Friday 7 October 2022

Excavating nearly 30 yrs of tumultuous history from Buhari's 'Landscapes of the Soul'

A section of 'Landscapes of the Souls' exhibition during the opening at kó Gallery in Lagos...recently.

ALMOST three decades of capturing situations across stratas and issues, congealed as retrospective for artist and scholar, Jerry Buhari.

During the opening of the retrospective exhibition titled  Landscapes of the Soul at kó Gallery, Ikoyi, Lagos, messages encoded in Buhari's art of minimalist abstract paintings and mixed media, were passed across generations. Visitors across adult ages, including those younger than some of the paintings on display, couldn't have missed the artist's animation of events and issues in the period covered.

In the 21st century of increasing demand for inclusiveness, artists and galleries should strive to get out of their 'elitist' robe, of which art appreciation has been dressed for centuries. And to a large extent, Buhari's 'Landscapes of the Soul' attempted to get out of that 'elitist garment at kó Gallery, particularly, given the artist's framing of his retrospective contents within themes of general interest.

With quite a number of medium and small as well as few large sizes, Buhari's retrospective, closing on October 11, 2022, basically exudes the mastery of minimalist abstract art. And for those who are interested in the academic and critical appreciation of minimalism and its abstract cousin, Buhari's 'Landscapes of the Soul' provides so much to chew and digest. As an artist whose brushstrokes record events and stimulate interests into a path of change, Buhari's art depicts diverse textures of landscapes in every human soul. 

In general context, the title of the exhibition, perhaps, loosely aligned with the 30-year-symbolic period of Nigeria post-independence sojourn, in the political realm. Some analysts have argued that 2023 – just like 1993 – is pregnant with another 'child' whose safe delivery or stillborn may determine the sustenance of Nigeria's democracy. For Buhari, there is much to reflect on, in nearly 30 years of Nigeria's history, across stratas of the country's sojourn.

From a monoprint piece titled The Passage, dated 1998; watercolor on paper, Organic Landscape, 2005; to Great Expectation series, mixed media on paper, 2016; and Landscape In Search of Peace, acrylic and watercolour pencil on paper, 2022, among other pieces on display, Buhari's thoughts, basically. explain how little or much has changed. And 'change' in this context is a matter of relativity.

Whoever has tracked Buhari's thoughts, within and outside art circuit  in the past 20 years would have known that the artist always expressed concerns over the environment. And his themes on the environment is loud enough in Landscapes of the Soul. For examples, three watercolour on paper pieces Erosion in the City - This is Zaria, 1995; High Risk Street, 1993-2022; and Anthills of Nsukka, 2008-2009 spew much about people's little or no care for their environment.

A troubled landscape of Nigeria, no doubt, exists in every soul of Nigerians, and also felt in every profession. For those in the visual art practice, Buhari's Organic Dak'Art Experience, a watercolour on paper piece, radiates nostalgic aura, particularly if you were present at the 2008 biennial in Senegal.  As critical as some of us who were on the National Gallery of Art (NGA) entourage to that event was about Nigeria's representation, the reality now is that 14 years after, it's doubtful if Nigeria has achieved more than whatever 'low score' the country had then. It's the typical tragedy of the Nigerian narrative: previous experiences, across stratas of the country's endeavours, are always rated  better than the subsisting one. At the biennial, Nigeria showed as part of the Off in the exhibition titled Naija: An Exhibition of Contemporary Nigerian Art held at Conference Hall of Sofitel Hotel, Dakar. Prof Buhari was among over ten other artists who showed at the Off exhibition.

For Buhari and kó Gallery, Landscapes of the Soul has added a penetrating  view into the lexicon of relevant art in humanity. "The artworks were carefully selected to represent key periods and concerns in the artist’s oeuvre, thereby creating an opportunity to highlight not only his publicly known works but also exhibit his newly created artworks that have never been exhibited," a curatorial note from kó Gallery explained. "The exhibition is conceived as a unified body of work under the same title but comprises four distinctive series, each echoing the subject matter explored in autonomous categories."

The Curatorial note described Buhari's retrospective art as  "characterising his engagement with abstract, symbolic, and political themes, and more importantly, his heartbeat for Nigeria."

Jerry Buhari is a professor of Fine Art at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna State. Buhari is also an Art Advisor to Nigeria's leading auction house, Arthouse Contemporary Limited 

As an award-winning artist and curator, Buhari has had over 12 solo and 60 group exhibitions, held in Nigeria and abroad.

Among his awards and honours are those given by Commonwealth Foundation, Japan Foundation, and Ford Foundation.

Buhari's other academic sojourns outside Ahmadu Bello University include serving as a guest lecturer at the Savannah College of Art and Design, Georgia, US; Kansas Wesleyan University, US; visiting professor, Princeton University, US; University of Nigeria, Nsukka; and University of Jos, Nigeria. 

-Tajudeen Sowole is a Lagos-based writer on The Arts.


  1. Tajudeen's review captured the heartbeats of each work and the works collectively as I felt too when I walked through them as a visitor.