Sunday, 25 October 2015

For Osiemi, We Wear The Mask Of Deception



By Tajudeen Sowole

U.S-based Nigerian artist, Felix Osiemi's visual narratives, which assess leadership and followership in Nigerian governance space, also highlight conspiracy theory of self-destruct that indicts everyone in the country's quest for a just society. The artist argues that the people's fear of being heard as well as the leaders' continuous feasting on the masses' weakness are a collective deception covered by mask, which breeds perpetual under development.
 
‘Alter of Power’ 2015 mixed media by Felix Osiemi
In stylised, figural, using fabrics as covert collage, Osiemi shows how his brushstrokes are not unconnected with the reality in Nigeria, so suggests his solo exhibition titled We Wear The Mask, showing at Signature Beyond Gallery, Ikoyi, Lagos. And despite being based abroad with apparently no activities on the Lagos art scene for nearly two decades, Osiemi appears to have remained in the art consciousness of observers at home his signature is still unforgotten, at least, among art connoisseurs and aficionados.


 Returning to the exhibition circuit with a solo in almost 20 years after his last show in Lagos, the choice of theme is also timely. Currently, most Nigerians who are passionate about change in the country's leadership texture, from insanity to accountability, are hopefully waiting for the new dawn to become a reality. But Osiemi is still skeptical: tracking development at home from his U.S base appears to have afforded him a view of what some people at home do not see.

   
"The Mask We Wear is the suffering; it's a conscious way of living with the suffering, accepting our condition," Osiemi tells a guest inside the carved out exhibition space at Signature Beyond Gallery, few days after the show opened. "It is about the fear that stalls advancement. It is about the mask of deception behind which, we hide our fears and pain. A smile is not always a reflection of joy; on occasion it is a way to conceal sadness." He discloses that Wole Soyinka’s literary work, Kongi’s Harvest "influenced this work," describing the current state of affairs as "a world of maladministration and blatant violence." Osiemi agues "that hiding our intentions behind masks may be a form of slavish submission to the forces that shape our future."

   
In one of the works titled Across the Sea We Dance,  Osiemi symbolically, depicts the vassal situation that most African countries are being gaged by policy makers. "if we believe in ourselves, we should be truly independent." 


For policy makers, Osiemi's Behind the Curtain (Stage) is a food for thought. Linking the process of policy making to the resultants 'mask' metaphor, the artist warns that the decision arrived at by lawmakers "are more important" in shaping the "performance," which represents the people's fortune or destiny.

   
Curiously, one's attention is drawn to the artist's canvas that is glaringly populated with ladies. Most often, artists in this part of this world claim that the attraction of the palette to ladies’ figure is for aesthetics, not exactly sensuous reason. But for a subject of nationhood question, which Osiemi treats in We Wear the Mask, he sees "motherhood as a symbol of nationhood."

   
Hardly would anyone fault Osiemi's view on Nigeria, from the Diaspora. However, his artistic narrative as a painter who has left the local scene for nearly two decades might need to keep pace with the expanding aggression of the Lagos art space, even within the artist’ clear identity. Several years ahead of We Wear The Mask, Osiemi was in Lagos, perhaps to show that he was not exactly out of touch with the daily dynamic of Nigerian art. "I was impressed with the level of development when I came here in 3013," he recalls.


 Painting collage in materials such as ankara, adinkra, and others considered as African elements coalesced to form what he describes as "part of my art-making process and sustained inquiries into identity."

  
 From his Artist Statement: “I am an artist and a painter inclined to issues that may impact social values, people and ethics. My works are informed by my interaction with the secular and the spiritual.

  
 “In a world of mass administration and blatant violence, my intention is to organize the material world to reflect meaning that may uplift our consciousness with the intent to provoke critical dialogue, and create a context in art as a way of healing.

 “I see art as truth, and truth beauty. I believe the more beauty we see, the more we evolve. Such beauty may impact our quality of life, and advance the contemporary world."
 (Published in The Guardian Nigeria, Sunday, October 25, 2015)

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