By Tajudeen Sowole
Thematically based on the plight of victims of displacement, Ngozi Schommers' collage paintings, interestingly, bring an opportunity to see the subject through the perspective of a resident in Germany. Also of interest is the fact that, increasingly, a conservative Lagos art space is being challenged in battle for the soul of the rising value of appreciation, so confirms Schommers's technique in sprinkling of confetti on canvas.
Currently showing as We Are Not Welcome Here at Rele Gallery, Onikan, Lagos, the body of work, which is Schommers debut solo exhibition also, in contemporary context appears to expand the technique of pointillism using confetti. For the artist whose signature is just eclipsing into the Lagos art space, her attempt to be adventurous appears like a self-tasking point of take off.
Curated by Jude Anogwih, We Are Not Welcome Here stretches the issue of displacement to battle for survival, where, most times, retreat is unimaginable, yet the frontier of dreamland appears like a mirage. With quite a modest preview event, which had guests trickling into the exhibition space at Rele Gallery - a day before the public opening - enough ventilation was created for the works to breathe.
A triptych of drawings and shade paintings mounted opposite the gallery's entrance seems like the centre of attraction for most guests during the Saturday evening. Titled The Flu, its rendition of figures across the triptych lines explains displacement of another form, so suggests Schommers’ thoughts during a chat at the preview. From German inspiration of a similar word that indicates "flight", the artist distils a situation where "everyone is on his or her own," particularly in a world contending with all kind of diseases.
Viewing the rest of the exhibits through the prism of the conceptual depth of The Flu appears like ascendancy in appropriation as Margarita of Old And New (confetti inject photo print and acrylic on canvas) strays into one's sight from right side of the gallery. In what looks like a surreal or conceptual composite realism, Margarita... presents energetic impression of a painstakingly rendered art piece.
Deep into the white walls of the gallery, rains of confetti gets louder on the portraits of these unwelcome persons. As works of art, they form Schommers' identity on canvas, so suggest titles like Life Is A Gamble, and In A Bub le series 1 & 2, all portraitures of a child, lad and young adult among several others that are highlight the displacement themes. For example, Untittled (we are not welcome here), depict a distressed-face of what looks like a young Arab child. And with butterflies as well as flowerings as signs matted on the subjects, Schoomers stresses the flight analogy of the theme in focus.
Being a citizen in Germany, a country at the receiving end of refugees from the Middle East, and perhaps parts of Africa, Schommers has an opportunity of first-hand information. She recalls how her contact with some of the refugees started when she arrived Germany two tears ago. From her observation of the activities of the migrants and refugees, some of "who were my neighbours" she distills the constrains of the people "to adjust to the restrictions of space," in the host country.
Apart from those displaced as a result of wars in their homelands, the other set of self-inflicted displaced persons and 'economic refugees' are still on the increase in Europe despite dwindling resources of most of the unwilling host countries. Is there anything 'privileged' residents like Schommers can do to assist these people, particularly in educating them on the challenges ahead?
Displacement, she responds "is a constant movement" that is perhaps unavoidable as people "always move from place to place in search of greener pastures or simply just to survive." Schommers advises such displaced persons "to observe and understand the diversity of culture, particularly of their host country and try as much as possible to integrate and adapt properly."
In creative context of stepping out for a debut solo outing, which, clearly, could shape her career in the future, Schommmers, like few artists, is coming out with a defined direction. However, her post-training - 2011 to 2014/15 appears to me as too short experience to generate what she has at Rele during the private preview. In fact, she must have had a pre-school experience on the canvas, so one would think. She discloses that "this experimentation has been going" whilst in school at Yaba College of Technology. And when she set out for the exhibition, there came input such as "a strong curatorial support," which "helped to shape and structure what is presented at Rele gallery." In fact, her current stride, she boasts "is just a quarter in terms of number of what has been made over the last five years."
For Rele, a space that seems to be enjoying its euphoria of creating new and fresh art contents, Schommers' We Are Not Welcome Here affirms the direction of the gallery. Traditionally, artists are too independent to be lured into gallery's art agenda or philosophy. “Challenge of getting artists fit into our vision at Rele is not exactly much," says Adenrele Sonariwo. "We respect each others' views, such that we avoid telling artists to paint in a particular way, but it must fit into our vision."
And the shades of connoisseurs as well as other art lovers and collectors at the preview leave no one in doubt that despite the gallery's non-traditional approach to contents management, it seems to be getting a fare share of attention. Just one year old in the business, it is perhaps too early to celebrate anything. But, "we have the followers of our vision," Sonariwo boasts.
Curator, Anogwih notes how the artist "brings some kind of game feeling to most of her works through the placement of subjects, or arrangement and use of card games (poker) to indicate power struggle, manipulation of different situation, the (our) system, unfairness, greatness, discrimination." He appraises what she describes as Schommers' "constant use of flowers and butterflies in her works suggests migration, freedom, transformation, life, damage and hope. And in some cases, just something beautiful, signifying that life is beautiful irrespective of the odds."
Schommers' palette is not exactly new to the Lagos art scene, having shown in quite some group exhibitions. For example, her works featured in 2014 at Sensing Space, a group exhibition by Defactori artists, which included Awoyemi Ajibade, Ola B alogun, Anthony Ayanu, John Akintunde, Chika Idu, Taiwo George -Taylor, Adeladan Adeshino, Ngozi Schommers, Joe Essien and Damola Adepoju.
Her bio reads: Schommers, b. 1974, is a multimedia artist. She was born in Enugu and graduated in Painting from Yaba College of Technology, Lagos in 2011. She has participated in several group shows. She is a full time studio artist.
Excerpts from Sxhommers’ Artist Statement: “I think of how my subjects construct their lives. I see and understand their innocence or lack of it, manipulation, struggle, neglect and curiosity. Just like the way I connect my dots as in the confetti I string together to make my art, I also tend to fuse these varying human lives together, because at the end of the day no matter how individualistic we maybe, we still all live together in the same universe as humans.”
Past exhibitions include Nzuko ime emume (Gathering to celebrate) Group Exhibition at the American International School, Lagos (2013); Sensing Spaces Group Exhibition at Terra Kulture, Lagos (2014).
She lives and works in Bremen Germany and Lagos Nigeria.