By Tajudeen Sowole
As much as a drastic change in medium has turned the canvas of Alex Nwokolo into an enthralling relief, the artist's periods of change in creative contents also raise alert over state of the nation. Nwokolo's traditional painting on canvas appears to be diminishing and giving way to a radical change, so suggests his ongoing solo art exhibition titled Possibilities, at Miliki, Victoria Island, Lagos.
From Alex Nwokolo, Anatomy of Man II
In the last two years, Nwokolo's art has turned almost 360 degree from painting on canvas to relief rendition using discarded materials and soft metal sheets. In 2012, his solo art exhibition Authenticity of Thoughts, at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island unveiled what would later become his new period: a bridge between traditional way of making art and contemporary practice. However, the artist always insists that the change is just in the medium, not in the themes.
Known for crowd-effects in such themes as rooftops, human clustering and other captures of environments, his styles in multiplicity of images had been well established using painting on canvas. For his new period, the same themes are now rendered in soft metals such as flattened cans and discarded electronic parts.
Perhaps for a change of space to stress the fresh breath, Possibilities finds itself in a non-regular art gallery space like Miliki, a relatively known event venue. As the spot and creative lightings are conspicuously missing in the body of work, which could have enhanced viewing, the natural daylight flooding of the moderate space struggles to compensate for the vacuum. And on a hot noon, when the sun pierced through the glass doors with near boiling temperature, works such as Society, Dominion II, Isale Eko - not directly flooded by the daylight - exude resplendence.
The title and focus of the exhibition is like a double edge sword, Nwokolo explains to me during a chat inside his studio, at Onikan, Lagos, ahead of the opening. "Anything is possible." And during a lone visit to Miliki, Possibilities shows that, indeed anything, including the state of the Nigerian nation is unpredictable.
From the artist's Oju (Face) series comes The Victim (Nigeria Now), a mixed media of newsprint and paintings. Quite a thoughtful piece in The Victim, a work that touches the state of economic and political oppressions, currently strangling crucial spheres of Nigerian environment: a wounded face with head injury, bandaged to the point of masking, the artist explains, "represents the state of the oppressed people in Nigeria." The masses, he argues, have not had it "as bad as it is today."
From the Nwokolo's regular signatures comes City Slickers, a multiplicity of images, which perhaps stress the other side of a society losing its youths to non-productive economic liability. But it could get to a dangerous state, so suggests another work, just in case the political elites on top of the affairs of Nigeria are not getting the signals of consequences of insensitivity and irresponsiveness. The work titled Syria depicts current happening around the world with an aerial view perspective of a country in ashes, which Nwokolo renders in burnt materials is enough as an alert.
Nwokolo is not new in protest art: in Authenticity of Thoughts, one of the works, Subsidy Unrest, depicts sea of protesters, perhaps at the Gani Fawehinmi Park, Ojota, Lagos. Rendered in flattened metal sheet and spray painting, the piece revisits the anger against the fuel subsidy removal of January 2012, which nearly gave Nigerians the much-awaited revolution.
Reality of the state of the nation, but temperature raising themes in some of Nwokolo's works at Possibilities would probably be too hard to handle in an atmosphere of constant noise of power generators on a hot afternoon on Etim Inyang Street. The relief therefore comes in coolant such as Argungu Festival, a yearly fishing gatherings of natives in northern Nigeria and Regatta, a similar riverside festival, in some parts of the south. And that naturally, the two festivals, which usually come with large number of participants, share crowd commonality with Nwokolo's crowd effect themes adds aesthetic energy to the Miliki space. Still on the crowd effect, an assemblage of discarded electronic components though brings artistic perspective into the central Lagos slum, Isale Eko, but indicts past physical planners of Lagos State.
With over 22 years of studio practice, Nwokolo, who turned 50 in July 2013 is not exactly blank on the other side of the next five decades, so suggests the energy in Possibilities. When asked about his future last years, he stated that “as my art keep evolving, new ideas come; for now I take things as they come, no scripting.”