Sunday 17 November 2013

Kwubiri’s 'Mother Tongue' of aesthetic exuberance, engaging themes

By Tajuden Sowole
Cologne, Germany-based painter, Chidi Kwubiri’s art as an epitome of aesthetic value that strengthens the richness of contemporary African art in the Diaspora keeps asserting the artist’s rising profile at home.

In Kwubiri’s solo art exhibition that combines nostalgic and tributary themes of native contents, the artist who is known on the Lagos art landscape as a painter with intimidating huge canvas of sprinkling painting returns to the city with two other less focused aspects of his oeuvre.

This midday, at the entrance of a design items shop, Temple Muse, Victoria Island Lagos where Kwubiri’s new body of work titled Mother Tongue just held for over a month, some sculptural and installation assemblage pretentiously appear as disconnects from the artist’s identity. The sets of work are among the three sections, including his usual pointillism-like or sprinkling imagery on canvas and a set of paper works he calls Writing on the Walls series. But in the installations section – a novelty made from his studio remnants - Mother Tongue welcomes a visitor and melts the stress of the Victoria Island’s central business district. 

A Sculpture titled Left Over by Chidi Kwubiri.

Arranged in restaurant format and titled Emptiness in the Midst of Abundance, the work, he explains, was inspired by the economic challenges in Germany. “I used cutleries collected from bankrupt restaurants in Germany”, Kwubiri tells select guests shortly before the show opens. Bankrupt restaurants are indeed signs of a troubled economy. But is Germany not one of the biggest economies in Europe? “Yes, Germany is one of Europe’s big and strong coubreies, but people are sleeping on the streets”, Kwubiri notes as he arranges the installation. The work, he warns focuses the “distress in global economy”, though Germany is a case study “because I did the work there”.

As thoughtful as the installations are, particularly the political statement contents such as demystifying of class system in the Chief Series, the artist’s traditional sprinkled canvas that evokes incendiary images looms over the former, few metres inside Temple Muse. The central theme, Mother Tongue is captured in the sprinkled paintings and to an extent in the Writing on the Walls series. While works such as Fool of LifeEcho and In the Groove stress the artist’s regular exploring of native contents, the nostalgic and tributary value are loud in the abstract rendition of the papers works. “Each time I return home, I reflect village days”, the artist, a native of Umuahia in Igboland, south east Nigeria recalls. One of the reflections, he says, is represented in the spontaneous creation of child art. “As a child I created a lot of abstract that sometimes at a close look you see figures in them”.  This much he attempts to recreate in this show, using acrylic on paper in non-controlled method, “just allowing a natural flow”.

Chidi Kwubiri working on his installation

From 2009 to In 2010, Kwubiri had a project on campaign to stop violence against children. Titled Whip Not Child, it was in collaboration with the Goethe Institut, Lagos.  Drawing from that project, the artist extends his campaign to the controversial female circumcision, rendering it in the -sprinkled painting titled Circumcision. The artist’s focus on Africa is not hidden here, so suggests the portrait of a young woman adorned with a necklace worn on her head, and a razor hanging out, conspicuously.  “In Igbo land, circumcision comes with festivity”, Kwubiri laments as he explains that “the green” in the necklace worn as headdress by the young woman “represents the celebration” of the people’s idea of womanhood. He argues that female circumcision “is a crime against humanity and should be condemned”. He states that  “having done Whip Not Child, this is also a continuation of my campaign against any form of violence against woman”. 

In the Lagos art space where modern art seems to have choked contemporary rendition to the point that painting sometimes becomes boring, Kwubiri joins very few Nigerian artists who keep offering excitement on the canvas with thrilling aesthetics and engaging themes. 

But as much as curator, Sandra Mbanefo-Obiago’s effort attempts to justify Temple Muse’s walls for Kwubiri’s huge size paintings, it appears that the work could breathe better with lesser number of exhibits. And in expanding the scope of art appreciation beyond the regular art gallery space, supports for the Mother Tongue come from First Hydrocarbon Nigeria Ltd., Helen Ogunbiyi, the Global Energy Group, Elalan Construction Company (Nig.) Ltd. and the Goethe Institut, Lagos. 
Inspiration by Chidi Kwubiri

Mbanefo-Obiago notes that Kwubiri’s “canvases deliver broad statements of the ebb and flow of societal tension set against the ultimate rise of the human spirit”.

  Kwubiri studied at Art Academy of Dusseldorf where he did his Bachelor’s and Master’s of Fine Arts degrees. His last 20 years practice has been devoted to working and exhibiting around the world, from his based in Germany.

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