Diseye Tantua, seated on one of his sculptures during the exhibition.
For the first time, Tantua, a mid-career artist known for his pop art painting over the past decade, shows his sculptures, a body of work that radicalises art appropriation
in rendition of dismembered body of cars, as well as chairs designed with iconised concept. Organised by Arthouse - The Space at Kia Showroom, Victoria Island, Lagos, the show would not attempt to shock the world again like the originator of found-object art, Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968). But Tantua’s stresses the importance of taking art out of the traditional environment such as the regular gallery. Indeed, Tantua’s S’Art would not fit into most regular art galleries. For example, a three settee setting that components back axle and seats of cars, as well as a rear windshield, all radiate an ingeniously surreal installation art.
But the installations and sculptural pieces are not exactly a distance from the Tantua signature, except that, for S’Art the medium is three-dimensional. As a pop art painter who infuses ‘afro’ flavour into his kind of contemporary expression, thematically, the renditions are always satirical. For his current exhibition, Tantua lifts satire from canvas onto the floor in three-dimensional objects to induce art as the base for most designs and functional creative object like cars. The artist converts some of the car parts, for example, into office and domestic application to replace functions of furniture. The idea of auto body parts as sculptural objects appropriated in art came from observing his father’s old Benz car 200 for quite a while.
Away from those deconstructed trunks of cars, as pieces of furniture, Tantua’s well-established signature in the late Afrobeat legend, Fela themes continues. In fact, the complex musician, in portraiture, dominates the walls. One of the paintings, in compartment frames of eight, for example, pays tribute to the late maverick artiste smoking what looks like the infamous ‘grass’.
However, Fela as a complex subject means different things to those who draw inspiration from his two conflicting sides to socio-political views. For Tantua, post-Fela era is it. “The world now knows Fela more than before,” he enthuses. “Beside the music, Fela’s personality speaks to the common man, so is my afro pop art, which relates and communicates with the people on the streets.
Art as contents of functional and design objects has not been as prominent or common in Nigeria’s creative space. For S’Art, five icons: Profs Wole Soyinka, Prof Chinua Achebe, Demas Nwoko, Ken Saro-Wiwa and Rex Lawson get tributes in the design concept of Tantua for functional objects. In wooden chairs, each of the legends has his portrait painted in pop art form as well as inscribed text, on the chair.
Thematically, the exhibition is a tribute to Nwoko who turned 81 years. Tantua says his visit to the Octogenarian’s house where some chairs inspired him led to the concept of the exhibition. S’Art, he explains, is derived from “sat” as past tense of sit, making reference to sit.
“My relationship started with Demas three years ago inside his house, where these chairs attracted my attention.” The attraction would lead to passion, “so I bought one of the chairs that is about 40 years old.” With the consent of Nwoko, Tantua painted the portraits of the literary icons and one musical legend on the chairs. “I later took the chairs back to him. So amazed, we agreed to exhibit the chairs with other works.”
Tantua must have been preparing for this concept over two years ago; in 2015, he disclosed to me his plan to unveil a new period of his art. It was then about three years after his return from a U.S. exhibition trip, where he seemed to have consolidated on the rising profile of his art.
Tantua’s new-found inspiration in a modernist, Nwoko, strikes the promoters of the show.
“This powerful collaboration brings together two generations of artists in dialogue with each other, reflecting how contemporary art is shaped by its modern predecessors and its continuing relevance today,” CEO, Arthouse Contemporary, Kavita Chellaram writes in the catalogue of the exhibition.
In 2009, as a Port Harcourt-based artist, Tantua had his first major solo titled Look n’ Laugh at Signature Gallery, Ikoyi, Lagos Island.
(First published in The Guardian Nigeria, August 6, 2017).