Sunday 4 June 2017

It’s Not Furniture… Stepping Out With Fresh Signatures

From Akpojo Marcelina, a painting titled Yellow Lagos I (Danfo Series)
An aura of burgeoning Lagos contemporary art energy radiates inside the moderate space at Omenka Gallery, Ikoyi, on a Saturday afternoon as works of six young artists add to the unfolding youthful narrative of Nigerian visual expressionism. Also, the dominating age group of visitors to the exhibition titled It’s Not Furniture align with the youthful texture of the exhibiting artists: Marcellina Akpojotor,
Logo Oluwamuyiwa, Ken Nwadiogbu, Fola David, John Madu and Jekein Lato-Unah.

  In painting, drawing, photography and mixed media, the artists, who are in their 30s, seem to be slaking the thirst of new and emerging lovers of art in a fast-growing Lagos art hub city.

In less than an hour into the opening, the red tags were already showing on the walls, despite the obvious non-presence of the regular and common faces that buy art at exhibitions in Lagos. Clearly, It’s Not Furniture comes to town with its own artists, contents and followers - gazing into the future. 

  In fact the six digit prices for most of the works could give established and other mid-career artists grey hair.

  Beyond the possible controversy that the commercial tone of the tags on the walls may generate, there is quite a lot to chew in critical appreciation of the contemporaneity of the artists’ works. From Danfo series, in fabric-textured and impasto-style portraiture on the canvas of Akpojotor, the journey through It’s Not Furniture takes off at the immediate entrance of the gallery. Though her paintings appear like some fashion statements portraiture, Akpojotor (b.1989), strangely, expresses worry over the possible extinction of her favourite yellow colour and black stripes mini-commercial buses on Lagos roads. She disagrees with Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, warning that “if he removes danfo from Lagos roads, the yellow colour that has become a culture and history will be lost.” Fashion accessories created for the figures are in the Lagos yellow black stripes, confirming her passion for the city’s identity.

  For Logo, a voice of the under-represented artists is heard in his photography series Gallery Staircase. Captured in spiral-like, the work suggests ‘unpleasant’ visit to art gallery, which most young artists always experience. Indeed, in most part of commercial art spaces across the world, artists don’t set the rules; the galleries do. But Logo has issue with the way the rules are set for artists. The staircase theme, he says, “is my opinion of gallery business that is not exactly discovering artists.”

  In drawing with charcoal on paper, David, among many other themes, celebrates what he describes as The Resilience of Nigerians, “their bouncing back to come stronger from any misfortune.” And quite illustrative in visual context is his depiction of injured boxer’s fist to drive the theme.

  Sexuality as defined and prescribed by law in Nigeria as well as sensuousness of male over the female body is among the themes that Lato-Unah shows in painting. In what looks like a two-female portraiture, titled Sec 21, the artist highlights the imbalance of the Nigerian law that criminalises same sex. Lato-Unah, who is currently studying law after graduating in Fine Arts, argues that the section “is the only part of the Nigerian constitution that female gets better advantage than men.” She notes that while same-sex in men are easily noticed, two women bonding in “lesbianism is hard to detect openly.” And on male sexual behavioural pattern towards female body, the artist, in a surreal, titled Pay Attention flaunts her conceptual visual skill. But the painting also captures men in their regular sub-conscious gaze into the torso of females.  Formerly trained outside Africa, Lato-Unah, sometimes, faintly leans towards Caucasian features in her forms.

  With newspaper cuts, Nwadiogbu laces his monochrome drawings with contents of cultural revival. He argues that though it seems “our people are protecting African culture, but we are not exactly preserving it.”

  For Madu, bold figures and application of colours make his work a bridge between the resilience conservative Lagos art space and an emerging contemporary texture.

  Organised by Temple Management Company, It’s Not Furniture, as a debut exhibition for the new artists, does not exactly capture the dynamics of Nigeria’s contemporary art space. The absence of floor display, either in sculpture or installation, shuts out a sub-genre of the Nigerian visual culture that has produced quite a number of masters.

  However, curator of the exhibition, Winifred Okpapi, explains how the content for the show, in thematic terms, were generated. “The theme is a direct response from the artists to express themselves and interpret the situation in the country.”

  Currently managing Victor Ehikhamenor, TMC, Okpapi says, is also giving young artists opportunity, adding, “We select artists based on experimental and other factors, but TNX is looking at young artists to help them grow.” The exhibition is  supported by Cool fm, Guardian Life, TSA Magazine, Nigeria info, First Culture and Venture Africa.

  Excerpts from the management statement: “This exhibition is one of many to come as part of a series serving as a pertinent reaction by contemporary artists from different parts of Nigeria to our peculiar circumstances by declaring that art, in all its awesomeness, is not furniture but a representation of the life, belief and culture of individuals.”

-Tajudeen Sowole.

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