Friday 14 December 2012

Danfo… art of breaking boundaries in studio practice

By Tajudeen Sowole

In keeping pace with the dynamics of art outside the academic environment, a group of art teachers who have been working under the toga Danfo since 2005 were back to the gallery, making attempt at a radical aspect of visual expression. 

From the School of Art, Design and Printing of Yaba College of Technology (Yabatec), Lagos, the artists Olu Amoda, Raqib Abolore Bashorun, Mordi Emmanuel Kema, Sade Thompson and Odun Orimolade opened their creative thoughts via one-week exhibition titled Our Resolve at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos, which ends tomorrow.

They last had a public appearance in 2006, and now returned with Our Resolve to represent what they described as “correspondents and consultants, approaching the work process from a network and exchange of information.”
From Danfo art show, a ceramic work by Mordi Emmanuel Kema.
Deriving its name from the common Lagos mini commercial bus known as ‘danfo’ – a local name for the small passenger bus – the artists liken the individual’s creative strength to the independence of danfo bus conductor who, according to Amoda, “decides for the driver the routes to go”. The artists in the Danfo group, he said, are therefore called ‘conductors’.
From Amoda’s assemblage pieces of cubic images of over 50, which welcomes a guest at the entrance of the gallery, to Kema’s ceramic objects of non-functional and aesthetic extravagance as well as futuristic rendition of Bashorun’s sculptures joined by Thompson’s vibrancy of colour application to express the diversity in designs and Orimolade’s mix of fantasy and mystic themes, the Danfo conductors have added a new artistic expression into the Nigerian art vocabulary. And quite interesting that despite the group factor, the curatorial choice of the show left enough space for easy navigating through the diverse themes under the conductors’ commonality to be radically artistic. For example, one’s right of ways through some of the link entrances into the rooms met a pleasant blockade from some sculptural works. 
Indeed, of note in the group’sWhile elaborating on the concept, Kema said, “It’s about escaping from the straightjacket structure of formal art education. Like a bus conductor who is so free, we are not bound by medium, genre or regimented rules; we are free to play around our creativity”.
From the group’s Artists’ Statement comes what they describe as a concept of dynamism in multidisciplinary collaboration with other artists, institutions and the corporate sectors. “Danfo is an independent contemporary art project team participating in public art projects such as curating, researching and critical writing with a focus on urban development, mentoring, technology and cultural fusion and integration.”
More importantly, the Danfo concept, they explain “lies in an interest in interdisciplinary working methods. The strength of the team is in encouraging diversity inherent in the creative individual.”
On mentoring, Kema disclosed that Danfo artists plan to carry students along “because there are certain things the school curriculum does not accommodate.”
Wouldn’t extending the scope to mentoring outside the academic structure bring up clash of interest within the formal setting?
 “Not at all,” Bashorun stated, noting that closing the gap between formal art education and mainstream practice is only complimentary and not derailing any academic structure. This, he stressed, was the primary focus of the group.

However, Bashorun faulted the academic curricula of most schools in Nigeria for being ‘static’, saying, “The world is moving, art is also not static, so the academic environment should change.” Artists, he said, are more active and productive in their private studios, but unable to transfer the same zeal into teaching in schools because of the unfriendly academic environment. For example, he argued that some artists’ studios are better equipped than art studios of some higher institutions. 

For the designer Thompson, the Danfo project “is a platform for tomorrow, which we all have something in common to share”.

On what the group had been doing during their long absence from the art scene, Orimolade said, “We have been meeting and exchanging ideas to prepare for stronger outings, particularly on the mentoring aspect”.

While stressing the importance of studio practice as the strength of the group, the artists stated: “All members are studio artists that have exhibited, published and consulted widely. Freedom of expression and seamless class are the driving force propelling relationships in the groups.”

The artists recalled that in the maiden outing titled The Way We Are held inside Yabatech and later at Terra Kulture, “the theme sends clear message that everybody is born with peculiarity that is capable of blossoming.”

Under the Danfo mentoring program, they said students would be exposed to different aspects of preparation towards a great fulltime studio practice and also inclusive of artists outside the academic setting.

Amoda, a widely traveled sculptor, muralist, and designer, uses repurposed materials and metal. He graduated in sculpture from Auchi Polytechnic in 1983, and was awarded a Masters of Fine Arts from Georgia Southern University, U.S.

Bashorun has taught art at various levels at Yabatech, was a graduate instructor of records in the Fine Art Department of the University of Missouri, Columbia Missouri, U.S. from 2000 to 2002 and a visiting Assistant Professor in the same university in 2003. He runs regular workshops in his Villagecreativestudio, southwest of Lagos.

Kema commenced a B.Sc programme in Art Education (ceramics) on a part time basis at the University of Nigeria Nsukka in 2005. In 2006, he proceeded to the University of Benin where he obtained a Master’s degree in Fine Art, specializing in ceramics. 

Thompson graduated from Yabatech and Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria in Fashion Design and Textile Design respectively. A multi-talented experimental artist working in both two and three-dimensional forms, her futuristic fashion designs in 2005 titled ‘Contemporary Gear’ explored the survival kit for women in highly volatile areas in the world. She draws from her skills in painting, printmaking, fashion and textile design, jewelry design and leatherwork.

Orimolade’s early foundation in artistic practice has been of traditional art techniques, majoring in painting though she has since transitioned into incorporating other media in varying explorative means into her practice. She has particular interest on exploration of drawing mediums as a large part of her work, which includes collage, etching, murals, sculptural installation and other mixed media art.

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