By Tajudeen Sowole
From the perspective of visual narration, eight artists drag traditional and digital newspapers into the spot of socio-political effect of constant flood of news dissemination. But unlike the sacrosanct tenets of news content, which is about two sides to an issue, the artists' narratives - unavoidably - have no space for the media to defend itself.
The illicit Proliferation Of Small And Large Arms by Bob-Nosa Uwagboe among works on display at Art Twenty One, Lagos
Expressed in painting, photography, mixed media collage and video installation, the exhibition titled Breaking News, and currently showing till June 22, 2016 at Art Twenty One, Eko Hotel and Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos, however stresses the resilience of instant news dissemination.
With quite a mix of uncommon names and relatively known artists, the exhibition radiates certain level of modesty such that even the expansive 600sqm space of Art Twenty One is sparsely occupied. Perhaps quite a feeling of freshness to see non-regular names such as Abraham Oghobase, Bob-Nosa Uwagboe, Chibuike Uzoma, Uche Uzorka showing with rarely seen others such as Jakob S. Boeskov and Teco Benson, Obinna Makata and Native Maqari.
The curator, Joseph Gergel says the gathering "explores how artists examine the politics and mechanisms of the mass media." The artists, he adds, are probing the diversity of social and political issues in Nigeria, highlighting “violence and government corruption” as well as “Nollywood and popular consumer trends.”
In 34 miniature-size pieces of partly burnt newspaper collage titled Desire Series by Uzoma, the headlines such as 'Govt Gets Confab Report Today' dated Sunday July 24, 2005; and an unnamed newspaper's heading 'Congress: PAP adopts open ballot,’ both revisit some of the bad memories of Nigeria's politics post-1999. And painterly monochrome of skulls on each of the pieces, in the thought of the artist, suggests "desperation of mass media" that fetes on odd situations.
From a comic hero, Captain Rugged comes Maqari and Keziah Jones collaboration as the illustrator serves select pieces, direct from the magazine, on the wall of Art Twenty One. The cut-out frames highlight travail of Rugged in the stream of corrupt public office holders, untrusted security gents, even dreaded reporters, all account for the concept's "fact and fiction that highlight new realities."
Perhaps for fear of resolution loss, the frames are presented in very small sizes. But it gives the high-headroom at Art 21 opportunity to swallow the pieces, almost making the pictures vanish against the bright walls.
In his core impressionism, Uwagboe unveils his thoughts with five pieces he calls The illicit Proliferation Of Small And Large Arms. He challenges leadership to be more responsive. Arguably, one of the most consistent young artists of his generation, Uwagboe’s signature of conservative figural forms betrays his age of popular rendition of realism representation.
Lending painterly voice to Nigeria’s ironic challenges is Makata’s Basket Full Of Blood. He would not comprehend government’s inability to check terrorists of different shades across the country. His collage of basket seats on canvas with drips of red is indeed a chilling view against white canvas. Few weeks after the opening of the exhibition, a similar work found its way into an auction in Lagos.
In a video installation, collaboration with filmmaker Teco Benson, artist Boeskov adds his voice to the importance of caging organised-crime. The clip from Dr Cruel And the Afro Icelandic Liberation Front highlights how crime pierces through the fabric of the society.
For Oghobase, self-portrait in photography comes with what he predicts as Sign of the Time, using a list of Nollywood titles such as Roasted Alive, Enemy Must Obey and Occultic Father, among others to defend the producers’ perspective of the society.
In Engagements of Empathy, a nation in search of survival from all fronts appeals to Uzorka. With bold letterings such as Nigeria Go Better, Nigeria Go Survive, No Wahala, God Dey, the artist echoes the usual optimism of an oppressed people.
Excerpts from Gergel’s curatorial notes: “In a world of twenty-four hour news cycles and virtual communications, how does the media shape our society and define who we are? Permeating our daily lives in the ever-present bombardment of headlines and images, these artists question not only the content of the news but its very framework.
“They look at how Nigeria is defined in the local and global news media, and how cultural myths are articulated and perpetuated. In an act of subversion, these artists cut, crop, and shred the vernacular news archive, a literal and symbolic act of destruction. Rather than succumb to the commercial pressures of the media industry, they create a visual language to portray new perspectives and alternative narratives. Are we melting into the static of our technological screens, or is there still room for individuality in our new media world?”