Sunday 15 January 2017

Knighthood Of New Dawn For African Diaspora Creativity

By Takudeen Sowole

When the prestigious knighthood by the Queen of England holds in June this year, two Africans whose works in art and design are highly revered, globally, would assert the importance of Africa on the world's contemporary creative landscape. Nigerian-British artist, Chris Ofili and his Ghanaian counterpart, architect David Adjaye, also based in the U.K are on the list of the Queens’s knighthood honours, an event that marks the birthday of Queen Elizabeth II.  
Yoruba sculpture-inspired design of National Museum of African American History and Culture, in Washington, U.S.

Adjaye, whose works in public spaces across the world are well known crowns his revered spot in architecture as the lead architect of the newly opened Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture  in Washington D.C, U.S.  Ofili, a Turner prize-winning artist who has worked with the architect on the Nobel Peace Centre
in Oslo and The Upper Room installation (1999-2002), is also being recognised in the Queen's Honours list as CBE.

   The knighthood, which traditionally holds in June during the Queen’s official birthday will also honour veteran photographer, Don McCullin, who recorded conflicts in Cyprus, Vietnam and Africa in the 1960s and 70s; Jenny Waldman, the director of 14-18 Now, who played a great role in in the UK- creativity of the First World War period; co-founder of Lisson Gallery, Nicholas Logsdail, and the artists Bob and Roberta Smith and Ryan Gander.

 Interestingly, Ofili and Adjaye always meet on the journey through the landscape of creativity. For example, Adjaye designed Stephen Lawrence Centre, London, U.K, facility in the memory of a black teenager who was murdered in racially motivated attack. On the same tragic subject of Lawrence - who aspired to become an architect - Ofili's painting No Woman No Cry (1988) was inspired by the plight of Lawrence's mother, Doreen.

 In fact, the painting, which derives its title from Bob Marley's 1974 hit No Woman No Cry, was listed among the works that won Ofili U.K's most prestigious art award, the Turner Prize. 

 Generating emotive depth, the work, done in acrylic, oil, resin, polyester, paper collage, map pins and elephant dung on canvas depicts tears rolling down the cheek of Doreen. And the tears: tiny reproduced pictures of the murder victim, Lawrence.

 Recall that after 13 years of trial and retrial, two of the five suspects, Gary Dobson and David Norris were found guilty of Lawrence’s murder and sentenced to 15 years two months and 14 years three months, as teenage convicts.

  While Ofili's art is yet to be felt, directly on his native Nigerian soil, Adjaye, interestingly, has extended his work to Africa, Nigeria specifically. Adjaye is the designer of one of the newest buildings Alara Contemporary, in central business district  of Victoria Island, along Olugbade Street, Lagos.

 And more profound in Adjaye's African identity of his work is the recently opened Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington. A three-tiered structure, the motifs, Adjaye told Smithsonian is inspired by a Yoruba sculpture.

 Conspetualised over 100 years ago, the museum, in the last 15 years got accelerated attention when former president of U.S, George Bush signed its construction into law. From the assumption office of  Barack Obama's administration till the opening last December, donation had been given by both government private sectors for its construction.

  The features of the museum design, which derives its architectural contents from diverse culture also has European link. "From one perspective, the building’s architecture follows classical Greco-Roman form in its use of a base and shaft, topped by a capital or corona," the museum states on its website. "In this case, the corona is inspired by the three-tiered crowns used in Yoruban art from West Africa." The sculpture from an unknown artist, that inspired the central motifs,  was found in Ile-Ife, Osun State, southwest Nigeria, and reflects crown of an Oba (King).

 Adjaye, born 1966, had his studio's first solo exhibition, Making Public Buildings, at the Whitechapel Gallery in London in January 2006. After a brief working period with David Chipperfield (London) and Eduardo Souto de Moura (Porto), heteamed with William Russell in 1994 to form Adjaye & Russell, in North London. In year 2000, the partnership ended, and Adjaye  established his solo studio, which has been runing till date.

 Ofili, born 1968 and 1993, came into the radar of art world after his paintung The Holy Virgin Mary, became an issue, which generated in a lawsuit between the mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani, and the Brooklyn Museum of Art, in 1999 during a group exhibition, Sensation.

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