Friday 28 April 2023

Postcolonial Africa thoughts of six artists in Lean On Me

'Waiting On You' (acrylic on canvas, 60 X 60 inches) by Sesse Elangwe.

Elladj Lincy Deloumeaux, Yagazie Emezi, Sesse Elangwe, Turiya Magadlela, Collins Obijiaku, Stephen Price are exploring interpersonal relations and transnational connections in postcolonial Africa.

The platform for the convergence of the six artists is a group art exhibition titled Lean On Me, opening on April 29 2023, at kó Gallery, Cameron Road, Ikoyi Lagos. Curated by Brice Arsène Yonkeu, the exhibition affords the six artists to provide substantial contributions to contemporary discourses. The gathering of the artists also aims to assess how the visual dialogue of African artists can ultimately unite the people and become a tool to lean on. 

In a statement, ko Gallery said the exhibition reinforces the important role art has always played in connecting individuals and sharing history. The gallery noted that Art and culture have the ability to shape people's thinking by penetrating their subconscious and revealing within them feelings that they have suppressed or long forgotten. "Taking its title from a poem written by the curator, Lean On Me is a visual representation and artistic continuation of postcolonial theories and ideas expressed by African thinkers and writers, mainly Chinua Achebe, Achille Mbembe and Leonora Miano," kó stated.

The exhibition opens with the works of Emezi, Magadlela and Price to investigate the construction of identity in postcolonial Africa. Emezi contributes to this conversation with photographs from her series Wayward, which delves into the complexities of Igbo cosmology and ontology, with a keen focus on the duality between the spiritual world and the physical world we inhabit, questioning what may arise when mmadu is disconnected from their personal deity. In symbiosis with her chi — the spiritual force inextricably linked to her existence and residing in her according to Igbo cosmology and ontology — Emezi hand-makes masquerades and uses the pieces in recurring self-portraiture to explore the multiple layers of the spirit world. The series offers a transcendent lens into the consequences of dissonance from our own destinies. The artist's personal quest, highlights contemporary conversations on the friction and coexistence in postcolonial Africa of imported religions, and native African  religions or beliefs.

Continuing with the mixed media abstract works of Magadlela, who sews, embroiders, and manipulates found textiles such as pantyhose and stockings to explore themes of identity, gender and race, Magadlela draws inspiration from her own experiences as a woman living in South Africa. Through the irregular forms created by stretched pantyhose on stretcher bars, or the mosaic assemblage of textiles into tapestry, Magadlela creates distinct abstract works onto which viewers can project a myriad of thoughts, challenging the status quo while simultaneously perceiving its effects. Opposite Magadlela’s works are three human size nude  portraits executed by Price using acrylic, charcoal, and soft pastels on canvas. 

Inspired by Edvard Munch 1908 painting titled Youth and guided by a quote of art critic John Berger stating that “to be naked is to be oneself… to be naked is to be without disguise,” Price attempts with these paintings to evoke the vulnerability and sincerity of his human subjects. Price’s textured subjects are depicted standing in front of abstract landscapes, exuding a certain innocence that beckons the viewer's soft gaze into this space where existential questions are raised in hope of getting answers.

The conversation closes with a second part of the exhibition featuring the works of Deloumeaux, Elangwe, and Obijiaku whose portraits embody a sense of new consciousness and display a sense of pride attached to an identity claim. In this regard, Deloumeaux’s work plunges us into a pictorial narrative where anecdotes of a personal history and the chronicles of a plural world intermingle. The subjects represented in these works on  paper emerge or seem to grow out of a clouded and blurry past, to embrace this new found understanding of oneself, which will henceforth constitute a core strength. Elangwe’s realistic acrylic portraits of women outdoors surrounded by picturesque landscapes call for a pause and act as a space to reflect. However, there is consideration and  contemplation for a future together made possible by his signature large eye of enlightenment which draws the viewer in. His subjects’ colorful natural plaited hair and their hyper-pigmented dark skins, represent the unapologetic acceptance of oneself, and the definite resolution to be seen and visible in any given space. Using oil and charcoal on canvas, Collins Obijiaku creates a highly detailed and realistic depiction of a woman wearing red lipstick. Obijiaku contours his subject’s with thin charcoal lines to create intricate patterns imbued with a sense of storytelling and cultural richness that capture her spirit and vitality while accentuating her features. Staring straight ahead, she appears confident and victorious.

Through different forms of language, we can create a space that appears as the precursor to an achieved unity, “a mirror in which everyone would recognize their own face,” Leonara Miano wrote in her Afrofuturistic novel Rouge Impératrice when describing the capital of a unified Africa a century from now." Lean On Me.

Excerpts: Because as a Brother I have your back. 

Lean On Me, 

Because as a Human I can feel your pain. 

Lean On Me, 

Because in this spirit of togetherness, your win is my win.

Yonkeu stated: “This stanza clouded my thoughts as I explored the works of the artists featured in this exhibition, forcing on me this title when I could have easily borrowed Achille Mbembe’s Out of the Dark Nights. In this book, which gathers Mbembe’s essays and thoughts on  decolonization, he writes that 'to free oneself once and for all from colonial alienation, and to heal the wounds inflicted by the law of race, one had to know oneself.' The duality present inthis statement led me to consider the division of the exhibition space into two parts. The first part focuses on identity and the knowing of oneself; and the second part depicts the warm embrace of renewed consciousness and identity."

Separating Yoruba religious tradition from Isese

Translucent S.I. Media management agency for artists and art galleries

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