Wednesday 21 November 2018

Tracking art of Bob-Nosa Uwagboe from 'Homme Libre' to 'Obituary'

' Stranded Immigrants', (acrylic, fabric, spray paint, paper collage on textured canvas), by Bob-Nosa Uwagboe.

When Bob-Nosa Uwagboe made his debut solo art exhibition titled Homme Libre, at African Artists’ Foundation (AAF) Gallery, Ikoyi, Lagos, specifically, in July 2011, he set out on a mission with destiny. His art came during the period that the Lagos' visual arts environment was being challenged with evolving controversy about contents of contemporary Nigerian art.

From November 24 - December 2, 2018, Uwagboe will return to the art circuit showing his paintings with the title Obituary at Signature Beyond Gallery, Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, Lagos.

During his debut solo, seven years ago, the avant-garde, contemporaneity and modernism suddenly became contentious in Lagos such that quite a number of young artists were confused. In fact, some of these artists -- based on loud noise about contemporaneity -- were herded into directions in which they had no idea of their prospect or future.

But with Uwagboe's Homme Libre, an aura of libralism in fresh strokes radiated on the Lagos art landscape. In my review of the exhibition published in the 07, August edition of The Guardian on Sunday newspaper with headline 'Fresh strokes of liberty',  I noted that the environment in which Uwagboe works is still far from liberalisation'.

About eight months before Homme Libre, the artist's work had been a centre of attraction in Douala, Cameroon, during a group exhibition titled The Last Pictures Show VII, which also featured works of other Nigerians such as
Duke Asidere, Alex Nwokolo, Ogbemi Heymann, Joshua Nmesirionye, Patrick Agose, Fidelis Odogwu, Babalola Lawson, Kehinde Babalola, and Ayoola. Organised by Catherine Pittet-led Gondwana, the Nigerian artists joined others from Cameroon, D.R. Congo and Republic of Benin in the four-day show held at BOJ, an event venue in Douala.
'Legless Leader' (acrylic, spray paint on textured canvas), from Bob-Nosa Uwagboe's Obituary art exhibition.

In my review of the Douala gathering, published in The Guardian Nigeria, December 07, 2010 edition, I wrote: It was an opportunity for young Uwagboe to confirm what some French art connoisseurs in Nigeria observed about his work. He said that over the years, collectors, particularly of French nationals here told him that his kind of work will be better appreciated in French speaking countries. Indeed, during the special preview attended by diplomats, corporate and group individuals a day before the public opening, Uwagboe was, perhaps, the busiest artist who constantly attended to curious visitors swarming around his canvases. The higher intellectual content of his abstract-realism in such work as 'Feelings of Guilt' attracted attention.

About eight years after, the artist remains stronger in his choice of art form, of which neither the hardline Nigerian propagandists of  avant-garde nor the conservatives can shoot down. He seems not interested in being prolific or be the 'blue-eyed boy' of aficionados. In fact, he says with pride that "Signature is the only gallery where you can find my work".

Working with Uwagboe in organising the press preview of Obituary for select art journalists, my visit to the artist's studio in Egbeda further convinced me that indeed, his consistency in radicalising the canvas has evolved strongly over the years. An inscription 'Protest Art Studio', boldlly printed in white on black refreshed one's memory of a part in the career of the artist. Perhaps, the 'Protest Art' philosophy of Uwagboe was energised from one of Asidere-led 'Orelope Workshops', in 2011, held just few minutes drive distance within the same Egbeda, Lagos suburb axis. The artist responded that "Some of us had always believed in protest art before the workshop, but few of us are still bold enough to hold onto it till date".

For his current exhibition, it seems to be built on over rated human value on earth and the strength of death in deflation of that ego. With strokes of lines and shades generated from medium such as acrylic, fabric, spray-paint, paper collage, Uwagboe texturises canvas full of soul enriching reflective contents. However, couldn't the artist get a less 'harsh' title for the exhibition? "I couldn't find a better title than Obituary to adequately express my thought", he replied me.

Sectionlised into three series of 'Obituary', 'Yeyeman'  and 'Human Merchandise', the contents of the body of work and its central theme ooze in what could be described as provocative to human senses. Yes, not friendly, so it seems, but enriching and nourishing to the soul with hidden spiritual recipe.

The artist, for example, in 'The Mourners' replicates the irony of life that exists between the living and the dead. The work, which though serves as a tribute to the victims of Benue killings and other troubled spots in Nigeria, also comes as a metaphor that makes no distinction between the dead and the living.

'The Mourners'

Everyone discerning enough, to always reflect over life, has a story to tell. For Uwagboe, losing his parents and an artist friend, Ben Osaghae to deaths were perhaps the starting point for him towards a more reflective life. "The deaths of an artist friend Osaghae and my parents were examples that changed my attitude towards life," he explained during our chat.

As much as Obituary is basically about preparing the souls ahead of the inevitable, some deaths can be provocatively cheap and avoidable. The exhibition's 'Human Merchandise' series look at the senseless and self-inflicted deaths of African migrants in Libya.

Some of the series have figures turned upside down to explain the depth of tragedy involved in such cross-continent misadventures. Among such works are the series the artist described as "disturbing images seen online" during the outrage against the inhuman treatments of the migrants in Libya".

Quite a volume written and spoken about the tragic stories of African migrants crisis always blame leadership of the countries of origin. Uwagboe's Obituary visual narratives also have a space for the knocks on poor and irresponsible leadership.  Quite a contentious issue: it has been argued that searching for 'greener pastures' as a result of 'bad leadership' in home countries should not be enough reason to head towards the suicidal desert and Mediterranean routes.

But Uwagboe's Obituary's highlights of the  consequence of blind desperation of the migrants is well captured. Titled 'Walking Away', one of the related pieces, acrylic on textured canvas depicts a gloomy background of a figure walking towards, perhaps, unknown future. And in a direct satirical context, he deplores more visual venom in 'Legless Leader' and 'Dying in Power'.

For what he argued as "results of poor leadership" of the victims' countries, the artist declared that the exhibition explains how "I am trying to mourn these poor people, using my art".  In fact, the body of work, he emphasised, is his contribution "in mourning the deaths of humanity".

Yes, his works drip in 'Protest' and activism contents, but also radiates hope, so explain spots of bright colours faintly seen in some of the canvases.

As Obituary opens to the public at Signature Gallery, one hopes that Uwagboe's art becomes a reference point in the vocabulary of collecting and appreciating art.
 Tajudeen Sowole.

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