Friday 28 June 2013

'Akaraka'… A destiny with materials, wider art appreciation

By Tajudeen Sowole  

U.S-based artist, Nnenna Okore’s current art exhibition titled Akaraka:What Will Be, breaks the components of destiny into native themes and attempts to broaden art appreciation.

From the alley-like high headroom entrance view of new space, Art Twenty One, situated inside Eko Hotel and Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos where Akaraka is showing for the next two and half months, the central theme piece looms in the distance.

Hung in strings, slightly above the floor, Akaraka provides an appetizing welcome in its woven net form with newspaper, and finished in acrylic. The head and leg rooms, given Akaraka as well as the free-from-the-wall position, offers a walk-around option to feel the pretentious three dimensionality of the net-like measureless work. 

The artist declares that destiny “is the greatest embodiment of our existence”. Transitions across birth and growth as well as death “and decay”, she argues epitomizes the essence of destiny.

  Stressing the scholarly context of destiny in Akaraka, Okore says “is connected to the idea of destiny; even my weaving is a way of expressing the theme”. Most fragile of the works is the piece titled Sweeping Cycles. If turned vertical, it could depict a whirlwind. But in horizontal it appears like a tunnel from one angle.

Uncontrollable Force by Nnenna Okore

As the contemporary, conceptual global art space is getting stronger attention, and artists are challenged to meet the resilience of traditional forms of art, a gradual impression is being created, subconsciously though, that anyone can be an artist, after all.  But in Okore’s Akaraka, works such as Twist, Enigma series, Memories, Providence series, Perfect Imperfection and Mutant, all made from cloth, plaster and acrylic appear to have  been shielded from the fragility of material experimentation. 

With a theme that dwells on destiny and woven in native Igbo idioms, Okore adds strength to her concepts, drawing a line between idealist-based themes and art for the sake of contemporary practice. Most pronounced within this context is an oval-shaped piece at the extreme end of Art Twenty One. Titled Onwa N’etilu Ora and gigantic, even in its fragility state, has no translation. The more one looks and appreciates this piece, the more difficult it is to make meaning out of the title.

The Sun that Shines on Everyone,” Okore interprets. Sun and the eastern part of Nigeria have become more political in the last four decades. Okore’s Onwa N’etilu Ora is an extension of this expression, isn’t it?  “No… not at all”, she disagrees very sharply. Her blank countenance showed that, indeed, the work is just an innocent expression devoid of any tribal or political undertone. Really, should an artist or anyone for that matter, disown a glaring identity or pretend not to stand for something? Yes, Okore said, but offers that Akaraka stands for something that embodies native contents in contemporary rendition.

With quite a number of the works laced in Igbo titles, it’s a nostalgic expression. “Living in the west, you miss some of these things. And when you are here it’s netters to express and enjoy it”, she says.

Fast becoming prominent in her application of materials as the strength in creating art, Okore intercepts transitory stage of inanimate things before the point of decay and then offer them a new beginning. This much represents the texture of about half of the entire works on display, just as her rendition stresses the artist’s identity in creating art that is relatively fragile and suspiciously museum piece. And that nearly all the works in Akaraka are produced this year suggests that her work has been freed from the regular radar of collectors who intercept art in the studios, hence denying most artists opportunity to share their creativity with the larger public. It is common for artists here to blame constant direct studio sales for long delay in organising art exhibitions. Some artists, as established as they are, don’t have a solo show in seven to 10 years. So, Okore’s feat of two shows in less than six months is well understood. 

However, giving artists three months of uninterrupted exhibition space as exampled by Art Twenty One may encourage them to keep collectors from invading their studios so that they have enough works to exhibit. Art Twenty One opened in April with Cequel II: A shifting of a few poles by sculptor Olu Amoda and lasted for almost two months. The curator and founder of the space, Caline Chagoury had assured that every exhibition would be handled from the perspective of its peculiarity. 

Currently in Nigeria as a Fulbright scholar at University of Lagos (UNILAG) since last year from her base in North Park University, Chicago, U.S., Okore is having her second solo art exhibition in Lagos in the last four to five months. A few months ago, she showed a body of works titled Flow at The Wheatbaker for over two months. It is, however, quite curious that nearly all the works on display at the two shows were produced within one year

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