Saturday 13 November 2021

'Escapism' tunnels of five artists confront reality

A section of Escapism exhibition, currently showing at Art Pantheon, Oniru, Lagos.

INDIVIDUALLY,  the critical  contents in intellectual depth, expressed by five artists in the ongoing exhibition titled Escapism, showing till  November 21, 2021, at Art Pantheon, Oniru, Lekki, Lagos, offer so much to chew and digest.

If the exhibiting artists  —  listed in no particular order —  Peju Alatise, Ndidi Emefiele, Gerald Chukwuma, Anthea Epelle and Kainebi Osahenye were actors in an 'Escapism' movie, the cast would have been described as 'star  studded.' And contentiosly, some film critics would have been divided on the order of cast list.

For Escapism', the exhibiting artists were not listed in any particular order, rather, the curatorial presentation has created broad, balanced and an even ventilation for appreciation of all artworks on display. Away from the politics of list order and back to the critical contents of the artists' works on display at the young Art Pantheon space, the theme of the exhibition generates a liberal and more expansive perspective to what is widely accepted as escapism in art parlance.  The artists take you through the general reality that sometimes confronts people and offer some tunnels in creativity.   

On this Sunday afternoon of Escapism's opening, it's no surprising that one of the most expressive artists in abstraction, Osahenye, escalates the depth in spirituality of which non-representative content is meant to attain.  

His large size paintings, mounted at both sides of the gallery's entrance emit telepathic   connection with either reality or perception.

On the right side of the  gallery is Interruption (mixed media on canvas, 2018, 80 x 72 inches), from which  pseudo-mysticism radiates in light, shades and lines.

His other paintings in the gathering include Interruption II, Rasing Pain (mixed media on canvas, 2017-2021, 80 x 80 inches); and Untitled (mixed media on canvas, 2017 -2021, 80 x 80 inches).

A step away are ellaborate facial paintings from the palettes of Epelle. For each of the paintIngs, Epelle flaunts her skills in dramatising moods and expressions,  adding elegance too.More of interest is Epelle's style in bathing her paintings with hues, spiced with subtlety, perhaps, to blur the line between reality of one's challenges and perception.   .  

Her works in such proficiency of  boldness include Hope (oil on canvas, 2021, 50 X 70 inches); 

Undefeated (oil on canvas, 2021, 50 x 70 inches); Melody III & IV (oil on canvas , 2021, 50 x 60 inches).

 Further steps into the ground floor of the gallery expose sculptures of design features and textures, by Alatise. Either in painting, sculpture or installation, Alatise has proven to be such a slippery artist, whose work is perhaps difficult to decode. That much of unpredictable  strength, she brings into the show.  

As highly eclectic her work is, traces of the Alatise signature is buried, for examples, in the oval pieces on display at the Escapism show.  Among such works are Kobo Kobo I & II (mixed media, 2020, 42 x 42 inches), in which the artist appropriates the lost era of coins in Nigerian currency denominations  

As the lower denomination in Nigerian currency, kobo, interestingly, also has an analogous spot in modern Yoruba street expression of 'kobo kobo', which could mean 'little by little' or 'every drop'. 

However, vintage Alatise's eclectism  blossoms more in the welded metal pieces such as When Trouble  Sleeps…(mixed media, 2020, (50 x 46 inch.).

Ascending the staircases of the gallery leads one to the panels and paper works of  Chukwuma. In the crowding space of painting on panels, every artist needs to define their identity, so suggests Chukwuma's consistent styles in poetic manipulation of his motifs and other contents.

And comes the artist's period of surprise, 'escaping' from the panels identity into the realm of a complex genre.  In the series titled Ulima - The Grandm other's Story (mixed media on Paper, 2019, 54 x 48 Inches), Chukwuma buries volumes of stories, in  visual narratives of the resilient Uli expression.  Whoever  thought that Jackson Pollock takes no prisoner in engaging abstraction needs to see Chukwuma, in his escape route. The  Nigerian seems set to expand that space of complex art, perhaps, beyond where the 20th century American painter left it.      

Among the most phenomenal ascendance in art from Africa, in the past one decade, is the career of Emefiele. As an artist whose work lifts figurative stylisation to  fresh pace, Emefiele adds class to the Escapism show. 

At the extrem end, on the top floor of Art Pantheon,  there spreads the Emefiele's styles, in different textures of aggressive energies that could get a critic dumbfounded for a while. 

Yes, the Emefiele's signature of figurative, especially of facials emphasis that look like some lifts from sci-fi movie director's storyboard, have proven to be the artist's strength, no doubt. However, in the Escapism gathering, the artist creates more depth in her 2021 dated works like  Occasional  Swimmers (mixed media on c anvas,  (118.1 x 90.5 inches) and  Cactus Organism (muxed media on paper , 157.5 x 90.5 inches).

Between reality, perception  and expectation, Art Pantheon, in the Escapism concept, has given space for the artists to rescue people's stranded thoughts, into safety. In fact, Nana Sonoiki-led curatorial concept of Escapism has shown that the gallery, even, in its early days is bold enough to gather heavyweight  artists in one exhibition.

 -Tajudeen Sowole is a Lagos-based Art Advisor.



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