Friday 14 October 2022

Art wave 'Through My Lens' of women's brushstrokes


'Trapped' (oil on canvas, dated 2022), by Nelly Idgba.

THERE is no doubt that convergence for art exhibition of female artists is a deliberate curatorial statement. And perhaps the immediate question to ask is: to prove or achieve what?

In scratching for an answer, a retrack of 'wave against the tide' kind of female artists' practice in Nigeria offered a lead into a possible answer. Quite some shades and textures of opinions have been expressed, over the years, on what people observed as insufficient numerical strength of female artists in Nigeria. It has been argued that the number of female artists in practice, falls short of the volume that the various higher institutions of learning released from art schools. 

Earlier scheduled for October 2022 opening, Through My Lens' opened on the 70th birthday celebration of Mrs Modupe Ogunlesi, founder of Adam&Eve, a parent company of The Content Art Gallery. The exhibition is currently showing till October 30, 2022. 

Whether it's a reality or not, the undisputable part of the issue is that no matter the strong wave of female artists on the exhibition circuits, the tide of perception would remain with no retreat. Such perception is not peculiar to women on the art profession; it cuts across most sectors of the economy in this part of the world. In dissecting how perception plays a factor, it's important to capture art, as a practice, into the net of fairness, not necessarily gender balance. The most widely used phrase 'gender equality' or 'gender balance' are, in reality, most times, illusionary. But in reality, gender fairness seems more realistic, so that women professionals are not put under needless competitive pressures.

A more critical perspective to the spot occupied by female artists on the art landscape of Nigeria suggests that being a practising artist comes with relativity. Across genders, there are more artists not visible on the art exhibition circuit compared to those whose works get public exposure at galleries and other formal outlets. Irrespective of gender, artists who confine their skills to commissioned works for private collectors with little or no records of exposure to the general public via exhibitions are winking in the dark. More tragic for such artists' careers is loss of opportunity to be documented.

For diverse reasons, female artists get less windows to expose their works through formal exhibitions at art galleries. So, it's professional justice for art galleries to create a space in their calendar of exhibitions for only female artists' show, at least once in a year. Beyond the justification of 'awa lokan' for the artists selected in every all-female exhibition, the contents of the works being exhibited are crucial.

And if The Content Art Gallery has anything to prove in 'Through My Lens', the featured artists take up that challenge to justify the gathering. Listed not in a particular order, the artists whose brushstrokes tell diverse stories Through My Lens' are: Bunmi Oyesanya, Taiye Erewele. Naomi Oyeniyi, Nelly Idagba, Funmi Arabambi, Ogochukwu Ejiofor and Faith Michael. The exhibition is curated by Lekan Onabanjo.

Strictly for the language of visual culture, I thought words like palette, canvas or any related expression should have been used in place of 'Lens', in the theme of this exhibition. But spreading the thematic coinage further, one appreciated the strength of the word Lens', in capturing the thoughts of The Content Art Gallery. In generic context, lens is such a powerful word that captures spectrum of expressions. For this exhibition, 'lens', also, has been woven into the spot of female professionals, across chosen careers. Succinctly, I think the artists of Through My Lens, indirectly represent the eyes of most female professionals in sharing their thoughts about the world they live in.

Oyinsan, an artist whose experience as a full-time studio and exhibiting artist covers the last two decades is bringing into this gathering her skills in art of hybrid. While some of her works come in the traditional painting on canvas, others celebrate the digital mix in popular culture. The artist who is well known for injecting stylised satirical forms into her figurative paintings and drawings is showing, among other pieces such as Ever Green Melody (oil on canvas , 2 x 3 Feet, dated  2018); Joy To Behold (digital, 3 x 4 Feet, dated 2022); and Bold and Beautiful Fashionistas (digital, 2 x 4 feet, dated 2022).

Erewele's art, which oozes in deep figuration celebrates all that it takes to be a deliberate artist. Erewele's skills in draughtsmanship complement her thematic choice in adding glamour to representational paintings of everyday people. And as much as contemporary textures in figurative painting, among African and diaspora artists is epiphanous, amplifying blackness, Erewele brings more critical contents into the space. Her art leaps from the crowd of 'blackness' themes with toned and diverse shades. Her paintings, all in acrylic on canvas, in figurative forms include Waiting (2x2ft, 2020); Yellow Rose, 3x4ft, 2022; Hooked, 3x3 and 1/2ft; and Like A Flower In A Field II, :(2x2ft, 2022).

Oyeniyi's bold impression in painting brings skills into texturised brush movements that speak volume in thematic language. For example, in The Conglomerate, a two-figure of female in traditional hair weaving, Oyeniyi energises her colours with bathing of the subjects in poetic shades and lights. Works such as Beyond The Eyes series and Ore Ijinle are among other paintings of Oyeniyi in this exhibition that project her as an artist with high depth of brushing statement.

Identifying a strong point or strength is challenging for most artists, particularly in highly competitive medium such as painting. For Idagba, her art seemed to have scaled that hurdle of searching for an identity. Soft application of colours in rendering figurative forms seems to be her asset in visual communication skills. Among her paintings for the exhibition are oil on canvas pieces such as Trapped (dated 2022); Reflection (2022); Ogeyi (2022) and Faith (2022).

Dramatic colours as applied by Ejiofor lifts her skills in draughtsmanship to produce paintings that radiate an aura of pseudo-cubical textures. The theatrics of the artist's brush movements are so deliberate such that the figures appear stepping off the canvas. Some of such paintings for the exhibition, all in acrylic on canvas include Heal Yourself (3ftx3ft, dated 2020); Mirror Pose (4ftx3ft, 2021); Girl Child Insecurity (2ftx3ft, 2020); and Cheers To Weekend, (4ftx3ft, 2021).

Across generations and regions, painting keeps proving to be the most resilient form of art. Reason: the dynamics in styles, techniques as well as its diverse movements are endlessly exciting. In this exhibition, Arabambi's choice of visible brush movements, otherwise known in art parlance as impressionism, expands the scope of this gathering of female artists. Arabambi's paintings in this exhibition speak, mostly in fashion themes, so suggests her acrylic on canvas works such as Owambe Crew (24x36 inches, dated 2020); Holding on (24x36 inches, 2020); Monologue (36x48 inches, 2020); The Flower Girl (36x48 inches, 2022); Black (36x48 inches, 2020); Lost (50x 50cm, 2019); and In Anticipation (24x36inches, 2020).

Faith, who is newly from art school adds fresh strokes of a young and promising artist to the group exhibition. With her evolving bold brush movements and sharp shades of colour, Faith seems to have a brilliant future ahead, adding pop art style as seen in one of her paintings titled Blissful (acrylic on canvas, 24x30 inches, dated 2022). Other acrylic on canvas works of Faith for the exhib- ition include Brown Skin Girl (20x30 inches, dated 2021); Ije Uwa- Journey of Life (Brothers Keeper (48x54, 2022); The Way We Are (48x54, 2022; Guileless (36x44 inches, 2022); and Gaze of Hope (48 x 60 inches.2022).

If anyone is curious to know about the future of The Content Art Gallery, the answer lies 'Through the Lens' of Adam&Eve. Being a luxury brand of over 23 years, Adam&Eve's radiation of class in premium lifestyle already laid a solid foundation for art shows of The Content Art Gallery.

And with a foundational premium texture of exhibitions being laid by the curator, Lekan Onabanjo, The Content Art Gallery keeps pulsating in strong camaraderie that takes the community of artists, art collectors and the press as partners in promoting art appreciation.

  -Tajudeen Sowole of Translucent S.I. wrote the review for the catalogue of Through My Lens.

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