Sunday 24 January 2016

Strokes of Equal Right in Omoighe's alarming narratives

By Tajudeen Sowole

Three years after Mike Omoighe dragged his canvas into the issues of managing a complex country like Nigeria, the artist takes his narrative a step further, focusing equity. In a mix of core abstraction and representational forms, Omoighe raises alarm over Nigeria's sliding to the era of military recklessness. 
Igene Nedan I, Middle Age wrestlers, charcoal on paper,    2015 by Mike OMOIGHE

An artist, whose palette, quietly though, has been against state impunity since 20 years ago, is now exposed in  Equal Right, Omoighe's new body of work, which, opens tomorrow and  showing till March 20, 2016 at Wheatbakers Hotel, Ikoyi, Lagos. Comparatively, Omoighe's current effort, sponsored by the Wheatbaker & Veuve Clic quot is less adventurous, in presentation, showing at a single venue and not multiple spaces as the last exhibition titled Portrait Of A Nation.

 The consistency of Omoighe, perhaps, as an artist in quiet activism is further confirm with the fact that some of the works were actually produced as response to the state of siege of Nigeria under the tyrant, General Sanni Abacha during the 1990s' 'June 12' struggle. Returning to his archive to exhume some of his old pieces, interestingly, also provides art historians and connoisseurs opportunity of appropriating Omoighe's representational and abstraction periods within the context of contemporary texture.

 However, given the state and mood of the Nigerian nation, currently, and salient choice of the exhibition's title as Equal Right, the philosphy or activism content gets a better part of one's focus over the form of expression implored. The exhibition, Omoighe tells a select guests during preview "is inspired by Eshan philosophy of co-existence: Unule, Unuile, Ozese:" With the ongoing unprecedented revelation of looting of Nigeria's commonwealth, the artist suggests that "perhaps Abacha era was better than what we have now."

Among the over 30 paintings and drawings on display is an abstraction titled Philosophy of Eki, a piece inspired by the artist's native perspective of world as a market place "full of intriques and drama."  

 For an artist whose contribution has broadened the scope of art at Yaba College of Technology where he has been a lecturer for over two decades, Omoighe's drawings in Equal Right should be of interest to historians. Largely of representational forms, the works, perhaps, offers much for comparative critique within the context of imploring visual narrative as a medium for activism. But Omoighe appears more protective of his abstraction form, even in a clime such as Nigeria where art appreciation - across classes of the society - leans towards populist expression. 

Philosophy of the Market by Mike Omoighe

"Every art requires study, like literature, to make the right impact,"  argues Omoighe whose career spaned both administrative and technical postings at Yabatech.

As much as it comes as a relief, once in a generation, to see visual artists in Nigerian art space making strong statement on issues concerning how the country is being governed, the energy requires to strengthen such activism is usually weakened by the sharp line between the artist and his/ her art. The artist as the same as his art is a complex position to take, Omoighe says.

And when curator of Equal Right, Sandra Mbanefo-Obiago in her introductory speech describes Omoighe as "very influential in the Nigerian art space," she confirms the artist's strides within the academic and mainstream art gallery. "In Equal Rights, Omoighe flexes his activist muscles by taking his viewers on a bold visual journey that starts with a nostalgic exploration of Nigeria’s political journey away from military rule. His journey  also reveals a  multi-layered multi-textured  documentation of the Igbabonelimi masquerade culture through complex visual poetry and subtle metaphors," Mbanefo-Obiago explains. 

Still on the background to his choice of theme, the artist writes in his statement: "History is constantly being made on a moment by moment basis through thoughts, words and actions.  Images in time and space capture the moment in every chosen medium of communication. When such images are viewed years after, the incidents they represent often appear as serious imaginative perception. In this exhibition, I am presenting two viewpoints from my sketches and jotting diary.

 "First is the implication of military rule in Nigeria which didn’t initially matter much to me until, when recently, I looked back at my reactions in jottings, sketches and paintings exhibited in 2005 in Survival Romance. Also, the cultural object of Ukpo-Esan-Fibre art in the Igbabonelimi masquerader’s costumes is being recreated and documented in a contemporary medium of paintings on canvas to communicate a visual poetry and metaphor as an activist’s social commentary."

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