Saturday 27 October 2012

With Ananaba’s canvas, it’s time for Identity Check

By Tajudeen Sowole

Irrespective of the relativity ascribed to values, painter Ibeabuchi Ananaba recommends his Identity Check – a solo art exhibition – in sustaining much-cherished behavioural patterns that dignify humans.

And perhaps in advocating respect for values, charity must begin at home, hence the ambience of strong draughtsmanship, which Ananaba’s brush strokes thrust at the viewer on entering the moderate space of Homestores Gallery, Victoria Island, Lagos where the show was mounted. 

Despite the absence of the artist to guide the visitor through the works, the creativity unleashed on canvas was enough to initiate a quiet dialogue between the viewer and the over 40 pieces in the high headroom gallery.

Few days ahead of the opening, Ananaba had explained his thoughts, noting how “value systems are rapidly fading and abnormality is becoming the ideal,” so alarming that the people’s psyche has been infiltrated with all kind of images. He argued that “our future seems in doubt,” as a result of what he described as “organised chaos.”
How Long? By Ibeabuchi Ananaba.
In monochromatic rendition titled Who Are You? Ananaba appears to be playing around two personalities from extreme ends of the value chain, leaving the viewer with the choice of where to belong in the Identity Check challenge. The work, a portraiture, which impressionistically leaves one stranded between a Mahatma Gandhi and an Adolph Hitler look-alike combination, engages the viewer in deep thought. Enhanced by dual key-lighting, the work was among several others that explained the Identity Check challenge, which the artist preaches. Perhaps, not really intended to capture the two people in single artistic impression, Ananaba said it “interrogates and challenges the viewer to look inwards.” He explained how the work “digs deeper with the aim to unveil the true character behind the mask we all put up on the outside.” 

For Nigeria’s strongest centre of commerce, Lagos where the artist is in his 10th year of residence, the yellow colour of taxicabs and buses with black stripes, is an identity worth celebrating. He, however, uses the bright colour as an attempt to unravel Lagos as a state, which imbues people with smartness. In the set of works grouped as Lagos State Of Mind series, he explained, “tell my ‘Lagos’ story, ideologically and not from a geographical viewpoint.”

From the hopeful mentality titled The Optimist, to the Shine Ya Eye set under the Lagos State of Mind Series, he turns identity into a larger than life “tribal marks” using human figural to celebrate the iconic yellow and black stripes.

His depiction sees Lagos as having “all sorts as residents, irrespective of how dense everything is.” And a better tribute could not have come than to “appreciate” the state and “undying drive that pushes one to come here seeking greener pastures.” 

As rich as the content of Ananaba’s show was, the curatorial input brought to fore the artists’ uncontrolled thirst of filling every space in a gallery with works. Save for the high headroom of Homestores Gallery, Identity Check almost lost its value: there was no breathing space for the works. As a new entrant coming to the aid of artists to provide outlet in a culture sector grossly short of art galleries, Homestores should be encouraged to go higher by sustaining a higher standard, particularly in the area of curatorial input.

In trying to wriggle a view – from the extreme end of the gallery – out of the overloaded walls, a consolation came in the form of an isolated oil painting mounted on easel, in the distance. Although not exactly positioned to attract a visitor’s immediate attention, the piece titled How Long? (oil on canvas), and almost backing the entrance of the gallery would later make the top of a critic’s list for this show. Reason: each of the themes in the rest of the works were summarised subtly in How Long? The face up figure on the floor, with folded legs, which from the torso up, dissolves into unidentified person, said so much about placing priority on value, and not the usual struggle for marathon achievement.      Complementing the message of the painting was the artist’s skill, which had the components of a masterpiece.

Added advantage for Ananaba, particularly in the female figures, is his ad studio skills, having worked in the advertising industry nearly all his post-school years. For example, much of the ad skill was noticed in some of the watercolours as well as the Utitled Series (oil on canvas).
Ananaba studied Fine and Applied Arts, majoring in painting with a distinction in HND at Institute of Management and Technology, Enugu State, 1999.
Currently, he is Art Group Head at Insight Communications Limited, Lagos. He said his advertising job experience “helps to broaden my understanding of the human mind.”

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