Sunday 29 November 2015

Alakija's Stories of Art With A Social Conscience

By Tajudeen Sowole

Sidiquat from Polly Alakija’s Art With A Social Conscience
The exhibiting space that displays Polly Alakija's social responsibility art project at Foreshore Harbours, Osborne Estate, Phase 2, Jetty Club, is as quiet as the artist's work across Nigeria. Apart from the ray of mild morning light radiating from the sea, piercing through the glass door and providing illumination inside the lounge, the wall paintings in original canvas and prints by Alakija have no other visitor during this quiet morning visit,  few days after the formal opening of Art With A Social Conscience.

For over a year, Alakija who shares her studio base between Lagos and Gloucestershire, U.K. has been using art to engage communities in select Nigerian urban and rural spots. Some of the works, produced from her Artist-in-Residence form the bulk of the display.

Mounted at the reception of the lounge are portraits of Nafisa and Tilatu painted during Alakija's residence at Fifth Chukker Polo Club, Kaduna as well as drawings from her Lagos Jazz Series such as Africa 80 in Rehearsal: Kalakuta, Keyboard Player, Tony Allen, among others.    

 Stepping inside the lounge proper, the canvas begins to open up, displaying elaborate works of an artist whose realism style of painting perches on outline of figures to emboss images off the canvas.

One of the revelations from Alakija's Art With A Social Conscience exhibition is the hidden fact that Lagos has been an alternative or temporary homes to quite a number of IDPs from the northeast of Nigeria. Three paintings Two Boys Series I and II as well as Gambo and Family explain quiet rehabilitation of Boko Haram-related victims and IDPs in Lagos. The two paintings of an adult and a young - roughly under seven years old - stress the diverse textures of the IDPs in Lagos. As at the period of the painting, the only help, which the senior of the boys could offer his younger brother was a rest to take sleep on his laps. The IDPs found their ways to Ikoyi with the hope that "there would be a better opportunity in Lagos," Alakija says.

 For Gambo, a family man who strayed into the canvas of Alakija - as Keke NAPEP driver - during the artist’s community art project, Lagos is not his kind of place. Gambo, Alakija discloses, is from Chibok, and got married in Lagos after his partner was sent to him from another part of the north. "He is not happy in Lagos, wants to go back to Chibok as soon as possible," the artist narrates her experience working with Gambo who, in addition to using his keke for the project, also "assists in some painting works with the participant children during workshop."

Alakija's canvas is populated with stories that could inspire a bestseller. Sidiquat, painting of a mother and child, according to the artist is a narrative of another home-sick parent who, though had her baby in Lagos, "now wants to go back to the north east."

Between the depth of the artist's skills on canvas and her choice of subject, the attention appears to be more on the latter. And not exactly a commendable one for the artist, so some observers feel. She recalls being asked: 'Polly, these are sad paintings. Can't you tell other stories?' But she argues that these are the realities she "encounters."

A section of display at Art With A Social Conscience
However, Alakija's canvas is not all about 'sad' stories, so suggest other works such as She Didn't Come To Lagos To Count Bridge, Ayoba and murals on a ferry, among others that either focus on the colourful side of the aquatic city or narrative from legendary world of Susanne Wenger’s Osogbo.

More importantly, the Art With A Social Conscience exhibition, which was organised in partnership with The Children’s Developmental Centre (CDC) as a community project, also helps to support NGOs that are involved in rehabilitation of IDPs and other related victims of socio-economic imbalance. Proceeds from the sales of the paintings, Alakija assures go to volunteer groups. Among such is ETN Church, Ikeja.

Commending the effort of Alakija, one Africa's top art collectors Prince Yemisi Shyllon who was a guest speaker at the opening stated: "The kind of exemplary contributions to society by Alakija are what makes life meaningful.”

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