Monday 30 March 2015

Udemba's Portraits Of Displaced Persons

By Tajudeen Sowole
 As complex as conflict is, displacing millions of people across the world, artist, Emeka Udemba highlighting this effects with Tools of Conflicts; a body of work currently showing at Renault Showroom, Victoria Island, Lagos. Udemba’s work, mostly in portraits, questions the place of art, particularly in post-conflict situations.

Organised by Arthouse-The Place, the exhibition brings women and children into focus, in an effort to remind the world of how man’s inability to manage political, social or religious conflicts has always resulted to arms struggle and destructions. Destructions of lives and property across the world leave in its trail millions of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP).

I Am Home by Emeka Udemba    
Clearly a borrowed space for an art exhibition, the Renault Showroom, however, appears like a perfect window to remind the elites that as important as it sounds to spend hard-earned money in buying the glittering state of the art-cars, a crucial attention needs to be given to the victims of war. As art pieces, Udemba’s works, either in charcoal or painting, attempt to distil issue from aesthetics appropriation of visual contents. And quite of note, the emphasis on newsprint, which he implores almost as an additional canvas in nearly all the works on display complements the focus of the show. From such unidentified children or youth portraits such as I Am Home, I Promised To Be Brave and Empowered welcoming you almost at the entrance of the showroom, to a flood of miniatures on women at the distance left, there is no mistaking the fact that Udemba’s Tools of Conflicts echoes the endangered place of women and children in conflicts around the world.
 “The project questions the role of the artist, if any, during conflict and post-conflict situations, the artist who monitors events around the world from his Germany base states and discloses that the exhibition is part of an on-going project.

Noting that the body of work draws attention to society's role, Udemba adds that the exhibition emphasizes to gender, as part of the several other contents of conflicts.
"It explores the role of gender, identity and memory in conflict, the works presented are first and foremost artworks."    

Specifically, the role of artist, perhaps other professionals in the creative sectors is to ensure conflicts do not bring life to a standstill, even in the task to keep memories alive.  "The imagery in the works not only opens new windows and offers new possibilities for critical interaction, but reminds us that life with all its beauty goes on 'despite' conflicts."

Beyond supporting a creative venture, Arthouse explains that Tools of Conflicts offers an opportunity to draw attention to remnants of conflicts, particularly the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).   Conflicts and natural disasters across Nigeria, for example, appear to have placed the country as one of the places around the world that has the largest number of IDPs. And to make the difference in its little way, Arthouse is giving a percentage from the sales of the works as donations to support IDPs in Nigeria.

In his artist’s statement, Udemba writes: "The ongoing animosities in some parts of Nigeria today and in other parts of the world are sharp reminders that violence and conflicts are depressing features of man. In a recent United Nations report, for the first time since the end of the World War II about 50 million people across the globe have been forced to relocate due to armed conflicts. Notwithstanding, as long as these tragedies do not affect us directly, we have a remarkable ability to turn a blind eye. What we see are only numerical casualty figures routinely churned out by the media. After a time these figures start to lose its meaning. They become something else: mere statistics. The question is: Can art be appropriated as a form of a counter-pole to conflicts by shifting images from one context to another?

"The representation of conflicts and inhumane social conditions has become an urgent subject of interdisciplinary examination in recent years. This exhibition 'Tools Of Conflicts is part of an ongoing project that adds insight to this process.  This project questions the role of the artist, if any, in conflict and in post conflict situations across the world.

Born 1968, Udemba lives and works in Lagos, Nigeria and in Freiburg, Germany. He has won various grants, prizes and residencies in Africa and Europe. Notable among these are the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, France; Project grant, Price Claus fund, Holland; Project grant of the Siftungskunstfonds in Germany and others. 

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