Sunday 4 October 2015

Too Large For Canvas, Alakija's Community Art Goes Prints

By Tajudeen Sowole
 Whoever is still unconvinced that prints from painting are integral part of art appreciation might need to take a look at the works of U.K-based Nigerian artist, Polly Alakija whose concepts of community-focus is too elaborate to fit into original canvas frames. It is a well-known fact that the Nigerian art collection space is averse to prints reproduced from original paintings. 

A print is produced from Remember 6 Feet by Polly Alakija, an artist in residence at Ibadan International School, Oyo State

A muralist, Alakija has been on tour of some states in Nigeria in the last two years as artist-in-residence, sharing her skills with rural and city dwellers. Reproduced in giclee prints, the paintings from the community project are currently on display as The Prints, showing till October 11, 2015, at Quintessence, Parkview Estate, Ikoyi, Lagos Island.

A few months ago, Alakija extended her paintbrush to Lagos when she painted on a molue bus, which was driven to and fro the mainland. Earlier, she had visited Kangimi Dam in Kaduna and Mapo, Ibadan city centre, where water tanker and long lorry in that order got the artist's brush strokes. On each of the community projects, the basic aim "was to inspire children," she told select guests a few days after The Prints opened to the public.
 Printed in limited editions, the exhibits come with additional aesthetic value in creative framing, suggesting a shift from the regular presentation of prints on canvas in Lagos. Some of the works include Kangimi III (2014), a water tanker truck at Fifth Chukker/Kangimi Resorts, Kaduna. With figures of rural people painted around the tanker, the print affords viewer an opportunity to see the side and back views in two reproductions. The Kaduna artist-in-residence programme, she disclosed, "was in association with Access Bank and Unicef."

The core section of Nigerian art collectors hardly accept prints of painting as a window in art appreciation. In fact, artists have been subdued to always part with original of paintings. For such a conservative environment, artists have been responding adequately by avoiding to take 'risk' in making prints. Even prints from lithographic process, which has been made more popular by master printmaker, Dr. Bruce Onobrakpeya are more acceptable when such works come from masters.
In 2008, a group exhibition of works reproduced in giclee prints, organized by Peter Madiebo of Hue Concepts was not exactly appreciated by the conservative Lagos art aficionados. Featuring paintings of notable artists, it was one of a few such shows in Lagos aimed at promoting affordable collection. But with Alakija's The Prints, there seems to be a shed of the conservative weight that the Lagos scene has arrogantly stuck to, over the decades. A few days after the opening of The Prints, Alakija shared her experience, noting that initially, people come with some resentment or reservation, but later, accept the print idea.
Coming from the west, the U.K, specifically, where print, as an integral part of art appreciation is taken for granted, Alakija would, perhaps, worry less about appreciation via print. Her main focus of the exhibition is about sharing her community project with the Lagos art environment. "Beyond watching me painting, the children get inspiration," Alakija said, adding that some of the kids never saw an artist at work before. Her passion for the community project keeps expanding such that she always like to plough back. "Fund from the sales of the prints are going back to the project."
Water Tanker, painted
In Ibadan, the eco system attracts Alakija's paintbrush focusing on deforestation. Major work here is painting on a wooden truck in Ibadan, with Mapo Hall in the background, which produced Remember 6 Feet. And did she focus deforestation in this part of the world? The deforestation challenge in Nigeria, Alakija argued, "is the worst in the world." Indeed, trucks for goods as well as lorry for passengers known as bolekaje (popular in western Nigeria and Lagos until the 1980s), built in woods are clear outlets for deforestation.
Alakija's artist-in-residence is gradually taking a life of its own beyond being an artist whose public art is on the mobile terrain. Currently, her work, a painting on Lagos water ferry, she disclosed "is to support Down-Syndrome children."

 From the Kangimi work in Kaduna; deforestation in Ibadan; Murals on Molue bus in Lagos; and the painting on ferry, wouldn't it be more cohesive to have her non-for profit art project come under a NGO? "Yes, I am working towards having a NG0," she assured.  

In 2013 Alakija had her first major art exhibition Here & There, at The Wheatbaker, Ikoyi, Falomo, Lagos; and early in 2015, she exhibited some of her prints from other works along with the Molue bus as a canvas on which she painted dancers.  The print exhibition at Quintessence and the Molue project were in collaboration with We Love Lagos, a non-governmental organisation helping to raise funds for two social empowerment groups, Eruobodo House, a home for disabled children, based in Ijebu Ode, Ogun State and Parkhood Dancers, a community dance troupe established by Sina Ipaye at Freedom Park, Lagos Island, to develop the talents of young persons.

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