Saturday 6 July 2013

Lemi’s 'Own Kind', a quiet gathering of legends

By Tajudeen Sowole
Designer, Ghariokwu Lemi’s art exhibition titled Art’s Own Kind, just held at Didi Museum, Victoria Island, Lagos was a gathering of legends of African descents.

Organized by Ugoma Adegoke-led The Life House and Bloom Gallery, it was, perhaps, a dwarfed event among three or more art exhibitions across the Lagos and Victoria Islands art scenes during the same period; too quiet for the significance of the show, more so in the week African Union {AU} marked its 50 years of existence, formerly as Organisation of African Unity {OAU}.

Arguably one of the loudest Pan Africanist artists in the last one decade, Lemi, in the exhibition continued the activism he imbibed from his mentor the late Afro beat legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, over the past decades of his 40 years career.

The title of the show is a familiar kind in the artist’s past works, isn’t it?  Yes”, Lemi confirms. He recalls that Art's Own Kind was the title of one of his past exhibitions, which held “at the BASS Festival in the UK in 2009”. He declares that it’s his coined words, having seen “myself as Art's Own Kind personified. I live my life as a complete artist in mind, body and soul and wrapped up in the ideology of Pan-Africanism.”
From Ghariokwu Lemi’s Art’s Own Kind, portrait of Malcom X.

In paintings and vinyl collage, works on display include portraits of Nelson Mandela, Malcom X, Bob Marley Fela, Barack Obama, Chinua Achebe, and Nina Simone. 
With Art’s Own Kind, Lemi is gradually de-emphasising Fela themes, though still roves around the philosophy of the late controversial musician.
For 25 years, Lemi’s art was not appreciated outside the confinement of music albums sleeve design, mostly of Fela’s works. But in 2001 he had his first ever art exhibition Wellcom 2 Lay-gh-Us at the Maison de France, then located on Alfred Rewane Road, Ikoyi, Lagos. Aside the main works of the show, which were largely satirical, a site-specific piece inside the Maison De France clearly defined Lemi and brought a new kind of art into the growing Lagos art space of the early 21st century.

However, periods between Wellcome 2 Lay-gh-Us and Art’s Own Kind, his themes have been, unapologetically, Fela, particularly in his shows abroad. In fact, he seemed to have launched his Pan-African identity when he had his first solo show Black President: The Art and Legacy of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti at New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York for three months.

Viewing Art’s Own Kind inside the grossly shrunk renovated Didi Museum, the shadow of Fela still dominated, despite the seemingly struggle of the artist to broaden his pan Africanism palette in a show featuring legends whose contributions to the black race have been written in gold across spheres of political and social subjects.

Divided into medium and forms, the works which were largely portraits and satirical emerge from the artist’s pool of experience in paper works, oil on canvas and a set of digital co vinyl tagged “afro pop art series”. Technically, some of the works such as the two significant Mandela images – from pre-Robben Island and post-apartheid era stress the aesthetic similarities between manual print-like technique and digital mixed on vinyl. Quite an exhibition that breathes freshness on the Lagos art scene of the weeks, but sadly unnoticed. 

And that the exhibition was organised as a contribution to celebrate Africa suggests a more louder show it should have be, but was not. 

On the significance of the exhibition, Lemi says it was “deliberate as I wanted fellow Africans to be aware of the importance of May 25 as Africa Unity day. In "civilized" climes that should be a national holiday!”

Although Adegoke, in her curator’s statement notes that “like many of his subjects in this exhibition, Lemi is himself an icon”, something seemed not quite right with the sneak or quiet presentation of the show. Given the status of the artist, the pronounced pan-Africanism contents of his art, the subjects of the show and the AU 50th week, the duration of the show was glaringly too short. First scheduled for one week, but extended for another few weeks, Art’s Own Kind was another victim of the space issue confronting artists and promoters in Lagos.   

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