Saturday 1 March 2014

For Ojeikere, Stephens’ head-dressing ladies continues in London

By Tajudeen Sowole
When Art 14 Fair opens its second edition in London, UK, today, visitors will be privileged to see the first post- J.D Okhai Ojeikere exhibition, just few weeks after the death of the renowned photographer.

 Courtesy of one of the emerging art galleries in Lagos, Omenka Gallery, the exhibition titled Networks and Voids: Modern Interpretations of Nigerian Hairstyles and Headdresses continues a two-artists show that the late photographer started with Johannesburg-based American painter, Gary Stephens.
 In October, 2013 the two artists showed Network and Voids at Omenka Gallery, a show Stephens disclosed was inspired by his love for Ojeikere's photography works, particularly, on the headdress theme.

Gary Stephens painting, drawing and performance shown in Lagos last year and showing in London from tomorrow.

Omenka is among art promoters from Nigeria that are participating in the two editions-old Art fair, 0ne of the participants, Arthouse Contemporary is showing Sokari Douglass-Kamp, Kainebi Osahenye,, George Osodi, Victor Ekpuk and Victoria Udondian.
 Ending on March 2, 2014, at the Olympia Grand Hall in London, the fair is expected to receive an estimated 30, 000 visitors.
  Speaking on the works of Ojeikere and Stephens, the curator of Omenka Gallery, Oliver Enwonwu stated that the contents of the two artists' show, which include photography, linoleum prints and charcoal on paper, highlight Nigerian hairstyles and headdresses (geles). Specifically, the works Enwonwu explained are "fashioned from hand-woven aso-oke and expensive imported textiles including damask, brocade and metallic-like jacquard."
 Enwonwu noted how the artists rove over the loud fashion themes of  Lagos society, and "capture the creativity and opulence of social gatherings."

 As Ojeikere's work take a part of Nigeria's fabrics history and Stephens' painting aligns with the hairstyle as well as the headdress aspect, an element of ethnic modern cultural values energised in the nation state of Nigeria cannot be overlooked. Enwonwu, therefore links the trajectory of fabrics used in Nigerian to "the complex web of trade and negotiation between Africa and the West as well as the country's socio-political development during the oil boom."

 When the two artists showed in Lagos Stephens’ work exposed the artist’s steady step in developing a chain of thematic works, following his earlier solo of paintings and drawings titled Ankara Portraits at Omenka.

 Ojeikere personified monochromatic presentation of photography in Nigeria and the Diaspora; His work is widely in black and white.

 Stephens said though he had been showing great interest in headdresses across the genders ahead of his first visit to Nigeria, but in Lagos ladies’ styles, “I got more fascinated”.  He added that his drawings of braidded hairstyles have been boosted during his visit to Lagos, “it was great meeting Ojeikere and I immediately showed interest in his works of hair styles.”

  Enhancing the artists' presentation, according to Enwonwu, is a performance by Stephens, which holds on the Day-two inside booth M28 at Art 14 Fair. The performance section described as exploring "notions of beauty and examining the influence of modernity and the spread of globalization on post-colonial Africa," features about four braiders who demonstrates art of hair plaiting.  Stephens calls performance Final Cut, a depiction of braiders and their sitters as known on the streets of Johannesburg and Lagos.
  Stressing the international direction of  Omenka in promoting African art, the curator assured that more artists within Africa and in the Diaspora are already on the radar of the gallery for exposure. "This initiative is part of Omenka’s increased participation in major international art fairs around the world including Art Dubai, UAE, the Joburg Art Fair, Cape Town Art Fair, Loop, Barcelona, Cologne Paper Art, Art14, and 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, both in London."

  For over five decades, Ojeikere documented Nigerian women headdress known as gele as well as the native pattern of hair plaiting. He had shown some of his works across the world and published a book on the subject.

From Ojeikere’s photography of headdress and hairstyles

Stephens has documented the topography of Johannesburg not as a visual sequence but as an interlocking series of rhythmic sounds affording the audience the opportunity of partaking in the performance by recognizing and identifying with the familiar that evoke memories while attempting to imagine the market banter, and the impatient honking of motorists amongst several possibilities. Thus the work merges the cities with performance and sound in new and innovative ways, creating a dynamic moving installation.
Overall, the works are strongly individual, their providing a sense of urgency to an immediate purpose – to challenge the various stereotypes thrust on the Africans.

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