By Tajudeen Sowole
In painter, Duke Asidere’s current body of work titled Encased is a representational, but covert narrative, among other issues, on what the artist describes as unprecedented failure in leadership, which also indicts the masses of seeking an easy way out of misrule.
LEADERSHIP question has enjoyed quality discussion in the country’s political arena. However, in Duke Asidere’s Encased, which is currently showing at Alexis’s Galleries, Victoria Island, Lagos, another dimension is added in the discourse — the creative community.
Beaming his searchlight on the mischief or insincerity hidden in works of unnamed celebrated literary and media professionals.
From his past shows such as Third Semester Examinations, a satirical indictment on the then president, Olusegun Obasanjo’s alleged third term agenda in 2004, to the artist’s New Paintings Duke Asidere, in 2009, and now Encased, he keeps stressing his worries for a country, perceived as failing.
Largely figural, with subtle cubism, which Asidere is known for, his concerns are expressed in works that are inspired by the ‘Arab Spring’ and brief uprising against removal of fuel subsidy, now known as ‘Occupy Nigeria’.
From such inspirations, the artist steps into another level of his art, which he calls Protest Period. Asidere notes that though Nigerians, in the literary and other genres of the arts, have proven their creative skills when interrogating such issues, something is still missing.
To this end, he advises artists and writers to use their works to show honesty. “It could be frustrating, for example, when journalists that have been well celebrated, later ends up betraying the trust the public has in them,” he says.
|From Duke Asidere’s Encased, a painting titled Mumu Banking.|
Indeed, works in Asidere’s Protest Periods add to a number of series he has churned out in the past few years. Whatever inspired the new periods of his art, Asidere, 53, seemed to have used such to step into the fearless stage of his life. “After monitoring the Arab Spring from the TV screen, I have made up my mind not to take the easy way out,” he states, few days ahead of the opening of the show.
He traces unexplainable development such as exploding higher tariff in electricity, despite erratic supply, to the attitude of the oppressed, waiting for easy way out of misrule.
Asidere is worried that his beloved country “is currently at the lowest level of leadership: corruption is unprecedented, militants are being paid to police oil pipeline from vandals and thieves, yet you have the military in place; Boko Haram are threatening our unity, but government is clueless.”
Describing the situation as a nation ‘in coma’, he asks, rhetorically: “How did we get here?”
Answer to the artist’s question may be found in the fact that it has been proven across ages and generations that a people choose the leaders they deserve as corruption, even at the lower cadre of the society – in Nigeria’s situation – appears like the root of incompetence and gross mismanagement of resources at the leadership level. This much could be distilled in a piece titled Mumu Banking, the artist’s personal encounter with incompetence among bank officials during a transaction over money transfer. Asidere’s experience offers an insight into how a society that has lost values, across nearly all cadres of the society breeds corrupt and incompetent leaders.
THE exhibition, as the title suggests, is an embodiment of quite a number of issues, as Asidere renders images that challenge intellectuality in a society with declining values. He places much responsibility on the virtue of woman, tapping from his past gender-based themes. Asidere, it should be recalled has painted women in diverse themes, nearly through his over two decades career. Coincidentally, the show opens in the same week of International Mother’s Day in some countries.
He says, unapologetically, “I like celebrating women because my mum did a lot to stop me from being on the streets.” For Encased, works such as The Women and The Dream Couple explain the artist’s side of argument about the female and the society. He notes that success or failure of the man, and by extension, the larger society, is directly or indirectly the responsibility of the woman. What is, however, dangerous, he warned, is that “today’s women are unpredictable.”
Some artists express bottled creative rebellion in their post-school carrier, almost at every opportunity of an exhibition. In his thought in this context, Asidere has added another form to his list of renditions that break or challenge the rule. In Encased, it’s a series he titled Lessons in Painting. Quite of note, perhaps odd among the series, is a black canvas Waiting For Good Governance that only derives modulation and toning from the movement of the palette knife, which is supported by reflections of light bouncing off the patterns or designs. Black isn’t a colour, so says the theory, and to a large extent art teachers appeared to have proven that too in the studio. Asidere differs: “After over two decades of graduating, I can no longer hold on to ‘you can’t do this, or you can’t miss this or that”.
Aside displaying a radical tone of art on the canvas, Asidere recently started a yearly public painting workshop named after his residence of nearly 20 years, Orelope Street. When he launched Orelope Workshop, as part of activities marking his 50th birthday, Asidere said it’s important for artists to give back to their immediate society by proudly displaying, publicly that “we are artists contributing to our environment”.