Saturday 17 February 2018

Argungu Tribute To Oshinowo, Teachers of Masters

The Way We Are-4 ( OIL ON CANVAS, 20'' X 19'')
It's sheer boldness to keep painting and showing a single thematic series for as long as over four years. In fact, Moses Oghagbon's Argungu Series, currently in its seventh edition, has been defiant in an art environment such as Nigeria's. In this part of the world, a section of the country's art critics would odiously derogate Oghagbon as belonging to 'repetitive theme-artists.'

 Beyond the emotion germinated from the seeds of repugnant art critics, the reality is that it takes strong intellectuality for an artist to self-encircle his theme within a confinement, yet, remains obstinate for as long as he wants. Either in
photography, TV, Radio and visual arts documentation, it could be argued that no geographical part of Nigeria has been focused for such a period as Oghagbon's paintings of  cultural heritage of the Argungu Emirate, Kebbi State, in Northwest Nigeria.

 My first experience of Argungu as a writer on cultural appropriation was in 1999 while writing for the now rested National Concord newspapers. The rhythmic movement in sea of fishers against the ancient city's poetic skyline remained in my memory for long whenever I contextualized culture as strong contents in creativity and tourism.

 And in June 2013, at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos, my memory of Argungu was refreshed when Oghagbon had his solo exhibition titled Argungu Series-1. Inspired by his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) project tagged 'Tour Nigeria' of 2004, the exhibition was all the artist needed to fuel an arsenal of passion for his beloved Argungu theme. 

 Today, at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos, Oghagbon uses his Argungu Series to celebrate Oshinowo. Dedicating his current Argungu Series to celebrate the 70th birthday of Kolade Oshinowo comes with some kind of chemistry that exists between two generation of artists. Oshinowo, a former art teacher, prolific painter and link between Nigeria's modermists and contemporary artists, taught Oghagbon at Yaba College of Technology, Lagos.  He was a HND student under the tutelage of Oshinowo in 2003. The similarity between Oshinowo and Oghagbon is consistency in progression of which the two artists, to a large extent, have not succumbed to the jaws of contemporeneity. It is of note that contemporary art has been wrongly perceived or misconstrued - by some vocal minorities - as Avant-garde, in Nigeria. And the tragic effect of such misplacement has swallowed quite a number of promising young artists' identity into the belly of confusion. But Oghagbon remains on the track of focused-contemporary journey towards masterly destination.

 For this exhibition, Oghagbon continues in his lavishness of strokes from the depth of palette that strips off colour prejudice. In representing activities of Argungu in painting, the artist always make the best of the natural dramatic scenery of the northeast state by  allowing the beauty of the  skyline embrace more headroom space on his canvas. Also, an artist whose strength resonates in the application of lighting to create illusory dimensional picturesque is alive in Oghagbon's palette.

  Among the paintings on exhibit is Divine Return (2013), a long shot capturing of ecstatic youths running towards a destination of success. More interesting here is the capturing of the figures on motion, perfectly represented by the artist's strokes of lines in depth, under the feet of the runners.  Still on the artist's skill in generating theatrical scene by using the Siamese of shade and light, a heavy human traffic scene titled Homewards (2014) asserts his ability in using palette knife or brush strokes to separate colours in texture similar to digital imagery reproduction.

 Oghagbon's mastery of light and shade continues to blossom in Meeting 3, where each competes for concentration of space.

 Who are the people of Argugnu? In figural portraiture such as Reflecting Series as well as Study, the artist  captures people across the elites and less privileged class. And like in most society of African settings, the Argungu people, so suggests Oghagbon's figural depiction, could also be identified by native fashion statements.

 Writing about Argungu Seventh Edition could be an incomplete critique without revisiting the artist's debut exhibition of the theme. The content of Argungu Series 1, so explain, the artist's strokes on canvas, traversing the famous yearly cultural event, Argungu International Fishing and Cultural Festival in Kebbi State of which the town is known for.

 After getting so familiar with the town, even after his Youth Corp days, Oghagbon seemed compel to tell the story of Argungu, of which he argued most people did not know outside the fishing festival. “The exhibition talks more about the people, rural scenes and womanhood before, during and after the Argungu International Fishing Festiva,” Oghagbon explained during a chat five years ago.

 The artist traced the history of Argungu Festival to 1934 as a goodwill gesture and celebration of peace between the people of Sokoto and Argungu. “It is the largest Festival, of its type, in Nigeria,” he argued then.

 However, his focus of the debut show, he stressed, “is to change the perception of people; Argungu is not all about men in water alone.” And having bottled his love for the northern landscape and people for almost a decade, Oghagbon chose to celebrate nature and creativity with the traditional institution of the people.

  To confirm that his art had a robust relationship with the people, the opening of Argungu Series 1, was not without the presence of the Emir, Alhaji Samaila Muhammadu Mera (CON) who was represented by Alhaji Abubakar Dan-Mallam (District Head Bui). In fact, the Govermoment of Kebbi State was also represented by Mr Abel Akinosi, the Chief Consultant at Argungu Fishing Festival.

 And as the Argungu Series-7 is a tribute to the prolific master, Oshinowo, the exhibiting artist, Oghagbon, expands the scope of subjects for his landscape painting passion. With this exhibition, Oghagbon records another historic moment; being counted in visual documentation of Oshinowo.

 And by extension, every guest present at Argungu -7 exhibition is part of the historic exhibition in celebrating Kolade Oshinowo at 70. Please enjoy and appreciate the art pieces on display.

 Tajudeen Sowole is a Media Content Consultant and Art Advisor.

+234 803 712 9464.

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