Sunday, 5 May 2019

Reviving communal, family values through Okpu's 'Cluster' of figures

Rhythm in Blue, (oil on canvas, 3 x 3 ft), by Norbert Okpu.
Whatever has taken away communal and family values of  a nation battling community safety and security is the focus of Norbert Okpu's new body of work. The artist traces lack of regular communication within family and community to the growing youth restlessness and internal insecurity across Nigeria.
In painting, mixed media and installation, Okpu contributes to the debate over Nigeria's internal security challenge with a solo exhibition tilted Cluster, showing till May 13, 2019 at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos. It is Okpu's second solo in one year at the same gallery as his canvas is either textured in impasto or embossed with layers of found materials.

Beyond the usual figurative representations of people at roundtable of town hall meetings that most artists have over repeated, Okpu brings some thing more aesthetically engaging. The strength of his message lies in the multiplication effect of the figures, graphically lifting the theme of the exhibition.

In urban design or medical advisory, clustering may not be recommended for healthy habitation of people. But Okpu takes another look at the word and adapts it for visual expression to support his argument about the importance of people bonding, always. For examples,  in visual expressiveness, his works such as Rhythm In Red, Blue Hues and Rhythm in Blue are aesthetically inviting with their sea of figures overlapping each other.

Rendered in almost a woven technique, Rhythm In Red radiates the connectivity of people, perhaps in a given community, to form cohesive strength. For Rhythm In Blue and Blue Hues, the artist strengthens his dexterity in optical illusion effect, using sea of figurative images.

"It resonates with my upbringing, growing up with uncles, aunty and family friends just as you even pass the night with neighbours and yet your parents would not be scared," Okpu recalls his childhood days. "But today, people cannot leave their children for neighbours in the community for fear of all kind of abuses." He notes that "there is so much fear every where" and explains that "this exhibition is designed to let the world know the essence of living together."

As much as information age of the 21 century has expanded means of communication, Okpu warns of how the tools are expandng gap among family members. "At most home, phones and other gadgets have made more people individualy oriented." He cites example of spouses that are mentally apart, "yet in closeness with strangers met in social media."

Okpu's curiosity into the essence of life is expressed in a 7 x 8ft installation made of fabric and plastic titled The Family of Man. The installation is structured in levels such as upper, lower and unoccupied spaces too. "It tells about levels of people: those who are already on earth, others not fortunate to be born, people on earth but not knowing why they are here and those so prolivileged to be rich and famous."

Excerpts from Okpu's Artist Statemeent:  "The inspiration of this exhibition is somewhat related to my childhood and upbringing in the sense that it made me aware of the importance of communal living.
'Rhythm In Red' (oil on canvas, 4x4.5), by Norbert Okpu.
"I was part of a big web or cluster of people: aunties, uncles, brothers, sisters, friends, hangers on etc, making up interpersonal relationships that directed my life into what I am today. They were the good, the bad, and the ugly but without them Norbert Okpu's story will not be complete. And so it is with every human being acting as an entity in our universe.

 "Man is designed to work in peace and harmony, to share and receive, to give and be given, to love and be loved. Man was not designed to live in isolation. The world today is governed by fear and failure is every mans Achilles heels, What we are today is not a result of self. We are all from one creator and love never fails.

"This exhibition is dedicated to the memory of Mr Sammy Olagbaju a benevolent gentleman and friend whose contribution to my art carrier has been of immense value to my life".
 -Tajudeen Sowole.

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