By Tajudeen Sowole
Viewing challenges of women through the prism of his childhood, painter Duke Asidere places the softer gender on a scale of societal value in a new body of work titled The Artist and his Muse, exposing generational shift in family value.
One of Duke Asidere’s works Discussion of the Soul, 2014, oil on canvas, 183.5 x 244.5cm
Unmoved by critics of repetitive themes, Asidere has consistently used woman figure in quite a diverse analogous narratives, including protest art against Nigeria's unexplained and elusive dearth of leadership. Would there ever be a pause for the artist's palette on woman as thematic tool? It's getting close to that break, Asidere tells me over a chat during viewing at the gallery. "I already has a male model I am working with," he discloses. Good, a change is coming. But the exhibition is not exactly devoid of surprise or revelation as Asidere explains the genesis of his woman themes.
One’s attention to the piece, Eyabe, one of the paintings leads to the revelation about Asidere's long interest in woman-related subjects. The retrospective piece, indeed, seems to fill the space in one's search for something new about the artist and his women. Perhaps there is something more about the central theme of the show that is being de-emphasised. Who is Eyabe? "My mother," he says. It's a native name from Isoko, Delta State, South-South of Nigeria. "It means women are difficult." From the eyes of a child to the senses of adulthood, Asidere sees her mother as a role model for every woman who desires to contributes to nation-building of a just society through her primary responsibility of raising a well-behaved child.
It's all about her mother's domestic challenges. He recalls, for example, how "one's mother used to threatening, just to make your future better." And now as an adult who has crossed his 50 years, "I become more responsible committed," coming from a strict background. Among the works that attract one's attention within the context of the theme as well as the artist's seemingly erratic styles are For My Daughter, Grace, a painting and Women, Women, drawing/painting respectively. The painting, is though from the familiar stylised figures, it underscores the influential spot of women, no matter the age. Still on women, the painting with highlights of drawings that mixes pastel painting in deliberate disharmony excavates another side of Asidere's spontaneity from the beneath of his common covert cubism palette. Whatever the spiritual link that art history suggest for artists and muse, Asidere brings onto the canvas, the strong side of the softer gender.
Oliver Enwonwu, the curator at Omenka Gallery writes: "Characteristically, his elongated figures often appear headless or limbless. This device employed by Asidere draws its origins from historic masterpieces like the Venus de Milo, a well-known classical Greek statue with missing arms. The dismemberment of the body in late Twentieth Century art is no accident. It is the result of living in a world in which violence, oppression, social injustice, and physical and psychological stress predominate.”
Enwonwu notes that Asidere revisits a “stereo-typification and objectification in his paintings of non-erotic women by offering a critique of patriarchal communities with accompanying social practices and political structures that hide sexual abuse, and normalize assumptions that women are subservient to men.” He argues that the 24 paintings and drawings of traditional beauties and liberated women presented in this exhibition raise awareness about the issues on women. “Many of the enigmatic forms appear regal and are engaged in mundane activities including neighborhood banter and preparations for a party, their masklike faces and haughty appearances lending weight to the artist’s ongoing investigations into cultural perceptions of blackness; its physiognomies and behavior; his artistic journey advancing several questions regarding the meaning of contemporary beauty."
Asidere was born in Lagos in 1961 and is one of Nigeria’s leading contemporary artists. He studied Fine Art at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and graduated with a first class in Painting in 1988. He also earned a Masters in Fine Art from the same institution in 1990.