|During the opening of Olayemi Fagbohungbe's Blaque at The Art Pantheon, Lekki, Lagos.
YEMI Fagbohungbe is an architect who graduated from the premier architecture school at Ahmadu Bello University domiciled in the Faculty of Environmental Design. (I would use his first name here for ease of reference).
The departments that make up the Faculty of Environmental are, Architecture, Building, Fine Art, Geomatics, Industrial Design, Urban and Regional Planning. I believe that his experience of the rich Zaria art school brought him into a conscious appreciation of the interrelatedness of his chosen field with the visual arts. Some of his colleagues often take courses such as General drawing, and Landscape drawing as electives in the Department of Fine Art, and I have been privileged to take some architecture students in these courses. I must say that a number of them did not only enjoyed their experience but went on to expand their architectural training with artistic embellishment, thereby distinguishing their professional practice. This is no ordinary experience; because there are so many of his colleagues, even his lecturers whose relationship with art is not only remote, some even seek to deliberately distance them from any relationship with Fine Art. Yet we know that historically art and architecture have always had a symbiotic relationship. It is of pleasant delight that today in Nigeria there are a number of architects who have turned into artists and creating great and fascinating works.
Blaque is Yemi’s first Solo exhibition. His bold ambition and journey into sculpture, and with the bronze medium for that matter, mirror his personality, professional orientation, and sense of direction. His creative process goes through all the rigorous processes of bronze casting using the best of Benin bronze casting tradition. He conceives and creates these works at the famous Universal Studio Iganmu, Lagos, and casts them in Benin. They are later returned to Lagos for the final finish. This is a fascinating tale of two cities. The works themselves speak brilliantly of painstaking journeys, laborious dedication to the process with an almost perfect finish that Brancusi would approve.
In this season of our sixty-first independence, as I meditation on Yemi’s works,
I see his works engaging with the fragile history of our country graphically captured in somewhat skeletal figures. The figures reference the delicate nature of our current human existence as a country and by extension the fragile state of the country. These figures reflect not only our material poverty but also the all-pervading poverty of a rich corrupt nation. I have often defined corruption as a human state where a person is unable and has deliberately refused to make a distinction between what is wrong and what is right, also the person is unable or unwilling to distinguish between good and evil. Right and wrong are the same and interchangeable, so also is good and evil, they all can conveniently perform the same function.
Yemi’s figures appear naked, empty, and hungry. Some with muscle would appear tortured, tormented, and in an excruciating struggle. These works are existential narratives of various states of human sufferings. As these forms evoke a common sense of loss they immediately also mirror another world, of obese figures with fat bank accounts, figures with accumulated material wealth, masquerading leaders in thick and loud embroidery remotely connected with any constituency except their personal interests.
Yemi’s own explanation of these works suggests an artist desiring to understand the struggle of the black race struggling out of a colonial past. He presents defiant a black (Blaque?) race seeking answers in its cultural roots through physical and mental protest. The bronze medium provides an apt visual tool that connects and creates a rebirth of our plundered Beni cultural treasures, Igbo-Ukwu, Ife bronzes, and Bida brass works. Postcolonial history continues to provoke this type of inward journey.
Prof. Jerry Buhari, Department of Fine Art, Ahmadu Bello University, Z,aria, Nigeria.