Saturday 20 September 2014

New Order...How 'Colourists' project fresh canvas

By Tajudeen Sowole
As modern and contemporary arts compete for space on the vibrant Lagos art landscape, a possible return of similar factors that energised art appreciation in the 1980s through early 1990s may just be returning. 

From the New Order exhibition, Toni Okijeni’s Festival.
Art connoisseurs and other enthusiasts could start experiencing this much when the group exhibition titled New Order opens tomorrow, ending September 30, 2014 at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos.  Olu Ajayi, Sam Ovraiti, Toni Okujeni and Pita Ohiwerei are the artists of New Order. They hoped to use the exhibition in spurring a new phase for Nigerian art. Three of the artists, Ajayi, Ovraiti and Okujeni are among those that were christened "Colourists" in the 1980s for adding a new texture of colour to Lagos art. Ohiwerei and other artists of like minds later joined the trend.

Prior to the emergence of these artists and others who were trained at Auchi Polytechnic, Edo State, the canvas of Lagos art scene, and perhaps by extension, the rest of Nigeria was not – in the argument of a section of observers and critics - as diverse.  The Colourists, so suggest critics, brought more "vibrant colour" onto the canvas. In fact, the Auchi art school seemed to have stressed its identity of producing artists of 'vibrant' application of collours via the influence that Ajayi, Ovraiti, Edwin Debebs, Ikoro Emmanuel, Ekpeni Emmanauel, Okujeni, Osazuwa Osagie, Ben Osaghae,  Ohiwerei, Lessor Jonathan, Alex Nwokolo and others had welded over the Nigerian art scene.

However, the 1980s/90s art is different from the 21st century's visual arts space being redefined by the energy of contemporary art. Within the scope of the dynamics that has thrown up new and non-traditional medium, appropriating and conceptualising of art, the artists of the New Order hope to strengthen their modernists’ identity.

Despite an unprecedented increase in appreciation of Nigerian art in the last six to seven years, the walls of galleries and contents of some sections of the art scenes appear static; laced with repetitive themes and copying as well as subconscious transfer of old styles and techniques from masters to young artists with diminishing creativity. But the 'Colourists' who take a chunk of credit and praises - perhaps knocks too - for the state of a largely conservative art scene in Nigeria are set to inject what they believe would pass as new face. More importantly, its quite cheering that at least, the need to open up the regimented art house and modulate the tone of Nigerian art is coming from a section of those who dominate the third/fourth generation the country's modernists.
  "After 30 years, we are coming together to re-present the state of our art," Ovraiti told select guests during a preview of New Order. He went memory lane to the 19th century period of impressionism, comparing the challenges of the pioneers to the emergence of Nigeria's Colourists. Three decades after, they are revisiting the art scene  "to reinstate freedom, purity and quality in the result that shows in our art."

Ajayi was more precise: "New Order is about separating art from picture making." And having received the knocks of critics for being repetitive in their themes, the Colorrists, other artists they have inspired over the past two decades and their followers need to surrender to the reality of change, so suggested the argument of Ajayi. "It's also about self-expression and getting out of the regimented art scene of doing the same thing all over." Being the promoters of impasto and creative application of colour in the Nigerian art scene, "we now want to move beyond this," Okujeni added.

The dynamics of Nigerian art scene in the last two decades or more has excavated quite a number of groups such as professional bodies as well as movements. And the New Order artists appear like another movement in the making. “It’s a consciousness, not a movement,” Ajayi clarified.

Reviewing the past two decades of the Nigerian art, Ovraiti noted that “New truths have been revealed and more colourists have also emerged.” However, it does appear that the line between the modern and contemporary Nigerian art is blurring. For example, all of a sudden the word 'conceptual' which the visual arts world has arrogated to a particular kind of art outside the Renaissance and modernists or Fine Arts terrains is suddenly appearing across the board. Refusing to be shut out of the confined contemporary definition, the New Order artists disclosed that the works for the show are "conceptual." This appears like a total confrontation against the tide of contemporaneity, isn't it? "Art does not have to be performance, installation or some masquerades now known as art to be conceptual." Ovraiti argued. Indeed, in common and ordinary usage, it could be argued that most creative works across the Arts - visual arts, music, film, theatre- are conceptual, anyway. But it takes what looks like the threat of contemporary art or "fad" for other artists of regular and traditional expression in Fine Arts to challenge the confinement of conceptualism to contemporary medium such as installation and performance art.

In the work of Ohiwerei, the change, from repetitive to wider themes and textures is glaring. His works such as Dance Spirit, Chibok Unending Story and Market though appear familiar, the texture and contents are not exactly his usual.

 For Ovraiti and Ajayi, traditions and identity are hard to be swept away so soon, so suggest their works that have traces of fresh breath within the context of conceptuality. In fact, Ovraiti warned that the past cannot be frozen so soon as much as a new dawn is crucial. “This exhibition could witness some recurrent themes. The driving force for looking back if we did is to revisit a previous result from our current level of enlightenment and awareness. After all, artists draw from their inside, foresight and insight. Looking at hindsight sometimes enables a new result.”

And if medium of expression and usage of materials are the key characteristics of contemporary or conceptual art, Okujeni imbibes such in Festival, a mixed media basically rendered in buttons to achieve what looks like pointillism.

 Ovraiti has applied his art to outside the art exhibition circle, mostly in the workshops and mentorship sections of art development. In fact, he is currently the director at Nigeria’s most consistent yearly art gathering, the Harmattan Workshop.
  Ajayi: has more than 28 years professional experience, and was recently given a Fellow, Society of Nigerian Artist. He is a founding member and Trustee of the Guild of Professional Fine Artist. His bio states in parts: Ajayi’s metaphoric vocabulary is also deeply rooted in the body, his ultimate vehicle in expressing life’s dualities. His sensuous colors, sweeping strokes and narrative content place the human figure on a grand scare, while the dramatic cropping of figures and forms emphasizes the immediacy of the paint. Ajayi has also achieved recognition for his remarkable watercolors in grey scare executed in a broad gestural technique.

In 1993, Ajayi was listed in Who is Who in Art in Nigeria published by the Smithsonian Institute and Libraries. In 2004 he won the best Alumnus Award of Auchi Polytechnic
  Okujeni, a former art illustrator at the defunct Guardian Express magazine has been a full time studio artist in the past 25 years. Having taken his art across Africa, he is currently seen as the face of Nigerian art in Senegal.
 Okujeni’s past exhibitions included His past exhibitions included Nigerian contemporary cartoons United State Information Center, Lagos 1986; Treasure House Salon-  1989; Treasure house exhibition- 1989; Exhibition of art, Shell Club Warri-  1991; two-men show Leventis Foundation Centre- 1992;  Colour masters, Didi museum, Lagos- 1993; The way we are- NiconNoga Abuja-  1994;  Impastoes something special gallery Lagos -  1995; Valley of decision- National Museum-  1996; Ecole de Dakar exhibition-  GalerieYassine 1998; One man show-  GalerieYassine 199;  Assilah Forum Exhibition- Morocco- 1998; Exhibition of painting- Polo Club Lagos 1999; and Three man show National Musuem, Onikan, Lagos 2012.
  Based in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., Ohiwerei has experimented in a quite a number of techniques and came up with series such as scratchee. His bio states that he has had solo exhibitions across Europe, Africa and U.S “where he has won numerous awards.

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