Saturday 26 September 2020

At 60, Ayoade shows 'Faces and Figures', celebrates with 'twin sister' Nigeria

Uncertainty (alcohol ink on yupo paper, 2019), by Mukaila Ayoade. Pic: c/o the artist.   

FROM working in Lagos, Nigeria, to his current base in Chicago, U.S., artist Mukaila Ayoade brings into a single space his oeuvre of over 30 years.

Ayoade, whose mastery in collage painting covered quite some art appreciation grounds in Nigeria before his relocation to the US, opens a solo show titled Expressions: Faces and Figures Collection on October 1, 2020 at Bridgeport Art Center, West 35th Street Chicago Illinois. The exhibition of about 45 works marks the artist's 60th birthday and also serves as his contribution to six decades celebration of Nigeria's independence anniversary.

In textures derived from ink, acrylic, watercolour and. charcoal, Ayoade creates incendiary, timeless art, while sharing his experience of living in two countries. From a facial form titled Uncertainty, rendered in alcohol ink on yupo paper, the artist captures mental torture of vulnerable people who are constantly endangered by gun violence in U.S.  Face of a lad, bathed in multiple colours with fear and agony boldily in the eyes, radiates so much about challenges of living in a country ravaged by gun violence, racial killings and police brutality against blacks.

Ayoade's Uncertainty, given the contrast in theme and the aesthetics, is one of those subjects that places an artist on the complexity spot of rendition preference or priority. Passing a message of agony and yet adding a flavour of aesthetic for the sake of art, sometimes, comes as conflicting expressions. Ayoade, however, in that complexity generates a fair balance. 

Climate change, being an undisputed reality of the modern and contemporary science, gets artistic attention of Ayoade in Global Warming, a piece rendered from cigarret buts on canvas (2019). The artist's geographical view, in textured world map that highlights continents in green against clouding brownish hues, agrees with the widely held reality perspective to climate change.

Perhaps, President Donald Trump of U.S would need to take another view of his oddity on the issue after a visit to Ayoade's exhibition should he get an invitation to see the artist's Global Warming painting.

The diversity of the exhibition, in thematic, style and technique is seen in other works such as 12 Noon (2017), a capture of high temperature sun, with depth, in water colour; Adiro Meta, drawing of three ladies, in charcoal on paper, dated 2019; and Discord, another drawing, but in pseudo-abstraction , with charcoal on paper (2020).

Back to the paintings among the exhibits, such include Right Mood, from alcohol ink on yupo paper (2020) and Pade Mi Nisale, a dance step of two figures done in acrylics on canvas (2019). 

At 60, an artist who has lived in Nigeria for a greater part of his life makes comparative analysis of himself and the same country that shares October 1, 1960 with him. He sees Nigeria as "a twin sister" to him but feels "uncomfortable" with the country's pace in development. 

He likens the twins analogy to the lamentation of "Kehinde" who "is moving forward" but the twin sister "Taiwo is lagging behind." 

In reality, are the potentials and dynamics similar between Ayoade and her twin sister, Nigeria? "When I compare all that makes Nigeria great and what I have as an individual, there is this richness of potentials in both of us," the artist who moved to the US in 2009 notes. "Nigeria is a great country and this is because of the diversity of the people and culture." He sees himself as representing the commonality traits of "Nigerians as very creative people." He argues that the "clamoring for restructuring or self-determination," among sections of Nigerians "is as a result of the imbalance in the policy" of the country.

Ayoade's childhood and adult years, indeed, have something in common with Nigeria. "My early life was affected because I grew up to know my grandmother as a mother. My mother remarried when I was still a toddler. With this, I started school at 9. And changing schools, I left high school at 21, had a baby at 20, started working, went back to college at 31, graduated at 39, left Nigeria at 49, and now celebrating my 60th far from home."

The "significant" similarity between his life and that of the 'twin sister' Nigeria, he explains was in their stunted upbringing. "The early life of Nigeria was truncated due to coup and civil war, caused by corruption. Coup after coup came until Shehu Shagari was elected president in 1979. Another coup and corruption retarded Nigeria's growth till now."

Pade Mi Ni Sale (acrylic on canvas, 2019) by Mukaila Ayoade. Pic: c/o artist.

Like Nigeria, Ayoade too "never lacked anything," in resources  right from his childhood. He also had a good start as young adult, he adds. "My first salary was N5 naira during my brief working as Akowe Eleja (Secretary at fish market) in 1975. But apart from the N5, I had per diem from the fish sellers who used to appreciate my service. I started working in a company owned by Chief Remilekun Fani-Kayode, immediately I left I school. My first salary was N300 naira in 1982. A school cert holder then earns between N90 and N120. My rent then at Oshodi was N20 naira. We hardly spend the money on food because we eat at the office." He recalled that Chief Fani-Kayode advised him to go back to school.

Ayoade is hopeful that he will witness a new Nigeria, even if it takes another 60 years. "This new call for self-determination from the different groups will force them (policy makers) to do the needful and Nigeria will be great again. I will be around in the next 60 years to see a great country, not in the category of the third world as they say, but among the committee of great nations."

As a retrospective, the exhibition, he says captures as much as possible all that his art stands for ever since he set out to be an artist.  "I try to make it a summary and collections of all that I have come up with within my art practice since I started over three decades ago."

Excerpts from Ayoade's Artist Statement: "My work is an in-depth introspection into materiality. I explore this subject using a variety of medium, such as acrylic, watercolor, charcoal, alcohol, ink, and mainly discarded materials. The themes and subject matters of these works range from contemporary issues facing society, culture, people, to an archival accounting and documentation of modern society itself. Music, books, Yoruba culture, and ethnology plays a vital role in my abstract works. They often reference figurative artistic movements juxtaposed with impressionistic gestures."

Ayoade studied Fine Art at Yaba College of Technology, Lagos and  graduated in 1999. He had a solo exhibition of mixed media works at Nimbus Gallery, Ikoyi in 2000, among others in Nigeria.

In the US, Ayoade had a solo show at Faye Art Gallery in Chicago in 2015 and also participated in several other group shows in New York, among other cities.

-Tajudeen Sowole

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