|Colonialist, 2019, oil on canvas, 121.9 x 91.4cm|
Omenka Gallery noted that the show borrows its title from Fela’s 1986 song, but unlike the Afrobeat maestro, Ezeigwe takes his audience on an excursion through global history. With a nod to ancient Greek mythology and an interrogation of colonialism, he singles out the most infamous of rulers. Nigerian politicians and businessmen also fail to escape Ezeigwe’s scrutiny; in his world, they assume animal forms to emphasize their negative traits of greed, corruption and an unabated thirst for power. This powerful use of satire, serves to bring the exhibition’s offering –15 paintings all strongly individual, together.
According to the curator, Seidougha Linus Eyimiegha, the idea for the exhibition came about from his frequent visits to the artist’s studio. He asserts that Ezeigwe was inspired by the works of Fela and George Orwell, “I spent a lot of time with Ezeigwe, visiting often at his studio in the course of this project. He talks a great deal about issues of both individual and public interest. We discussed about the lyrics in the songs of Fela and George Orwell’s Animal Farm that were his major sources of information.”
The gallery explained that the concept of bodies that combine human and non-human elements is not new. The history of art and literature is replete with images of mutated, transformed and in this case, hybridized bodies. Some of the many instances are mermaids, chimeras, griffins, werewolves and centaurs—the actors in Ezeigwe’s oil on canvas Struggle against Corruption (2019). However, the roles these hybrid characters play, differ with each artist. Here, Ezeigwe’s unique message is not lost. With technical virtuosity, he seduces the viewer while at the same time, warns of a repulsive existence with permanent negative social behaviours and structures, if left to thrive.
The paintings appear sketchy and often unfinished at first glance, the artist’s excitement with broad, sweeping gestural lines clearly evident. Paint also adds a sense of urgency to the ensuing drama. Hurriedly blocked in, it serves mainly to describe physical presence and psychological character, sacrificing finished form and detail for breadth of execution and increased emotion. Significantly, this immediacy documents the artist’s search for truth, highlighting in quick commentary, pertinent issues in the society while calling succinctly for participation and inclusion of Nigerians, Africans and indeed Black people all over the world in achieving communal development and progress.
In heightening the unfolding spectacle, Ezeigwe incorporates other formal properties to not only challenge the status quo but also define our roles in negotiating our collective path. Perhaps the most notable are costume and the bold use of language to suggest meanings that go beyond what is depicted on his 2-dimensional canvases. Ezeigwe’s approach is multi-functional; significantly, his socio-political commentary is deployed as signs, metaphors to construct associations or relationships of meaning, narratives, titles or captions. The words “Berlin Conference 1884” captioning the painting of an ape’s triumphant moment, provide further context in recounting the events that led to sharing of the African continent’s vast mineral resources amongst powerful colonialists. Likewise, “Animalism: Vote for me I Go Build Road” and “Meet your Next President: Vote Blindly” warn against choosing a leader carelessly in the next gubernatorial elections in Nigeria, which will prove inimical to the progress in curbing corruption already recorded by the present Buhari-led administration.
Overall, Ezeigwe succeeds with this exhibition, his accomplishment hinged largely in his imposition of a moral conscience for the society, at once, reminding us of what it is to be human.
Ezeigwe studied fine art at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. He uses his art as a form of activism for credible governance as a result, his works are highly political. His ideas are derived mainly from election campaign posters, as well as politically orientated material.
In March 2019, he won the ‘Next of Kin’ art competition initiated by Thought Pyramid Art Centre. Ezeigwe has participated in several group exhibitions and major art auctions across Nigeria. He is a full-time studio artist based in Lagos, Nigeria.
Omenka Gallery is a leading art gallery in Nigeria and Africa, representing a fine selection of established and emerging contemporary Nigerian and international artists working in diverse media.
With a particular focus on ensuring sustainable presence for Nigerian and African art within a larger global context, Omenka participates regularly in major international art events like; The Armory Show, New York, Docks Art Fair, Lyon, Art Dubai, UAE; the Joburg Art Fair; Cape Town Art Fair; Cologne Paper Art; LOOP, Barcelona; the Art14 and 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, London.
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In association with Revilo, Omenka has an active publications programme and produces exquisite catalogues with informed, scholarly texts to accompany its schedule of solo, group and large themed exhibitions, through which it stimulates critical thought and discourse centred on contemporary art development in Nigeria, as well as Africa and its diaspora.