Sunday 25 August 2013

Primal Rebirth... Of lost values, empowerment via collaboration from the Diaspora

By Tajudeen Sowole
Lagos-based ceramist, Ato Arinze and his Virginia, U.S, Nigerian-born counterpart, printmaker, Solomon Isekeije have a self-task of using their art to rejuvenate declining societies across Africa. 
Seated before selected guests shortly after explaining few of their works as part of a preview inside Quintessence Gallery, Park View, Ikoyi, Lagos, the artists could not hide their excitement and optimism on the collaboration. The project titled Primal Rebirth, takes off with an art exhibition of ceramic sculptures, prints and drawings at Quintessence Gallery, showing from August 24 to September 31 2013. 
In addition to the exhibition, the collaboration, according to the artists will involve several workshops, to train youth and adults in art and craft.
The Arts is playing a pivotal role in revival of dying community and loss cities, across the U.S., Isekeije stated. “I believe the same can be done in Nigeria and across Africa”, he enthused. Nigeria may not have the graphical examples of bankrupt city such as Detroit, U.S, but quietly people are also losing sense of belongings in their homelands here and across Africa. In fact, a country like Nigeria, which has as much ‘over 60 million unemployed youths’ would do with a Primal Rebirth, no matter how little drop in the bucket of the artists’ contributions.
Partner in Primal Rebirth, U.S-based artist, Solomon Isekeije
“The dawn of this century has witnessed shrinkage in global boundaries”, the artists noted. The collaboration, they assured will “spark a renaissance”, to correct socio-economic,  “spiritual” imbalance as well as “geopolitical issues”.
Given the antecedence of the two artists, sharing similar passions, though operating differently, there is no doubt that Primal Rebirth project has a future. Arinze, in the past five years has been promoting art appreciation and professionalism at the grassroots via a group known in the Lagos art scene as Artzero. The group, mostly of young artists promote its mission by organizing a yearly art exhibition tagged Art on the Mainland.
“The Primal resources of any nation are its people, and we hope to celebrate our people by examining areas of change in our culture”, Arinze and Iskeije stated. They insisted that Primal Rebirth is the way to start as “a call to action for self-review and effect change through the arts”.
Over a decade after Iskeije left Nigeria, the Lagos art scene, he noted, is still the right place to take off. Using the arts as a source of empowerment is not exactly new in Nigeria; quite an increasing number of established artists have been doing that. For Arinze and Iskeije’s Primal Rebirth however, the long term plan is to have the base abroad where it is hope that funding can be easily sourced. “The project will register as a charity in the U.K” Iskeije disclosed, and explained that as an NGO it will also focus Africa as a whole. 
Currently, Primal Rebirth, Isekeije said, will be working with Local Government and other NGOs in Lagos. Inspired by what Arinze described as fundamental of sculpture in the clay medium, the project is also stressing “the importance of clay in art”. The clay medium, he argued, “was the earliest in sculpturing, dating back to the ancient periods”.  
Having invested over 20 years of studio practice as a ceramist, Arinze has also facilitated workshops, seminars on clay, at home and the Diaspora. Few years ago, he was on the trip of Nigerian ceramists to the Scandinavia for workshops and exhibitions. This much of experience, he hoped to give to the Primal Rebirth project.
Ato Arinze’s Happy Family from Primal Rebirth an empowerment, art exhibition project.
While Arinze lamented the declining state of clay as a medium in Nigeria, his partner, Iskeije has a different story. Clay, he said, is still being used in diverse ways in the U.S. For him, his work “evolves from drawing to printing and sculpture”. Specifically, the collaboration with Arinze, he explained, will focus clay on a higher scale. “We don’t just want to use clay in the usual way, but hope to take it to significant stage”.
Currently teaching sculpture, ceramic and printmaking, Isekeije’s vision for Primal Rebirth also includes “pluralism” and role for women in development process. He particularly stressed the need to empower women. “Being a father of three girls, I am passionate about women”. The stereotype of women, he said, worries him. “I want to change the misconception about women being pushed to the background in Africa”.
Arinze, a 1991 graduate of Yaba College of Technology Lagos argued that being a sculptor is a privileged in understanding the essence of living. “The vessel for me is a metaphor for the world: the surface a canvas, whoever can model perfectly, a rounded pot, can equally make the best from life”.  He noted that concept and passion  influenced by nature, determines the faith of a given vessel
Ceramist, Ato Arinze

For Isekeije whose Artist Statement says being in the Diaspora offers an advantage of exploring identity,  he experiments and “exemplifies” with “abstract and representational images”. One of such works is a serigraphy print titled IrinkirIndo (The constant traveler), most likely inspired by Yoruba folktales, particularly from one of D.O. Fagunwa’s literature classic. “It depicts a traveler as a crossroad carpeted with an American flag, set against a background of iconic African and American images. He drags his cultural, mental and meta- physical baggage with him in his quest. As he crosses over the threshold his physical appearance changes and he assumes the position of the vitruvian man, which symbolizes the collaboration between art and science, and an attempt to draw a correlation between man and his universe”. 
Isekeije trained  at the University of Ife,{now  Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria, under the late Prof Agbo Folarin and also got his printmaking experience from the master printmaker, Dr. Bruce Onobrakpeya.

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