Friday 11 November 2022

Nwadiogbu's cultural activism pulsates in 'Ife Mmuo: in the spirit'

Artist, Olisa Nwadiogbu during preview of Ife Mmuo: in the  Lagos.

STRENGTHENING the creative  industry season in Lagos is Olisa Nwadiogbu's solo art exhibition titled Ife Mmuo: in the spirit, which runs from November 3-27, 2022 at Temple Muse, Victoria Island, Lagos.

It's an exhibition of 51 paintings and drawings curated by SMO Contemporary Art. Nwadiogbu is an important artist of his generation, whose historically relevant works covering 32 years of artistic practice provide gravitas to the fast paced world of contemporary African art. 

Ife Mmuo: in the spirit includes a careful selection of recent and retrospective works on paper and canvas, and is Nwadiogbu’s first solo exhibition in eight years. The 62-year-old artist, whose style and interpretations have impressive diversity and depth, graduated with a specialization in painting from the Institute of Management & Technology (IMT) in Enugu in 1982. 

After a few years working as an art teacher and studio artist,  Nwadiogbu joined the studio of Ben Enwonwu, Nigeria’s most important 20th Century modernist, deeply influenced by the style and philosophy of his mentor. From the early 1990’s Nwadiogbu began documenting Nigeria’s socio-political history through his work as a form of personal expression and resistance. 

In Ife Mmuo: in the spirit the artist presents historically important drawings, including never-before-seen charcoal-on-paper depictions of Nigeria’s turbulent pro-democracy years under military rule. In his series, the General Is Happy, the artist depicts the military brass wining and dining, against the background of mass protests, and the tragic fate of the Ogoni activists in Nigeria’s polluted Niger Delta in the mid 1990’s.

“I call myself a cultural activist because I believe that activism is not about carrying placards. Activism is in me. Ife Mmuo, is my expression of cultural activism, as the spirit directs me, ” explained Nwadiogbu in a recent interview. “Most of the things I know about Onitsha tradition, I learned from my grandmother who was a leader of the Umuada, the women and daughters of Onitsha, where I grew up. This exhibition honors her memory and the deep influence she had on my artistic practice and my interpretation of our identity grounded in African culture and tradition.“ 

The exhibition also includes ten self-portraits of Nwadiogbu, in which he presents himself in the iconic beret of artists with revolutionary beard, reminiscent of important local pioneers such as Prof. Dele Jegede, famous for his politically influenced art. These self-portraits are juxtaposed against a wide range of female portraits in different artistic styles, inspired by iconic African masks and traditional customs and dance.

“Nwadiogbu’s use of line, color and form demonstrate the artist’s fluid style and painterly versatility, “commented Sandra Mbanefo Obiago, the exhibition curator and Founder of SMO Contemporary Art. “Nwadiogbu’s works are important building blocks within the history of contemporary art in Nigeria. We need to pay homage to older artists who paved the way for the current explosion of artistic expression in the African art market.” 

The exhibition also includes the artist’s most recent abstract works on canvas, which mark a liberating departure from the strictures of classical painting, drawing inspiration from his childhood and his grandmother’s Igbo proverbs. Ife Mmuo; in the spirit represents an important journey through Nigerian history and contemporary art by one of the country’s most talented master painters.

“Temple Muse is pleased to host our first art exhibition since the covid pandemic,” stated Avinash Wadhwani, Chief Executive Officer of Temple Muse. “We are excited to continue to be an important platform for cutting edge fashion, design and art, providing space for both older artists and emerging talent.”

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