Thursday 19 October 2023

Oghagbon's colonies of visual culture duality

'Locaci' (oil on canvas, 22 x 22 inches, dated 2023) by Moses Oghagbon.

DESPITE being felt at the tail end of an artist's studio connection with the viewing public, art appreciation and documentation are inextricable streams in the confluence of purposeful creativity. 

As two basic foundational lifelines that energise the creation of art, appreciation and documentation breed visual culture duality, just as the former is sacrosanct while the latter comes with relativity for some artists. In art appreciation realm – critical or commercial – every artist derives steam to keep their creative energy alive. The magnetic strength of art appreciation knows no boundary even when artists collect their own works under the behavioural of being possessive of what they create. But in documentation, few artists take benefits to keep their works alive in the realm of timelessness. While documentation is a matter of relativity, the appreciation space, naturally, has a birthright for all artists, irrespective of the subjectivity involved in an artist's work.

In the career of Moses Oghagbon, there are multilayered perspectives from which critics, historians and the general public art enthusiasts can bite and digest the basic visual culture duality values of art appreciation and documentation. Oghagbon's art has created depths of resources in both the appreciation and documentation realms. More of interest is how Oghagbon's career has demystified written and unwritten rules of critics within the context of the mentioned duality.

Oghagbon's art and career are two subjects for case study in Art and Identity, framed within appreciation and documentation duality. The history of art has enough contents for scholars, art conoisseurs and researchers to learn so much about artists' passions for creating distinct identity. Interestingly, most artists like to eat their cake and have it; crave for identity, but dread being known for a particular kind of art. That delicate reality of artists' signature choices shows that it takes courage, creativity and resilience to be consistent and keep excelling in the choice of a specific identity. Few artists thread such paths for fear of "failure". Oghagbon's choice falls into that delicate, but courageous choice that has bred a success story, mounted on the pedestal of the Argungu identity.

In piercing his brushstroke through the landscapes of art creation and appreciation, Oghagbon, like most revered modern and contemporary artists, has created strange, but resilient identity. In search of an identity, Oghagbon's brushing traveled about 711km from his Lagos base to Argungu, Kebbi State. Specifically, Oghagbon's journey, early in his career, got hooked on Argungu Fishing Festival, a yearly event that has become iconic on Nigeria and international tourism calendar. 

Within the context of visual documentation of Argungu Festival – by extension, the ancient city – the paintings by Oghagbon, arguably, have contributed to the appreciation and documentation aspects of the event. With its foundation dated to the 1930s, Argungu Festival, no doubt, has been recorded in reports, and mass media in nearly 100 years. But as regards specific and specialised medium in fine art, Oghagbon's paintings have been exceptionally bold with great depths in documenting and celebrating Argungu Fishing Festival and the host city's beautiful sceneries. For nearly ten years, Oghagbon has created an identity as an umbrella for his diverse textures of art. The artist's choice of Argungu as his central theme is arguably, one of the most unique and courageous in art history. Argungu has taken Oghagbon's art through the adventure of experimentation, discovery and conquest of bouyant visual culture colonies.

The visual culture conquests have led him in founding Argungu Series and Colours of Uhola, described as "a documentation/representations project with focus on the vast cultural heritage of Argungu and Zuru Emirates of Kebbi State," Northwest of Nigeria. With visuals, in whatever forms, playing key role in contemporary history, the paintings by Oghagbon have contributed, in retrospect and futuristic articulation to the documentation of Argungu and its people.

In his Argungu series, Oghagbon has offered windows into the educational and historical aspects of the festival and its host ancient city. For the current exhibition, Argungu Series 9 – which opened on Sunday, October 15, 2023, at National Museum, Onikan, Lagos – Oghagbon, in some of the paintings, generates fluidity that complements the mobility of the human subjects and sceneries. As human perception in assimilating imageries keeps changing – surrendering to technological advancement in pop culture – visual artists, over several generations, have remained defiant. But in that obstinacy, fine art keeps its traditional texture while bringing hybridised perception to encircle the core value of art appreciation from straying into the influence of digital incursion. This much of dynamism in creating timeless art oozes in Oghagbon's paintings as his palette knife and brushing appear to be in hybrid of creative textures, with coalescence of dramatic fluidity.

Showing 35 paintings of 24 on canvas, 5 watercolor, 3 mxed media, 1 charcoal drawing, and 2 acrylic, Oghagbon's Argungu 9 exhibition asserts the importance of fine art in connecting tourism, creativity with documentation of events and appreciation of history. For example, everyone who had experienced Argungu Festival or the city has some memories to share, of which can be retrieved through pictorial remembrance. Oghagbon's Argungu paintings play a crucial role in reconnecting memories, just as the artist's works on the festival stimulate interest of potential visitors.

From my personal experience comes a visit, in 1999 to Argungu, of which I wouldn't recover much pictorial elements of that memory, over 10 years after. But in 2013, Oghagbon's paintings, shown as his solo art exhibition titled Argungu Series 1 at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos, refreshed that lost memory of the festival and the city. While the festival may have been transformed with, perhaps, new innovations, the natural sceneries and human elements of combined native strength are  irreplaceable. This much has been captured, in different forms and shades, in every edition of Oghagbon's Argungu series.

As an identity on thematic path, Oghagbon also applies the Argungu texture to honour people whom he cherishes as special. For example, in 2018, when his former art teacher, Kolade Osbinowo turned 70 years old, the Argungu series was shown as a mark of honour for the celebrant. Oshinowo taught Oghagbon at Yaba College of Technology, Lagos when the artist was a HND student in 2003.

What textures of art does Argungu 9 brings on to the emerging new phase of Lagos art landscape? Oghagbon expands the Argungu theme by exposing exotic landscapes, streetscapes of the town, and celebrating the people in naturalism, complemented by non-natural illuminations. Among such pieces are 'Lokaci' and 'Believe' series, in which Oghagbon's telephoto style capturing of landscapes radiates poetic aura. 

Between bold application and soft touch of colours, art appreciation gets its diversity. For Argungu 9, there are more than rich enough options for either side of the textures and shades of choices. While one of such paintings titled 'Mystery' challenges one's judgement with its captivating capturing of the skyline, the others such as 'Homeward' series and 'Mission' series task viewers' sense of imagination on the realm of infinite depth. 

The richness of Argungu's cultural heritage, according to Oghagbon's works, can't be completed in appreciation and documentation without the dramatic human elements. Such theatrics in colours, the artist depicts in a piece titled 'Gurmi' series, among others. And in other paintings such as 'We Move' and 'Together We Can', the artist symbolises rhythmic pseudo-silhoutte in controlled mass movement of human figures.

Visitors to Argungu 9 are privileged to be part of Oghagbon's journey into the duality of visual culture through the creative landscape of art appreciation and documentation.

The Argungu Series 9 exhibition is curated by Moses Ohiomokhare.

-Tajudeen Sowole, a Lagos-based writer on The Arts wrote the review for the catalogue of Argungu Series 9 exhibition.

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

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