Saturday 13 December 2014

Eyes as analogous narratives in Osahenyen’s Shifting Currents

By Tajudeen Sowole
Again, artists' ebullience expressions that keep shrinking the Nigerian art exhibition space is being stressed by the museum pieces of Kainebi Osahenyen in a body of work that implores the eyes in spiritual and analogous narratives.

From Kainebi Osahenyen, a collage of photo cut-out of eyes titled Face Me I Face You
While the real contents of most of the acclaimed contemporary museum pieces of some artists are fogged and lost in the deliberate attempt to harass viewers with huge sizes, Osahenyen's new body of work currently showing as Shifting Current at National Museum. Onikan, Lagos brings a balance between medium and content. And as boastful as the artist stresses that, "I don't make work for selling, but for museum display," the strength of his statement, ironically, appears more sympathetic to me than pride. Reason: Like other artists who are on the path of contemporary change - in a country like Nigeria that has no museum for such collection - Osahenyen's work is also like an endangered creative vessel struggling for survival in a storm of deficient art appreciation culture.     

However, the increasing energy of the Internet may serve virtual alternative for Nigeria's stranded contemporary art by Osahenyen and others, who may want to be seen through the window of appropriation generated by critics and other writers.

As a concept, Shifting Current, he explains to a select guests during preview, emanates from the blend of photography with his technique of multiplication of eyes that collapses into a monochrome medium.  This afternoon, the scent of fresh painting of the gallery’s walls emits into the space, ahead of the opening, as the works are being mounted. The monochromatic content appears central and domineering across the materials and medium. As an artist whose strength of communicating content lies in his choice of medium, using soft aluminium sheet flattened from cans, which also became attractive to him in recent times and applied in his current work, seems not enough. "I have been working with cans, but wanted something more universal,” he discloses shortly after taking a break from the supervision of mounting the works.

However, in the seemingly contest for attention between monochrome and materials comes the real content - eyes as a metaphor - expressed in covert photography. Having viewed Osahenyen's work, mostly from a distance and through the views of other writers, one wonders: what exactly has been the attraction in most of his paintings that appeared flat in toneless and virtually no modulation surface. But this afternoon, the sea of eyes spread across every piece on display enthralls as live eyes of a viewer come in contact with the reproduced photo images to create an optical effect. Indeed, Osahenyen’s smooth collaging, subtly and sub-consciously delves into the science of ophthalmology in artistic context.

In a two portraits piece titled Face Me I Face You, the outlines of the figures against a background that swallows the images seems wingless and weightless without the sea of eyes that forms the basic visual illusion of the composite. Like most of the large sizes works on display, Face Me I Face You emits a grainy effect that largely derives its texture from the multiplicity of eyes.  
The work, he says, derives its theme from the crowded pattern of apartment in Lagos and most urban cities in Nigeria where inhabitants' rooms are placed opposite each other, share a common passage, toilet, bathroom and kitchen. The aggression from regular conflicts that emanates out of such pattern of apartments, Kainebi notes, are regularly transferred onto the larger society, which contributes to the "tension in an urban place like Lagos."  

Apart from the flood of photo cut-out of eyes that comes with the analogous interpretation in Osahenyen's monochromatic styles, the aesthetic and conceptual contents of the new body of work sometimes struggles against visibility. This much seems to exist in works such as Eyes on You, Harvest and Survival where the representations, either in impressionism or otherwise, are fogged by the photo cut-out of eyes technique. But for enthusiasts who enjoy the squint-like viewing in decoding art, Osahenyen's sea of eyes technique is the space to be.

Modulation, depth, perspectives and all the other ingredients that an art piece needs to enthrall viewers radiate in a whirl-like composition titled Becoming Light. Quite of note, the work takes the idea of eyes in totality: the optical and light meet the depth that distills the infinity of vision. Despite its rendition on a board and in cut-out images, the depth in Becoming Light, which is enhanced by the toning and modulation of the eyes, radiates sculptural form.

The emergence of eyes as the star or icon of Shifting Currents has been traced to the artist's recent academic stint with one of the world's leading art school, Goldsmith, U.K. "At Goldsmith, the challenge of coming up with something new," the artist recalls, led to the concept.

Every artist, particularly of the contemporary practice period always make the best of a solo show to create site or space specific installation/sculpture. For Osahenyen, a wall and floor spread in pieces of flattened cans he titles Redemption - mounted at the extreme distant of the National Museum's gallery - is one incendiary work to flaunt. 

The work continues the artist's tradition of similar installations such as the work seen in his last major solo exhibition titled Trash-ing, at the Centre for Contemporary Art, (CCA), Lagos in 2009.

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