|Guests at the opening of The Root of Change|
By Tajudeen Sowole
Known more for sculpture, particularly ceramics, Mr. Ato Arinze has, however, dug into his archive to excavate some of his old drawings. Rendered mostly in surreal, the works, which are currently on display as The Root of Change at Alliance Francaise, Herbert Macaulay, Yaba, Lagos, showing till August 22, 2015, attempt to rescue the mind from being stranded at the crossroads of change.
Quite coincidental with the wind of political 'Change' blowing across Nigeria, Arinze's works of pencil on paper are over-laced with deep spiritual, perhaps, mystical content; in fact, they have no link to any political identity whatsoever.
"It focuses on our spiritual understanding of life," Arinze told a guest during the opening. Framed in small sizes of plexiglass, the works attract attention, and curiosity too, the figures and objects either remind one of fairy tales or nightmare scenes as well as imaginary setting of some occult leaning. Such works include a stylised and highly modified cross image, ‘Crucifixion Before the Alter of Inverted Triangle’, a nude couple captured in some occultic space, ‘The Willing and the Unwilling, I and II’, and a transgender warning ‘Before the Separation of Man From Woman and Both’ among others.
Highly infested with a diverse spiritual interpretation that could raise issues across faiths, Arinze's The Root of Change - as odd as it appears - breathes fresh air into Lagos art space. Such a loaded surreal content exhibition has not been seen here for a long time and the all black and white exhibits could be one risk too many for Arinze. Exactly one year ago, he led a group of 12 artists under Artzero for Thought in Drawing, a largely monochrome textured display at the same venue.
Contrary to the behavioural patterns of Nigerian visual arts conservative establishment, Arinze has been consistent in challenging norms. While connoisseurs and aficionados are keenly observing, perhaps, waiting for a terminal end to his 'adventure', the philosophy of 'art for grassroots' on which Arinze-led Artzero group was founded, keeps getting stronger.
Despite appearing at a number of group exhibitions in Lagos and Victoria Islands for nearly two decades, Arinze recalled keenly looking "forward to my first solo exhibition on the Mainland." The current outing, The Root of Change, he enthuses, fulfills that dream. His passion in promoting Art on the Mainland, a movement within the Artzero group knows no bound. In fact, he assured that "I would show at Oshodi if the space were available".
Arinze started compiling the works for the show since 1993 after some galleries "rejected my choice of themes." So, what exactly has changed in the last 22 years that led to the revival of his passion? Response he got from sharing some of the works on Facebook, he disclosed, "inspired the exhibition".
Part of his Artist Statement stresses how change is more of individual attitude: "The Root of Change lies in our spirituality, in our readiness to embrace the responsibilities and consequence of change", and recommends, "the conscious awareness of our identities and the understanding of our android existence should be our primal goal in facing the revolution that comes with the wind of change."
With over two decades of studio practice as a ceramic sculptor, his love for the clay medium and perfection in handling the material has been well established, as shown in the collection of art patrons. He has organised and facilitated many seminars and workshops on creativity, art business, pottery and sculpture. Arinze graduated from the prestigious Art and Design Department, Yaba College of Technology in 1991.
Born in the mid 60s in Onitsha, Anambra state, he has participated in many exhibitions both within and outside the country with his work well represented in private and public collections. In 2002 he received the Solidra Award for Sculpture and Pottery. Also in 2008, he was honoured by Society of Nigerian Artists (Lagos State chapter) with the SNA Distinguished Artist Award.
Arinze is the co-founder and co-ordinator of Artzero Group, which, in the past decade, has been the platform for promoting the works of young and upcoming artists living within and outside Lagos, with a flagship yearly exhibition Art On The Mainland.