Sunday 14 July 2019

Challenge of capturing Moremi in painting, sculpture of 28 artists

'Moremi', acrylic on textured canvas, 101 x 127cm, 2019, by Alex Nwokolo.
Across medium of the Arts, Moremi as an icon in royal circle and female virtue, has been widely celebrated. Perhaps, for the first time, visual arts, in a broad scope is currently expanding the Moremi legendary narrative.

A 12th century Ile-Ife Queen, Moremi Ajasoro has been celebrated over the ages for being a courageous and brave Yoruba woman. And now, 28 contemporary Nigerian artists, across different cultural backgrounds, have converged to express their impressions of Moremi in sculptures and paintings.

Organised by Alexis Galleries and House of Oduduwa as a touring art exhibition, the show titled Moremi: A View from the Masters took off in Lagos with proposed schedules to travel through select Nigerian cities. The exhibition has been scheduled to also travel abroad to such cities as London, New York, Dubai, Lebanon, among others. 

With increasing awareness about feminism in contemporary African period, celebrating Moremi appears to transcend the confinement of female artists. In fact, the exhibiting artists of Moremi: A View from the Masters are mostly men, except for one or two. While it could be argued that the exhibition, perhaps, confirm the drought of masterly female artists in the Nigerian visual art circle, the crust of the gathering is not lost: to promote feminist courage as seen in the life of Moremi Ajasoro.

Either in realism, impressionism or abstract representation of Moremi, artists have no previous visual reference to rely on. In modern and contemporary periods, the only visual memory of Moremi is that of actress, Abiodun Caroline Duro Ladipo. Through 1970s, the late Thespian, Duro Ladipo made so much fame, staging Moremi Ajasoro in a traveling theatre format. His wife, Abiodun, who played the lead role of Moremi had since become the face of the 12th century legend, at least in visual representation. In fact, very few fans and followers of the Nigerian theatre circle remember the actress' real name as Abiodun: the stage name 'Moremi' has stuck till date. Even, a 2017 Moremi statue commissioned by HRM, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi, the Ooni of Ile-Ife, erected in his palace, still can't erase people's memory of the theatre version face created by Ladipo.

Towards the end of the second decade of the 21st century, the exhibiting artists of Moremi: A View from the Masters are not under the critics' radar to capture semblance of a 12th century queen. Whatever the challenge each artist faces in depicting Moremi under any  chosen form, the goal is the virtue that the legend represents.

In profile view painting titled ‘Iwalewa’ (Character Is Beauty), Abiodun Olaku depicts Moremi as a woman whose strength lies in her virtue. An artist whose mastery in realism painting is ascending to legendary status, Olaku, in ’Iwalewa’ coalesces contemporary fashion and native beauty.

A painterly drawing impression by Chinwe Uwatse represents Moremi’s boldness. The artist’s adornments of the figure in royal paraphernalia, lifted by shoulder-high physique, emits so much courage and boldness, even with a face dripped in humility and authority. So far, Uwatse, was the only female artist in the group exhibition at the time of the preview. Perhaps, more female artists would join the exhibition before its final shows, the organisers stated. However, another impressionist, Gab Awusa probes into Moremi’s strength and comes up with ‘Secret Weapon’, a depiction of the legend in some kind of spiritual consultation.

Whoever wonders what the fashion taste of a 12th century legend woman might look like gets clue in Alex Nwokolo’s impression of Moremi. Heavily beaded, even to the loudness of earrings that protrude like layers of wheels, the portrait shows a lady who, in her warrior characteristics, exudes high fashion taste.

‘Iwalewa’ (Character is Beauty) 36 x 30 inches. Oil on canvas 2019, by Biodun Olaku.
 featured artists in the exhibition include Bruce Onobrakpeya, Kolade Oshinowo, Bunmi Babatunde, Gbenga Offo, Reuben Ugbine, Tola Wewe, Sam Ovraiti, Duke Asidere, Dominique Zinkpe, Fidelis Odogwu, Sam Ebohon, Tony Nsofor, Edosa Ogiugo, Mavua Lessor, Segun Aiyesan, Ato Arinze, Zinno Orara, Diseye Tantua, Joshua Nmesirionye, Gerry Nnubia, John Oyedemi, Joe Essien, Abraham Uyovbisere, and Gerald Chukwuma, among others

Sponsored by Pepsi, Amstel Malt, The Guardian, ITB Construction, Wazobia TV, Cool FM, La Cave, Mikano, Cobranet Internet Service Provider, Delta Airline, The Homestores and Art Café, the exhibition, according to curator, Patty Chidiac-Mastrogiannis will have part of the proceeds donated to an NGO. The beneficiary group, she explained, will be of the choice of Ooni, Oba Ogunwusi, Ojaja II. The Fine Art Department, Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, is also expected to be a beneficiary of the proceeds.
“The traveling show is to keep the memory of the legend alive,” Princess Ronke Ademiluyi, Global Ambassador, Queen Moremi Ajasoro Initiative stated. “Her story is about sacrifice of a leader to keep her people’s dignity.” The lesson, she argued “is to teach young people about how to be a good community leader,” as well as “promote selfless leadership.”

One of the artists, Ovraiti explained his art’s perspective of Moremi. “I am looking at Moremi from contemporary role of women, so that women of today reflects through my painting."
For Arinze, a ceramist, “I am showing Moreni in my work as a mother.”
Describing Moremi as “the real African Queen,” sculptor, Odogwu said his work titled ‘The Custodian’ reflects “character of beauty and elegance.”
Nnubia, another artist stated how  his work titled 'Victory by Fire' represents Moremi's travails during her fight against injustice. “We need to always give women chance to contribute to the society,” Nnubia said.
Perhaps more female artists would have been included in the exhibition, the curator said, explaining that “based on mastery of art,” focus "only two women are included,” so far.

For Ovraiti, the Moremi example explains the lack of female numerical strength in certain situations. “Just as there was only one woman known as Moremi in her time, so there are few” for the exhibition too.

Ademiluyi added: “Telling her story through the eyes of the artists bring freshness.”
Born in Offa, Moremi married Oranmiyan, and became the Oloori (Queen) to the heir of Ife and Founding Father of the Yoruba, Oduduwa.
-Tajudeen Sowole.

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