By Tajudeen Sowole
Improper management of resources across public and private sectors, which leads to general poor leadership give visiting U.K-based artist, Gbenga Orimoloye reason to question the importance or relevance of formal education as foundation for development.
The artist digs into the value that his native Yoruba culture places on formal education and adapts the theme Iwe as title of his ongoing art exhibition, which ends on May 15, 2016 at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos. The exhibition of paintings, mostly of recent works of the artist, suggest a critical probe into the standard or quality of what people acquire as education and knowledge.
Significantly, the exhibition continues Orimoloye's consistence in building the themes of his exhibitions on one-word-Yoruba subject. Apart from last year, he has been showing a solo, consistently in Lagos for the past five or more years. For example, in 2014, Orimoloye, alumnus of Yaba College of Technology showed, Ona a body of work that dwelled on the people's fashionable tradition.
In Iwe, the tradition continues, but it comes with more attempts to give the artist's canvas of impressionism a fresh texture. With over 10 pieces for the Iwe series in less than 30 total exhibits, the importance of the theme is loud. From a group of six figures, captured in double perspective - to the right and left - concentrating on individual’s book or newspapers, to others such as habitual reading while lying down or reclining as well as formal settings such as classrooms, the power and influence of acquisition of letters, is stressed in Orimoloye's paintings. In one of the series Iwe- Milestone, oil on board, formal acquisition of knowledge is celebrated in a four-persons portrait of graduates in academic gowns. Supporting the premium placed on formal education, particularly at the academic level is Iwe - the nuances, a sea of graduates rendered from an aerial view.
For an artist who frequents Nigeria and monitors developments from his U.K base, the state of the nation's breakdown of infrastructure, he notes, is in contrast with the volumes of Nigerians who have acquired western education. He recalls how the inspiration for Iwe was germinated during a discussion with a friend on the same subject.
"The level of development in our society does not commensurate with the number of people who acquire academic qualification," Orimoloye argues during a preview of Iwe at Terra Kulture. "I realised that education is not measured by the people's acquisition of many degrees." The level of a society's development shows the quality of the people's education, he adds.
If the quality of academic qualifications of people in leadership, across stratas of socio-economic levels are questionable, where does the native value of the people comes in to fill the vacuum? The Yoruba traditions, for example, Orimiloye notes, have a lot of values. But, some, he cautions, "are undesirable."
Living in London, he has realised that the extended family value of Africans "has a lot of advantage" over the non-communal culture of the British.
In his artist statement, Orimoloye explains academic in the native context of Iwe. The theme, "Iwe is a Yoruba word for book. Though, depending on context or in common explicit use, it is often mentioned when talking about academia, a person’s intellect, study, education, among others," he writes. "The word School for instance is expressed as ile iwe."
Orimoloye's argument about the importance or relevance of academic qualification in advancing the people's lives should not be misunderstood as rubbishing the academia. "There is absolutely no doubt that education is important." He however insists that "the realities of the times in which we live are beginning to really question just what 'education' means or can mean - in our societal and individual contexts. It is as if some kind of revision of the whole concept is taking place, whether we’ll like to acknowledge this or not."
Some of Orimoloye's taping from his native values include Iwa at Nike Gallery, in 2011; in 2012, it was Ona, which focuses on the Yoruba word for the journey of life; Oju (Eye), a show that interrogates info-tech and the social media, in 2013; and lastly in 2014 he returned to Terra Kulture with Aso, as his palette focused penchant of Nigerians for gorgeous and elaborate dressings.