Sunday 20 September 2015

Disu's prints of forgotten West African history

By Tajudeen Sowole
A West Africa sub-region that is struggling to get its nation states into economic independence is a betrayal of what the people were known for in pre-colonial era, so suggests a Lagos-based printmaker, Akintunde Disu's works. Disu's historical themes on canvas, according to the artist, were among works of 30 artists from across the world scheduled to open few days ago by a gathering known as Federation of British Artists.
Iron Flies Like Time by Akintunde Disu.

 To be on display as What's the Point? at Mall Galleries, South East London,,U.K, the group exhibition features artists, who, according to Disu, have no representative galleries in the country.

  Disu's works, specifically, revisits what he thought represents a section of West Africa's "industrial" era in the pre-colonial period. His research, he disclosed, was based on relics got from Nok culture, a civilisation dated to 1000BC. 

Last year, Disu brought a rich history of people and migration, focusing Lagos, in his solo art exhibition titled Layer Cake held at Didi Museum, Victoria Island, Lagos. The Dankolo, a nomadic people whose sojourn include north of Mali through the south of what would later become Nigeria was among those represented in the prints of Disu, last year. For What;s the Point? show, the artist continues tracking the Dankolo people and their contributions to the growth of ancient West Africa.

The peoples of the sub-region, he stressed, were never alien to technology. "This leap from pottery to iron is at once an allegory of our own self, specifically our emotions in the form of old memories and new religions," Disu stated in Lagos ahead of the exhibition's opening in London.  Disu, a sailor by first profession, expressed his thoughts in works such as Iron Flies Like Times and The Gaveling Repeating Rifle.

 Relics of the peoples’ proof of civilisation periods in technology are indeed abound in arts and culture, so the artist stressed. "Coinciding with this, the double headed axe itself is a sublime, hierarchical symbol at once standing for war and peace."  A part of the axe, he noted, "was used to fight and the other to clear a path." The double-headed axe, he explained also has a derivative from Yoruba culture. "For wealth and disaster the ability to cleave in two  as venerated by the high regard twins are held in the Yoruba culture and also the loss common with lightning strikes."

Indeed, the axe is actually known as ose-sango (a tool of Sango, god of lightning).  

On the medium of expression and the prints factor, Disu said the Iron Flies Like Times print “is the first of a set of four prints which reference the history of the people,” perhaps in a continuation of Layer Cake. 

Excerpts from Disu’s Artist Statement: “The multiplicity repetitiveness of the work signifies the productivity of mankind our industriousness and shared  experiences and also our proclivity to forget about specifics as we look at the bigger picture at the expense of the detail. While threads of the Nok style can be seen in all great Nigerian art e.g the Ife terracotta's and Benin bronze there is a gap of approximately 700 years in our history which has been lost to the sand of times.

 “This work aims to provide a basis for discussion, addressing these issues and connecting these vast  big majestic time spans. The double headed axe is present in almost all societies linked to iron and lightning and primordial gods, involved with the story of creation of man.

 This shared mythology I find fascinating especially as it pertains to man's curiosity and original thought process the journey from meteor strikes , lightning strikes and iron Ore deposits. The perfect storms creating temperatures above 1100ºC the dawn of industry.”

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