Friday 8 February 2013

At Pechakucha Lagos, convergence of genres breaks barriers

By Tajudeen Sowole
 Sharing creative contents across cultures, a Japanese initiative, Pechakucha made its fifth edition in Lagos as it keeps collapsing the barriers between art and design.

In collaboration with the Goethe Institut, Lagos, the Ngozi Ochonogor-led Pechakucha Lagos, held at the former’s City Hall office offered a common space for appreciation of diverse genres of art and designs under one roof.    

However, maximizing the gathering for proper blending into the theme also brought a peep into the strength of presentation in uplifting a concept or idea, so suggests the tone of deliveries by the artists and designers featured in the well-attended event. In Japanese language, Pechakucha means “exchange or sharing”.   
 Reputed for holding in 250 cities across the world, PechaKucha’s presentation format is in 20 slides, shown for 20 seconds each. Participants or presenters are drawn from the visual arts, architecture, photography, and creative fields, generally.

Shortly before the screen opens for presentations on the roof top of City Hall, the director of Goethe Institut, Lagos Marc-Andre Schmachtel noted the institute’s partnership in organizing past editions of Pechakucha.

Each presentation, indeed, depicted the dynamics of the genre represented within the cultural explosion of Lagos, despite the challenges of unfamiliar audience faced by one or two of the presenters.
One of Victoria Udondian’s presentations during Pechakucha Lagos.
 The presentations, via slides, featured George Edozie’s fabric-collage painting, Europe-based Alexander Koch’s narrative on curating, Priscilla Nzimiro’s video art of mono act, Remi Vaughan-Richards’s documentary on club music in Lagos, Ade Shokunbi’s architectural designs and Victoria Udondian’s installation on used clothes.

It was an opportunity to have a deeper feel of Edozie’s familiar paintings of figural impressionism, perhaps in a more interactive space compared to the regular art exhibition outlets, which the artist had explored in the past one decade. Perhaps, six minutes and 40 seconds given each presenter was too confining, but one of Edozie’s works, LBS, a spaced-lettering in fabrics – an extension of his collage painting – asserts the blurring line between art and design. Moving from flat canvas into “fabric collage,” he explained, is the current state of his work, among several periods in the evolution of his art “in the past 15 years.”

Although performance art, even in the video context, has been struggling to shake off the suspicion of escapism in Nigeria’s contemporary art space, but some artists remain resolute in promoting the medium. This much Nzimiro’s video work titled Womanist stressed in the Lagos Pechakucha show.

Nzimiro’s mono act of a woman who has a regular contact with water as part of several routines, which most African women go through, was a commendable work, particularly, for the artist’s choice of red head-cover on black costumes for the character. Also, a poetic blend of water sound effect enhances the feel of the entire scenery. Surprisingly, the videographer seemed unsure that her articulated and well-edited composite deserves an identity of its own as a classic example of promoting video art in a conservative and traditional setting as Nigeria’s. As the screen faded her work in, she told the audience, it’s “like a moving painting.” If Nzimiro, subconsciously, hid under painting to woo the audience, before her presentation, she seemed to have regained her confidence after. Did PechaKucha Lagos show offer the right space for proper appreciation of Womanity? “It was the first time my work was really viewed by an audience in the right light; the audience sat down and watched it in its entirety and I really appreciated that level of concentration,” she stated during a chat a week ago.

Nzimiro, it should be recalled participated in African Arts Foundation’s (AAF) all female group exhibition last year, but could not feel the pulse of the audience.
Although the relevance of architecture and its design aesthetics on the environment was the focus of architect, Ade Shokunbi, but cultural content, which is crucial in preserving the heritage of a people was missing in his work.

Shokunbi, who is of Patrickwaheed Design Consultancy (PWDC), like most indigenous architects, blamed lack of Nigerian design-identity on the influencing tastes of clients. While recalling that his organization “have done works that has reflected, if not contributed to preserving heritage,” the works presented, however, was not one of such. He argued: “The reality of the market place is that the client dictates to a certain degree, the extent of creative license that architects in general and PWDC specifically, can show in their designs.”

Despite such challenges, he noted that it is much easier to reflect heritage in interior designs section of architecture.   Within the difficult terrain of promoting the Nigerian content, artist and architect, Demas Nwoko has proven it is possible. This much Shokunbi agreed. “Nigerian content does have a place in today's concept for buildings. The renowned architect, Nwoko has been chiefly responsible for achieving this and his completed works are a standing testimony to how modern and contemporary architectural design can still reflect our culture and heritage.” What Shokunbi did not however add is that, Nwoko’s visual arts background, possibly, influenced his passion for native or Nigerian content.

Having taken her art of waste fabrics through Europe and Africa, via workshops and exhibitions, Udondian, who is arguably, one of the most traveled Nigerian artists in recent times, had the opportunity of sharing her thoughts with a home audience during the Pechakucha Lagos show. She took the audience through the history of used-clothes and how she was inspired to fuse waste fabrics in weaving renditions into her work. In sculptural renditions, her works could serve as templates for a discourse on the erosion of traditional woven African textile and the role of imported used clothes. She said creating “garments, referencing the use of costume in Nigerian ceremonies and performances”. “In my work, the garments used, the weaving and sewing methods employed are imbued with strong ethical and social values; they become the means to investigate the context, the environment, the history of cultures, present realities and traditional”

Making a deeper intellectual input into the gathering, Europe-based Koch noted of Lagos’ rich cultural landscape and the versatility of the artists. Some of the works he presented, in photography form, showed how space could be creatively managed. He urged Nigerian artists to extend hands of collaboration to others outside the country.

Perhaps, strengthening the rich cultural environment of Lagos, TV documentary filmmaker, Vaughan-Richards’ work on veteran musicians was both retrospective and current. With a popular name such as Fatai Rolling Dollars featured among the artistes, the revival of good old Lagos night life and revisit of Highlife music – a genre synonymous with night clubs of the 1960s-170s – Vaughan-Richards brought a core entertainment content into the Perakucha Lagos gathering.

After several editions of the show in Nigeria, the level of acceptability of a foreign concept has been lauded, Ochonogor, who prefers a shortened name Gozi argued. “The format can be a bit mind-boggling for some presenters as most are not used to a pure visual presentation which they have no control over, but it all adds to the fun.” She explained that it has been “a few success stories with presenters,” who were noted and “given international as well as home exhibitions”.

Perhaps, in the future, should the audience expect a practical collaboration between Nigerians and Japanese designers or artists as an extension of the Pechakucha show?  “I believe so,” Gozi hoped, adding that if it was possible for her to have recommended a few presenters for UK projects in the past, “so Japan is possible”. More importantly, she intended the PechaKucha Lagos “to be the place where Nigerian companies come to scout for creative people for projects and not always have to look outside.”

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