Wednesday 9 May 2018

Sympathy for leadership challenge in Okpu's 'Boundaries'

'Untitled', 2018, Mixed media, Triptych - 48 x 96 inches (Each Panel)
'Male Model' 2015 Oil on canvas 16 x 16 inches
Leadership and state of the nation are two factors that inspired artist, Norbert Okpu in suggesting collective participation at getting solution and not criticism, always.

 Okpu, who appears to have sympathy for leaders in the period of nationhood challenges shares his thoughts in Breaking Boundaries, a solo art exhibition opening on May 12, 2018 at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos. Simply from the common notion of doing things differently to get new results, Okpu's visual narrative of Breaking Boundaries raises issues
about the limit of human capacity in leadership.
 "To change my environment, I need to change from my end", the artist declares during preview of the show. His art, he says, is the starting point.
 With one of the works titled Uneasy Lies the Head, Okpu explains his sympathy for those who lead a complex nation such as Nigeria's where ethno-religious textures cloud rational reasoning.

"It is not easy to lead people" , Okpu insists, adding that "this work shows us  to respect our leaders because they have so many things to think about". In reality, Okpu should be told that leadership is not forced on anyone; politicians offer themselves to serve the people. Whoever chooses to lead should be prepared for the uneasiness, and not the excuse of 'it's not easy to lead'.

But Okpu still has a defence for people in authority: "Yes, leaders should be prepared for the task ahead", he agreed. "But sometimes, situation comes that a leader needs the support of the people being led, particularly  immediate cabinet members of the government".
However, the complex side of chosing leaders, sometimes turns democracy upside down. "People, most times do not chose the leaders; imposition always take place under democracy".
 From one work to another, Okpu's visual narrative in leadership subject appears like some sermons by clerics. In fact, Nigerian clerics who incite their followers to engage in ethno-religious crisis just because of hatred against a particular head of government - either at state or federal level - have something to learn from Okpu. This much of peaceful advocacy the artist expresses in another work simply titled Love, a painting that coalesces aesthetics and other values. "Love comes in different forms," he explains. "Whatever religion we share, we should tolerate other people's belief".  He argues that "so many lives have been lost to religious intolerance", advising that "if we love each other as ourselves, we won't kilI other people".

 Within the context of artistic creation, Breaking Boundaries also challenges Okpu to step up his style and technique. And there is something to sacrifice for what he describes as "going out of the established norms in creating art". The art in him comes first before others' satisfaction. "Now, I have the confidence to work for myself and not for galleries or collectors". That sounds like a familiar saying among artists who profess escape from the grip of the piper that dictates the tune. "There was a time I wanted to create a Jesus devoid of racial identity", Okpu, an artist in his mid-career recalls recent experience. "I was advised against it on religious ground". But in other clime, where that religious sentiment does not interfer in creative expression, Okpu would learn a lesson several years later. "Surprisingly, a Japanese artist just did the same concept I had wanted to create", recalling that "I  watched it on CNN." In fact, that lesson on insisting to break the boundaries, he discloses, "inspired me to have this show".
That same experience connects him with the leadership challenge in his country. He cites security challenges such as kidnapping, unresolved killings in ethnic and communal clashes and argues that "we don't just criticise the goverment without finding a solution".  That solution perhaps exist in the artist's 24 paintings showing as Breaking Boundaries. "We have been living together by the grace of God, and all ethnic groups have to collaborate to live peacefully". The gospel of co-existence, according to Okpu's   Breaking  Boundaries  lies in the strength that "Hausa needs Igbo; Yoruba should live with Hausa and vice versa". He advises that the natural tendency of man with expansionism can be managed so that "we shouldn't cross the red line".

Nobert Okpu
Okpu's brief bio:
"Okpu is a full-time studio artist, resident in Lagos presently. An exponent of leaf art who has dramatically bridged the gap between art and event. His dynamic abilities are fast becoming a brand to be reckoned with in Nigeria in the area of events and entertainment
He is from Delta State, born on 18th of April, 1970. A graduate of Yaba College of Technology with many awards, one of which is the Best Student in the school of Art Design and Printing. Also of note is the fact that he is highly skilled in print technology, with a specialized training in one of the-state-of-art machines known as Zund.
A member of the Society of Nigerian Artist (SNA) and also a member of Visual Art Society of Nigeria (VASON), he is currently the General Secretary of the Guild of Professional Fine Artists of Nigeria (GFA)
He has had a solo exhibition and participated in many group shows, one of which was in Amsterdam Whitney Gallery in Chelsea, New York.
 He organized 'Save a Soul' in partnership with Hope Worldwide, a charity exhibition for people living with HIV/AIDS.
He is prolific and has experimented with many materials. Today, his art has gone beyond the three dimensional approach to a realm of art where images are brought together from their individual state, through a process of fusion to create a concept with a holistic view in mind".
  -Tajudeen Sowole.

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