By Tajudeen Sowole
Although Tayo Adenaike and Obiora Anidi are of the same generation, the artistic expression of each artist represents crucial periods in art period, so suggest the contents of the artists' exhibition titled Akalaka: Lines of Destiny, currently showing till July 15, 2015 at The Wheatbaker, Ikoyi, Lagos. Adenaike, a painter exudes modernism characteristics while Anidi, sculptor leans towards contemporary expressions.
|‘Down, Not Out’ (Marble, concrete and metal) by Obiora Anidi|
However, the two artists share something in common in their passion for promoting uli and nsibidi, native Igbo visual languages that are struggling to keep pace with contemporaneity. Curated by Sandra Mbanefo-Obiago, and sponsored by Wheatbaker, Global Energy Company Ltd. and Ruinart, the exhibition is the artists' second two-man show in 31 years.
Adenaike, a watercolourist whose mastery of the fluid paint and paper surface demystifies the challenges watercolour painting brings to native Igbo motifs in synergy with modernists lines to energise a blend of painterly, but largely drawing skills. His stylised figures, mostly in portraitures strengthen the resilience of lines in appropriating forms. This much is stressed in works such as ‘A Street Person Clad in Green’, ‘Acceptance of Green’ and ‘Our Hope’.
In other works such as ‘Night of Passage’, ‘Not Enough to Eat’ and ‘A Face Under Transformation’, the artist flaunts his adopted-Igbo culture motifs and designs. "I still belong to the uli and nsibidi design elements," Adenaike boasts to select guests at a preview of the exhibition. The artist's thematic appropriation of subjects using the native Igbo elements cut across culture. For example, one of the works, ‘Right of Passage’, he recalls, is a revisit of an experience in Maiduguri, Northeastern Nigeria in 1972. He says it was a scene where men were being flogged in public to test their strength in readiness for marriage.
For Anidi, his sculptures that are rendered in a mixed of marble, concrete and metal, are strikingly minimalistic just as the stylised figures are sandwiched between ancient African artistic expressions and contemporaneity. Embellished in analogous contents, most of his works speak volume in contentious space. For example, a three-piece titled Ayia Ike, mounted at the immediate entrance of the Wheatbaker lobby, he says, "is about youthful exuberance," which could be compared to "a nation that has so much potentials but does not know what to do with it."
From modernists like Uche Okeke and others who started promoting uli, at University of Nigeria, Nsukka, to the next generation such as Anidi, Nsikak Essien, Krydz Ikwuemesi, Ndidi Dike and Chinwe Uwatse, it does appear that the momentum is declining further into the dominance of contemporary practice. In the efforts of the middle generation of uli enthusiasts to spread the identity, late Peter Areh led artists such as Dike, Okey Nwafor, Ikwuemesi and Udeani to Graz, Austria in 2011 for a group exhibition titled Politics of Culture: Re-engaging uli. But in the contemporary practice, which keeps exposing how some artists don't even want to be identified as 'African artists', what is the future of uli and nsibidi? "Young artists are too much in a haste to learn," Anidi argues. But despite the apathy, the native Igbo contents, he assures will get stronger.
And as contemporaneity appears to be growing ticker in texture, some artists from modern and post-modern eras keep blurring the lines, challenging critics who confine artists within a specific space or period, most often based on age of the artists. Anidi is one of such artists, whose works, showing at Akalaka… are explicitly contemporary: his works collapse the barrier that defines artists in periodic terms.
Apart from being the second-generation exponents of uli and nsibidi apostles, Adenaike and Anidi are among the members of once famous AKA, a group of exhibiting artists that was active in the 1980s through 1990s. Quite a lot has happened between the 1990s and now that seemed to have blurred AKA out of action. It took the curiosity of Nbanefo- Obiago to exhume Adenaike and Anidi.
"Over a year ago, I went in search of two masters in Eastern Nigeria,” the curator discloses. “I was determined to find these two unusual artists who had important global reputation, but had not had a major showing in the Nigerian art scene for over a decade."
The exhibition, she explains, stresses “our creative platform in showcasing both emerging talent, as well as honors those master artists who have had a major influence on Nigerian art."
She notes that destiny has again brought the two artists together after three decades of showing together in the same city. "Interestingly, both artists held a joint exhibition at the Italian Cultural Center in Lagos 31 years ago. It is indeed Akalaka: Following their Destiny that they are exhibiting together again. And we all stand to gain from this renewed excellent collaboration."
Adenaike studied Fine and Applied Arts at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where he obtained a Bachelor's degree in Fine Art, in 1979, and a Master of Fine Art degree in Painting, in 1982. A third generation artist of the Nsukka School following in the uli painting tradition pioneered by Uche Okeke and Obiora Udechukwu, Adenaike has developed his own visual idiom and mastery of watercolor technique. In his predominant fluid medium, his keen sense of design and composition give strength and character to his paintings.
He has held 20 solo exhibitions and participated in more than 42 group exhibitions in Nigeria, the United States, England and Germany. In 1997- 1998, he was one of the artists showcased in the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of African Art's "Poetics of Line: Seven Artists of the Nsukka Group" Exhibition. His paintings are in public museum collections in the United States, Germany and Nigeria, and in private art collections in 17 countries; notably, the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution and the Museum der Weltkulturen, Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Adenaike lives and works in Enugu, Eastern Nigeria. Unique among artists in Eastern Nigeria, his Yoruba heritage and artistic sensibility are enriched and layered by his immersion and fluency in Igbo culture and language. Adenaike runs a successful advertising business and paints mostly at night and on weekends.
ANIDI is a Chief Lecturer at the Fine and Applied Art Department, Enugu State College of Education. He is also the Chairman of Board, Enugu State Council for Arts and Culture, and a Member, Local Organizing Committee of the annual Life in My City Art Festival, Enugu, which has provided an important platform for many young Nigerian emerging artists since 2007. He graduated with a Higher National Diploma in Fine and Applied Art & Sculpture from the Institute of Management & Technology (IMT) in 1982. He also holds a Master’s and Doctorate degrees in Educational Technology, from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and Enugu State University of Technology, respectively.
One of the founding members of the famous AKA Circle of Exhibiting Artists, Anidi is a celebrated sculptor from the uli tradition who has taken part in many local and international art exhibitions in Nigeria, USA, Jamaica, Germany, and Italy. His works are in numerous private and corporate art collections in Nigeria and abroad.
Anidi’s powerful sculptures are recognized and prized in the Nigerian contemporary art tradition, “their lucid, figurative and abstract formal language tends to blend with their ambiguous titles to make the viewer understand the physical experiences that he has translated into sculptural expressions,” according to Dr. Eva Obodo of the University of Nigeria Nsukka’s Fine & Applied Arts Department.
Anidi’s artistic legacy is documented in local and international publications including the Okike Journal of New African Writing, UCLA Quarterly Journal, U.S., and in the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of African Art publication, Nigerian Artists Who’s Who.