|A section of display of 'Alafia' at ko Gallery, Ikoyi, Lagos.
IN strengthening contemporaneity, quite a number artists keep blurring the lines between basic established medium, across genres. Most pronounced are sculptural artworks glazed in whatever form of paint that enhance the thematic or aesthetics goal of the artist.
Celebrating such depth of contemporaneity is Peju Alatise's solo exhibition of sculptures and paintings titled Alafia, which is still showing after its formal opening on April 4, 2022 at kó Gallery, 30, Cameron Street, Ikoyi, Lagos. The exhibition, which hovers over people's state of wellness collapses the lines between the aesthetics of art and its thematic focus.
Whatever Alatise's aim of using her Alafia exhibition to address, seems to create enough window for the duality of critical and commercial engagements. Yes, the awesomeness sight of the sculptures leans more towards what could be described as 'accessories' in interior decor parlance, but the critical contents of the exhibition seemed to have taken quite a large spot in the entire mission. From a young girl's fantasy ride in an oval-shaped vessel, sprinkled with birds and butterflies, to 'God Is a Girl series I and II', and a young lad in dream world, 'Spider Man', the struggle of art freeing itself from web of interior design isn't missing, during this evening of a visit to kó gallery.
In thematic context, Alatise, whose works, over the years, hardly missed contentious socio-cultural topics, also attempts to collapse quite a lot of challenges facing people, in recent times, into one spot - wellness. So, the desperation to avoid failure in chosen career, yet keeping family together seemed to have pushed the struggle for well-being down the graph of survival. This, perhaps, inspired Alatise's 'Alafia', though a widely misplaced word as Yoruba origin.
Quite a number of Arabic origin words — about 100 or more — have been found to be in Yoruba language, 'Alafia' inclusive. In Arabic, 'afiyah' means well-being, but the combination 'Al-afiyah' refers to an Islamic prayer 'The well-being'. Most likely, the Yoruba origin word for well-being is 'ilera'. About 400 years of Islam in Nigeria, pre-British colonial era, must have pushed quite a number of Yoruba origin words out of the native linguistic net. And quite understandable, 'Alafia' would most likely communicate faster than ilera', particularly in this time and age of hybrid expressions; it's the most commonly used among the Yoruba, and perhaps some countries in Africa too.
In Alatise's Alafia, wellness is captured not just in terms of physical fitness, but mental freedom too. kó's gallery and curatorial statements note that Alatise reflects quite a number of changes and realities, facing the human race in 21st century. So, "the exhibition dialogues with the concept of wellness, sound health, and freedom."
Applying her great depth of creativity, Alatise brings humanity into the Alafia exhibition, and perhaps, amplifying the prayer origin of the word. For example, in 'The Good Luck' series, (mild steel, glass, granite, resin, dated 2022), Alatise encourages people to keep hope alive, wishing all wellness.
kó Gallery describes Alatise as an interdisciplinary artist, architect and writer. She has been consistent with her experimentation with materials and techniques as a medium to analyze various socio-political issues. She is a fellow at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and the 2017 winner of the FNB Art Prize in Johannesburg. Her work was exhibited at the 57th Venice Biennale, and the 17th International Architecture Exhibition organized by La Biennale di Venezia, as well as in numerous exhibitions in New York, Florence, Morocco, London amongst many others. She is also the founder of the ANAI Foundation - a non-profit foundation dedicated to the development of visual arts in Nigeria, offering sponsored training programs for artists.
-Tajudeen Sowole is a Lagos-based writer on The Arts.