude Onah, Adeleke Akeem, Sokemi Abayomi, Okezie Okafor and Adedayo Dada. Others were Akeem Muraino, Luke Osaro, Ato Arinze, Okiemute Ejoh Ojo Olaniyi, Michael Dagold, Bankole Abe, Toyin Omolowo, Onadipe Olumide, Shodimu Gbolahan, Haliru Abdullahi Moses Onokwah, Bode Olaniran Gbenga Ajiboye, Akinleye Saheed Assien Harrison, Celeste, Martins Wenkidu.
For Mthiyane, viewing Nigeria through the prism of Lagos as well as his thoughts on the haunting remnant of Apartheid South Africa formed the basis for his works. At the end of the brief tour of his exhibits, his insistence on mounting his works in a separate room appeared well justified. In just two stylised portraits of Nelson Mandela and late freedom activist, Steve Biko, the artist reviewed post-Apartheid South Africa and argued that the objective of liberation struggle has been lost.
Although Mandela and Biko, he said, “Have shaped my political ideology, but we need the radical Mandela now, not the compromised Mandela. The reconciliation view of Mandela now compromises the objective of the liberation.”
Mthiyane was probably too young to assimilate the activists’ words on marble during the struggle for freedom from the grip of the Apartheid regime, but not excited by whatever the country gained in terms of economic development. “Biko said: ‘if you are a black man, you are on your own,” the artist gave insight into his source of inspiration and argued that the South African economy has continued to be for the white and not for black people.
Justice, he said, will start when the name of the country is changed. What is exactly wrong with the name? “It was called Azania, the country of the black people, and that is what we want.”
On the floor was an installation of sachets water otherwise known as ‘pure water’ in the local Nigerian parlance, depicting the under-development of a country full of resources. The artist argued that “there is plenty of water everywhere in Lagos,” but it becomes a scarce commodity when “people have to access it in sachets.” The installation, he disclosed, “is a work in progress.”
This suggests that something was missing. “Yes,” he said, as he would have loved to place the water sachets, each on a copy of the bible. The bible, he explained, would represent religion, noting that in Nigeria “people are very religious.”
|Thokozani Mthiyah, explaining his works|
In a series of abstractions he titled Poems for Obalende, the artist finds nostalgia; “the environment is similar to where I grew up in Skomplazi, Durban.” Mthiyane’s Obalende Series highlights the insanity created by commercial mini yellow buses otherwise known as danfos, in Lagos. From the artist’s argument, the rough, sometimes unpaved roads contribute to the insanity.
His general view of the city is summarised in Poems for Lagos, another set of three paintings, also collaged in abstraction with newspaper cuttings. The newspaper cuttings, which, curiously were almost lost in the composite, he explained, represents his view of the mirage called Lagos. And if he had thought that Nigeria, an English language speaking country, would not create communication challenge for him, he appeared surprise that the local pidgin English is hard to follow. This much he expressed in the collage, saying the non-legible paper cuttings represents “the more I listen, the less I am unable to follow.”
At the ground floor, another South African, Lester Adams of Visual Arts Network of Africa (VANSA) and his Nigerian counterpart, Ato Arinze of Artzero engaged some of the exhibiting artists in roundtable session. The topic, Inspiring Vision and Practice: The Role of Networking Organisation in the Life of a Studio Artists had participants sharing experiences in the areas of art conceptualization to promotion, even activism.