Saturday 8 June 2013

From the Diaspora, Da Silva’s abstraction in headlong home dive

By Tajudeen Soawole

When Lucerne, Switzerland-based artist, Raoul Olawale Da Silva’s solo art exhibition titled Inner Worlds Outer Space opens at The Wheatbaker Hotel, Ikoyi, Lagos on Sunday, June 9, 2013, abstract in its unambiguous tone will return to the Lagos art circuit.  

For the fear of overwhelming influence in representational forms across certain sections of the Nigeria art, frontal approach to abstraction appeared to have taken a flight out of mainstream Lagos art space, in recent years. Aside insignificant appearances of mostly old works of abstraction content at auctions, once or twice in a year, perhaps, no art exhibition in the last five to seven years has come as close as populating the walls with works that remind us of the need to stretch art enthusiasts and connoisseurs’ intellect beyond their comfort shells. And that Da Silva is making his first solo debut at home makes the show a bold and risky attempt.
Raoul Olawale Da Silva’s Untitled. PHOTO BY: KELECHI AMADI OBI

From painting that are as detailed in tones and shades, to drawings as well as design-like rendition that energise veins of scholarly articulation, Da Silva has, innocently taken a bold step to rescue abstraction from its stranded and orphaned state in Lagos art environment, weaving into his themes, personal life experience outside the studio. This much is more pronounced in some of the artist’s large canvases, either infusing an unpleasant skateboarding experience or sharing his love for sci-fi themes.
 The title Inner Worlds, Outer Space, he explained is based on memories. “My experience, memories of several situations and sometimes unpleasant ones over the year inspired the title”, he told his guest during a chat. 

And as intense as well as detailed as Da Silva’s work is, he claimed an “unpremeditated” process in producing his art. “After a long time, the muscle takes a reflex kind, memorizing actions”. Indeed, quite a number of artists also profess spontaneity, but composites produced from such works, most times, betray unpremeditated or non-composition approach to creating art. Da Silva’s work is not an exception. In fact, his claim of deriving inspiration or “natural markings that are already present” in materials or pbjects, seems to contradict spontaneity. The marks, he said, “are orientation points from which I start my quest of creating the right tension, balance, imbalance rhythm”.

Among such works, quite of interest, are the flavors from periods of masters across generations and races: one could distil the Picasso non-representational and blue periods as well as some blend of Osogbo strokes. With a large part of his works labeled Untitled, access to the artist’s interpretation is not exactly complex as envisaged; the inspirations behind each work comes to the rescue. For examples, in one of the works, his adventure in skateboarding, which he disclosed nearly caused him his life is depicted in a conspicuously placed bone, among other images and signs that oscillate between impressionism and cubism. Such inspirations, he explained also comes from the energy he sees in the ocean waves, “particularly in Lagos”. 

And that nearly half of his works are Untitled, further stress his mission to be, innocently, different from the regular Lagos art contents. Leaving works in blank themes, with the hope of allowing a viewer to generate dialogue or monologue, is not exactly new. But it could be more tasking when such works are from the core abstract as Da Silva's, isn't it? The abstraction, he disagreed, is even the reason for anyone to be curious and engage the work in a dialogue.

Da Silva’s unbending or non-conformist rendition is not for lack of the understanding of the Nigerian art space. Since he left Nigeria in 1982, Da Silva, who is of mixed Nigerian father and Swiss mother, has been coming to Nigeria, “almost every other year”. Clearly, the artist is not unfamiliar with the current trends or diverse tones of largely representational and figural Nigerian art scene. “Yes, each time I come here, I get myself familiar with the vast creative art scene here”.

As Inner World, Outer Space is showing for three months, ending September 15, 2013, Da Silva has enough ventilation to promote his kind of art just as Nigerian art connoisseurs have the prerogative to scale a kind of art that has no traces of African root, at least from the thematic perspective. It is not exactly clear how much of Da Silva’s Lagos background of Yoruba and Brazilian origins are expressed in the works.   

But the curator, Sandra Obiago argued that the theme, Inner Worlds, Outer Space derives its link from the Brazilian ancestry, diversity in Nigeria, and the artist’s motherland, Switzerland. “What we see here is an artist with African and European roots, who has used multi-ethnic brush strokes to interpret life; a rich world of inner reflection, surging into an outer space of color”.

As Da Silva is back home, most likely to move his base to Lagos, he may have to thicken the African flavour of his art through derivatives from native idioms, signs and motifs. Although the artist regretted that “I don’t speak Yoruba”, he can still dig into some old Lagos slogans as he retrieves the memory of growing up in Lagos Island with childhood friend, artist Alex Nwokolo. More importantly, with Nigerian art gradually making inroad into the European art market, it may no longer be safe for African artists to hide their roots under the cover of not being identified with a particualr race.

Some of Da Silva’s art exhibitions abroad include Exhibition, Vitrine Kleintheater, Lucerne, Switzerland, 1987; Concerts & performances across Switzerland, as percussionist and singer, 1992-2007;  Exhibition at the National Museum, Onikan, Lagos, Nigeria;  Group Exhibition , Miniature Artfair 2006 , Lagos.

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