By Tajudeen Sowole
Populated with miniaturised nude figures, a body of work by Peju Alatise, shown as Preludes, Pretexts, Presumptions at Kia Showroom, Victoria Island, Lagos, accosts behaviourial patterns, prosecutes and perhaps convicts norms into the penitentiary of perception. But like every artist who wieldstheir creative freedom in a complex task of reminding everyone to visit the mirror, the verdict in Alatise’s incendiary concept is piercing.
A visit to the exhibition, three days after its formal opening, presents the artist's oeuvre in an internal, three-way competitive texture between the materials used, technique applied and the theme in focus. But with the truncating of social structures in developing countries, particularly the Africa region, the theme in this exhibition wins the contest despite the artist's display of profound contemporary ebullience, particularly in her techniques and styles energised by the diversity of materials.
As much as the miniaturised sizes of the figures - in each artwork appears to shield the nudity aspects, nearly all the body of work, each with more than three figures, is unclothed, and exposes the covert nudity. However, the relativity of when and how an artwork is perceived in whatever context is perhaps depends on the space and outlet.
From a set of burst figures titled ‘Prexist,’ dwarfed by the high headroom box-like frame; to ‘Sleeping Beauty,’ a set of eight, coiled figures of women in individual position; and ‘Bottom Power,’ seated women figures partly clothed, but with protruding backside, the theme of the exhibition, unavoidably appears caught in the flesh-mentality. And when, for example, the artist avers in ‘Sleeping Beauty’ that the work questions men's penchant for always desiring "women bodies," the complexity of contemporary oddity in gender re-definition seems to have knocked out her argument. Women also desire women’s body in an increasing rate of lesbianism across cultures.
From the artist's diary of a social quake comes ‘Every Night They Sleep They Dream Of Nothing,’ depicting symbols of a collapsed system that fuel hopelessness and gross injustice. The series, perhaps the most profound, thematically derives the deep message from its aged texture and malnourished figures placed in fragile frame under the burst canvas. The theme, Alatise says, "is inspired" by individual works of two cousins: late musician and very complex personality, Fela Anikulapo Kiti's ‘Shuffering and Shmiling’ and song of fearless dramatist, Prof. Wole Soyinka's The Man Died.
Given the passion embedded in every artist, whose message or calling is hardly selective of the face of receivers, Alatise's ‘Pretext...’ sternly pierces into the face of everyone, perhaps including activists alike, to take another look at the mirror.
There is no doubt that Alatise's spot in contemporary African art space is profound. But the artist's climb upwards the ladder of art market - beyond her Lagos, Nigeria base, is not exactly commensurate with the deepening and enriching texture of her skills.
For Arthouse, this exhibition perhaps opens a new page in using alternative and non-art gallery space. The third or fourth art show at the same spot, being organised by Arthouse The Space, ‘Pretext...,’ given the breathing space enjoyed by the artworks on the day of visit, there comes hope that subsequent exhibitions here would not be choked, sharing same space with the glittering cars while the show lasts.
Arthouse-The Space, in its statement, argues that it ventures into art exhibition, as a sister company from Arthouse Contemporary auction house to filll the vacuum of “white cube gallery spaces in Lagos."
Its mission statement reads, "We have aimed to shed light on the intellectual, practical, and affective labour of the artist for the reproduction of society, by opening spaces for sociability, association, and critical inquiry through the objects they create. In West Africa, artists have been given material form to the divine since time immemorial, bridging past and present in practices that also produce wealth in social and political forms. Through this lens, a work of art, far from only representing the world, has the potential to shape and transform the intimate forms in which the world is experienced."