Monday 15 June 2015

Challenging Global Village Square In Ikwuemesi's Brush Strokes

By Tajudeen Sowole
Between hypes and reality of a world being compressed by technology-aided means of communication, Krydz Ekwuemesi's recent body of work The Village Square showing at International Centre for Creative Development, Abuja, offers a depth of perspective that challenges common noms.
                  The Seer Saw (acrylic on canvas, 2015, 101.5cm X 122) by Krydz Ikwuemesi.

 Arguably, the 'global village' phrase - coined towards the end of the last century - appears to have slipped from its good intention into political tools of western nations to strengthen post-colonialism dominance. And also, in recent times, domestic infection of the phrase has raised questions of its economic and political importance. For Ekwuemesi's works, rendered in Igbo native art form, uli, probes the reality of the much-spread global compactness.

The works of the artist, which represent his thoughts, explain how he draws analogy from the context of African village, particularly, the importance of the people's assembly point- the 'village square.' Ikwuemesi notes that in Igbo society, for example, "the square captures not only the soul and the face of a village," it opens what he describes as "a window to its layers of members, norms and worldviews."

In contrast, bringing this sociological viewpoint to the global scale, he argues that despite the much-celebrated role of technology, the world is not exactly advancing in real values. "In spite of its expansiveness, the world seems so small." Yes, doesn’t that justify another phrase ‘it’s a small world’, which underscores the dynamics of interconnectivity? No, the artist disagrees. "There is so much motion, yet little movement; globalisation takes its toll."

Works such as a vertical shape painting I Am Here, Strong and Firm, Like A Monkey's Tail, My Grandmother's Wall, Ode To Uli-I, Through the Crumbling Wall, Thoughts And Apparitions, Ije Uwa II, Before the Wall Crumble and Under the Moonlight are some of the pieces laced with incendiary warnings. More importantly, the flood of uli in the works adds to the expressive metaphor of the central theme or focus of the exhibition. For example, a triptych-like painting My Grandmother's Wall (acrylic on board, 2009) appears to represent the virtues of the native era of which the much-hyped modern or contemporary advocacy of global family trails.

Indeed, the strength of the body of work lies in the argument that the world has always recycled civilization. Also, the place of nativity cannot be brushed aside, no matter the state of contemporaneity.  Ikwuemesi, in recent times, has been using his themes of local contents to either draw attention or make comparative analysis to other cultures outside Africa. Last year, he shared his research on Ainu culture of Japan. The forum was the Omooba Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon Art Foundation (OYASAF) Lecture Series V, themed Art and Culture Among the Igbo of Nigeria and the Ainu of Japan in the Postcolonial Period:  a Critical Survey, held at the Maryland, Lagos office of the art foundation.

For The Village Square exhibition - with an element of Japanese themes in the works - it is a visual narrative about advancement being a mere perception, in reality, the world, Ekwuemesi insists, has not exactly moved from the point where civilisation took off. "The world changes. But we have not changed much" he stresses. "We are meaning-seeking animals trapped in a world where meaning has remained meaningless and ever elusive."

Between the inventions of the wheel (3,500 BC) and 20th century's magic means of communication, The Internet, it is hard to claim that the world has not expanded in the real sense. Quite a lot has happened between the wheel and internet age so fast that, it could be argued that the achievements of the rest of the centuries look too ordinary. Perhaps, the gains achieved, particularly in the last few centuries, have not really imparted on the world, to truly make it a village. "The world, the expansive but small village square we now all share, continues to challenge us; we are ever surrounded by the same worries and forces that shaped the consciousness of those who went before us." It's still the world left behind being recycled in different forms.  "The new world is a village, after all; it is the old village re-varnished. We have been here before and will ever be. We go forward, no doubt. But we will return, now and again, like Sankofa, to seek new crumbs along foot-beaten, old tracks; to seek new meanings in old visions.”

Ikwuemesi is a painter, art critic, ethno-aesthetician and cultural entrepreneur, has a BA (First Class Honours) in Fine and Applied Arts, an MFA in Painting and a PhD in Art History from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He is the founder of the Pan-African Circle of Artists (PACA) and Emeritus President of The Art Republic (also known as Centre for Arts and Cultural Democracy), Enugu. He has participated in workshops and creative residencies and has directed Afrika Heritage (the PACA Biennale), Overcoming Maps (PACA Study Tour of Africa), and the Mmanwu Theatre in Enugu. Ikwuemesi has researched and published on aspects of Igbo arts; his doctoral thesis embodied a comparative study of Igbo and Ainu arts and cultures. In 2009 he researched Ainu arts and aesthetics as a Japan Foundation Fellow in Hokkaido. He is the editor of two major journals: The Art Republic and Letter from Afrika. He is Associate Professor in the Department of Fine and Applied Arts, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and was recently a Visiting Professor at the National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka, Japan.

He is a Fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies African Humanities Program and a Senior Fellow of the IFRA (French Institute for Research in Africa). He was recently Coordinator of the Humanities Unit in the School of General Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka and is currently the coordinator of the Death Studies Association of Nigeria. A polyvalent artist of superlative merit, Ikwuemesi has held several solo and group exhibitions and published many articles on art in professional journals.

Ikwuemesi was International Secretary of the Pan-African Circle of Artists (PACA) and convened/organised the Pan African Conference on the Status and Work Condition of the Artist in Africa. There was participation from different parts of the world; received a grant from Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development, The Netherlands, as support for the project.

As Secretary of PACA, he also organised/directed the 3rd Overcoming Maps of the Pan African Circle of Artists, leading over fifty African artists through six West African countries (Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Ghana ) by road for 21 days; received a generous grant from the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development, the Netherlands in support of the project.

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