EVENTS, Exhibitions

MEET THE ISIUWES -ANGELA & EMMANUEL II (At MAN, An Exhibition of Paintings & Drawings by Emmanuel Isiuwe)

Opening today, July 28, 2017 at the Didi Museum, Victoria Island is Emmanuel Isiuwe’s first solo exhibition titled MAN. A play on words from his name EmMANuel. The exhibition centers on celebrating the male gender in all the vicissitudes of life facing him.

Emmanuel ISIUWE, husband to Angela Isiuwe -the minimalist artist; a father of five children revealed that he realized that the male sex is not as celebrated as should be. In his words in an interview I had with him during the opening, “often times, when we come across information on this gender, it is in a negative light -harping on gender imbalance, abuses, etc.” He however believes (and rightfully so, if I may add), that there is more to the subject than portrayed. In this exhibition, he draws on his own experiences as a man, the challenges he’s faced in the past, the dilemmas, the joys, the pressures and the expectations from the society.

L: Fortitude, 2017, Acrylic & Charcoal

With a combined number of approximately thirty (30) works spanning the diverse media that he works with -oil, watercolour and mixed media, Emmanuel’s exhibition is an inspiring sight to behold. In an environment where pseudo-feminism is becoming the norm, where almost every artist is trying to conform to the feminist debate and movement sweeping over the media, without fully understanding the underpinnings of the concept, Isiuwe should be commended. According to him, the show has been long overdue. During his last joint exhibition (with his wife, Angela) at the same venue, he realized from his conversations with a collector that most artists were fond of depicting the female form. He took a cursory view at the works on display then and the realization fully hit home. That was his Eureka moment and he’s been working on the body of works on display since then. The exhibition features works with titles such as –My Joy; a charcoal and pastel rendition of a man lifting up a child, claimed to be that indescribable elation he felt when he first held his first child in his arms. My Will, (and testament), one of the oil paintings, looks at the struggles of the average man to provide for his family even after his demise. Amongst others are a series of works titled Contemplations I-IV, Our Choice I -II, At Rest I-II, etc. all showing different compositions of the male form or a cluster of masculine forms at work, play or rest.

My Will & My Joy at MAN, the Exhibition

Isiuwe is a product of the Auchi Art School, where he was taught and mentored by the likes of Dr Ikoro, the late Ben Osaghae, Sam Ovraiti, Duke Asidere and others. His style is reminiscent of what the school is known for -the bold use of colours. His works at first glance are striking and appear full of energy. With a myriad of bold strokes achieved with the pastel knife (for the oil-based works), the works are busy and could be overwhelming to the uninitiated. The forms seem to be emerging from the canvas surface as a result of his works learning towards impasto. Contours, ridges and brisk strokes are evident from a review of the body of works, suggesting swift jerky movement in his painting style. Emmanuel Isiuwe, the Man and the artist is a character full of life, convivial, with his gestures well animated. He appears to be one who makes friends easily, as he switches gracefully between groups of visitors at the show.

Born in 1968, the 49 year old artist who hails from Idimuje, Ugboko in Delta state holds a B.A. in Painting (1992). He’s been a part of over ten joint and group exhibitions and has had a few public commissions. He revealed in my interview with him that he had taught art at the grade school level in the past, seeing the arts as a panacea to helping the upcoming generation find their true self and express who they are. He makes a conscious effort to immerse his kids in the arts as well, encouraging them to pursue avenues through which they can best express themselves. At the exhibition opening was Emmanuel’s last child, eleven year old David, pounding away rhythmic notes at the piano, helping to set the ambiance.

Mixed media & paper works (Watercolour, Charcoal) at MAN

With the support of the Didi Museum, Seinde Odimayo and his curator, Luciano Uzuegbu, who both contributed literary pieces to the exhibition catalogue, (with the latter present at the opening of the show), MAN -an exhibition of paintings and drawings by Emmanuel Isiuwe will be on till August 2nd, 2017.

For more on the Isiuwes, watch this space for excerpts of my video interview and transcriptions of the audio sessions with both Emmanuel and Angela Isiuwe –The modern day (Nigerian) Von Trapp family.

David Isiuwe at the piano
Some oil paintings at MAN
A cross-section of some of those present at MAN. L-R: Angela, a guest, myself, Emmanuel, Newton Jibuno, & Luciano
Rumination

MEET THE ISIUWES -ANGELA & EMMANUEL

There is an imbalance in gender distribution in most professional fields, it is more intense in the Visual Arts, which for some reason many think is a domain for men only. On one’s fingers, we can easily count off the number of women in full time studio practice, and there are far less making real impact within the art circle. Angela Amama Isiuwe is one of these rare figures.

Most known for her linear figurative forms, Angela is an artist who has devoted over twenty years of her adult life to being a fulltime studio practitioner. According to her, she knew early on that she wanted to be an artist even though her father wanted her to pursue the legal profession. Born into a polygamous family with nine siblings, her father, a titled Urhobo Chief and a lecturer, was the ideal figure of an authoritative disciplinarian, whose word was final -the type that one could hardly reason with. However, Angela takes after him and recalls that she was as hard, strong headed and problematic as much as her stern father would tolerate. Without contradicting him, she secretly funded her application to study Visual Arts at Auchi Polytechnic, revealing her conviction only after she got the admission notice from the school.

Her time at Auchi was memorable and fruitful, the only female student in her class, she met her future husband in school, Emmanuel Isiuwe also a fulltime artist, with whom she’s successfully raised five children. Angela and Emmanuel both work on multiple media, but their output are as different and wide apart as can possibly be. He is more thorough and painstaking in his process, his use of colours or forms is bolder and he leans towards impasto. Angela on the other hand believes in simplicity, hence her linear forms, created in continuous freehand strokes. They were both taught at Auchi by contemporary artists such as Ben Osaghae, Duke Asidere, and Sam Ovraiti. After her formal education, she was mentored by the latter, Ovraiti; who obviously had an effect on her form, style and likeness for watercolour.

Art by Angela & Emmanuel Isiuwe respectively

Her real inspiration however, is divine in its nature. She revealed that she was inspired by the drawings in the GoodNews Bible back when she was a teen. She liked the simplicity of the forms and how they still depicted what needed to be conveyed, despite their linear nature. She started tracing these images and later based her own style of drawing and painting on them. The resemblance indeed is uncanny. When asked what she would have been if she had not opted for painting, she revealed she would still have turned out an artist. After all, she is very dexterous and creative, she toyed with the thought of specializing in Sculpting at the Higher National Diploma level, but was talked out of it by none other but Sam Ovraiti. A part of her still wants to explore the option so she bakes in her spare time which is still sculpting in a way! And when she is not painting, she sews.

Her linear forms, though simple to the eye are in fact complex. According to her, it takes a solid knowledge of anatomy and the careful analysis of body movement to create what she deems these minimalist forms. Undeniably, the scale and proportions of her figures are exact. She enjoys the solitude that a shared studio can afford her, though she rarely paints in the presence of another, not even Emmanuel with whom she shares the same palette. She works with oil, acrylic, watercolour and she’s even used strings and ropes to give texture to her works. For her, identity and uniqueness are priorities that cannot be compromised. What many interpret as simple are swift brush strokes which cannot be altered or corrected. It must be precise almost always. With the traditional way of painting, errors can be blotted out, painted over, alas, this is a luxury she cannot afford. A case of complexities in an apparently simple venture.

An Angela Isiuwe watercolour on paper next to a typical  GoodNews Bible illustration

What’s more? Mrs Isiuwe is much more than the sum of all these parts. When asked why she’s stuck to these complex-linear figuration, of abstracted women -why women? She thought about it for a while as if just realizing she’s never painted masculine forms. Then she shocks me by revealing that she paints a variety of other things -self-portraits, which she dabbled into fairly recently, almost 20 years after she started painting professionally. Apparently she paints landscapes too, these are just rarely exhibited. She did exhibit her self-portrait earlier in the year at the Wheat Baker Hotel.

Born in the late 60s, Angela is now pushing at 50, but she’s not slowing down. Fairly recently, she started experimenting with what looks like celestial cosmic abstracts. No doubt, she is a skilled painter. A critical look at her new body of experimental work reveal multiple layers of oil, glazed on the canvas surface. More time consuming than what she is most known for, these never before seen works are tucked away in her boy’s quarters where she privately paints and sews when not in the mood to use the common studio she shares with Emmanuel within the house. “They are not yet ready to be seen and exhibited publicly”, she chimed in, explaining to a bewildered me, asking why she has not gone public with her interesting newbies. “They’re like babies, they’re not yet ready for the public, they need to mature”. She was gracious enough to let me photograph a few of them; though with my cellphone, which made the 50km travel to her studio/house at Abule Egbe worth it.

Angela’s Experimental work I
Angela’s Experimental work II

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had earlier inferred during our interview session that I would not be in a hurry to return to her studio, citing the distance and traffic as limp excuses, but this is one time I am sure I’ll be eating my words and gladly too.

You can catch both Angela and Emmanuel Isuiwe at Emmanuel’s upcoming solo exhibition, themed MAN, showing at the Didi Museum, Victoria Island, and running from July 28th through August 2nd, 2017. It will be featuring his paintings, drawings and mixed media works, plus it will be the first time Emmanuel will be having a solo in approximately 25 years. We can be sure Angela will not be far behind to launch hers.

Other experimental works by Angela, next to her other passion-her sewing machine

Exhibitions

DIFFERENT STROKES -A Joint Exhibition of Paintings and Sculptures (Wood & Bronze) by Phillips NZEKWE & Gabriel AWUSA. 

Opening on Saturday, June 17th, 2017 by 3:00pm, at the classy café and cultural centre; Terra Kulture, is a joint exhibition by two artists who seem to be from opposite ends of the spectrum –Gabriel Awusa and Phillips Nzekwe.

It seems an unlikely collaboration, two artists from different generations; a ’60s baby boomer’s artist who studied at Auchi Polytechnic and a hip 80s borderline Generation Y artist from the Delta State University, Abraka. The former studied Painting and General Studies and the other majored in Sculpting, yet the duo have turned out to be a fitting and complementary pair to each other. Not only has this collaboration brought out the best from the Delta region of Nigeria, but it also highlights controversial issues of marginalization and repression felt by a significant minority of the Nigerian ethnicity.

Gab Awusa & Phillips Nzekwe at the exhibition press briefing.

In their body of works, both artists chose to invert the narrative, exhibiting colorful, energy-filled paintings, instead of conveying messages of gloom and scenes of environmental degradation. Nzekwe centered his pieces on unexpressed emotions, told through his “Crush” series; intense, unspoken feelings -a yearning for that which seems out of reach. Awusa on the other hand bases his on the fecund nature of the region, simplified into the power of nature and the woman; both emblems of fertility, continuity and a wealth of potentials. 

Different Strokes runs from the 17th through the 27th of the month of June. More about these assumed obscure, yet relevant artists and their works can be learnt by visiting the show. Phillips Nzekwe, (1981) is from Ossamala in Delta state, he prides himself in creating art that explores environmental, and socio-cultural concerns; often fabricated from discarded and salvaged materials. He owns and manages the Akademik Art Studios, a vibrant art space providing workshops, residencies and internship facilities for creative minds in Asaba, Delta state. Phillips recently opted out from a PhD programme in Fine Arts at his Alma Mater, the Delta State University, citing creative restrictions. Gabriel Awusa also hails from Delta state, (Ogoda), a riverine community. He had a stint in the advertising industry after his formal art education at the Auchi Polytechnic in 1988, then resigned to pursue a full-time studio practice which he has maintained for the past 27 years, in this span of time, he’s had five solo exhibitions.

Different Strokes was curated by Akinyemi Adetunji.

Nzekwe flanked by his art at the exhibition hall -Terra Kulture. 

Artwork Criticism

Art Criticism -Lady With a Bowl, 2007 by Duke Asidere

Duke ASIDERE, Lady With a Bowl, 2007, Oil on canvas, 79*50cm. 

Artwork and image credits: @DukeAsidere

​One of Asidere’s signature themes of a seated feminine figure, with her neckline and head cut off by the (upper) edge of the canvas, thus creating an illusion of continuity, while also prompting the viewer’s imagination to finish off the painting. 

His mastery of the elements of composition is evident as the lone elongated figure… (Read more)

In the News

CERTIFICATES OVER COMPETENCE

Experience is the best teacher! Everyone must have heard this maxim at some point, but when will we deeply consider this saying and put it to practice?

Recently, I came across a tweet headlining the Bloomberg news that Sotheby’s, one of the leading auction houses in the world just employed Tad Smith as its new CEO. Audaciously, the headline read: Art Degree Not Needed: New Sotheby’s CEO Offers Technology Savvy. The article simply stated why the auction house made the decision to elect someone without an art degree as its CEO -the track record of the man was enough.
TAD SMITH

The case is not the same in Nigeria, here we pant after certificates and elect people to office not because of what they’ve done or what they can achieve or contribute, but because they have fancy certificates and multiple degrees. Of course, education is important and degrees are needed, but should that be our sole criterion for judging expertise? A few weeks ago, the media was awash with the news of a notorious Senator who got his seat by claiming he’s got seven or eight certificates and degrees. After serving in office for a reasonable time, it was revealed that many of his certificate claims were false and he just barely managed a third class on his first degree!  As a nation, we have gotten to the point where people chase certificates at the detriment of knowledge or experience. Certificates are bought and even forged simply because they open doors and confer recognition above true proficiency or know-how. This has to stop.

Certificate Scandal

I commend Tad, the new Sotheby’s CEO, for having the guts to admit that he is not experienced in the arts. Of course, he knows the stuff he brings to the table, thus he could proclaim such, it does not really matter, he is sure he can deliver! And to Sotheby’s for taking such a leap, kudos. I can only wish more institutions and organizations in Nigeria will take a cue from this. You can have a figure-head allegedly claiming eight certificates but he could be as empty as a hollow barrel; these class of citizens are rife in our society and sadly, they lead us and bamboozle everyone with their sheer idiocy. On the flip-side, we have CEOs and industry leaders who elected to leave school without completing their studies, they may have no certificates, but they lead the Forbes list of the richest and most influential people on the face of the planet and we have all seen the impact they make and continue to make to the world. It is left for us to choose and reconsider what our values should be.

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Exhibitions

HILLARY UZOMBA, AN EMERGING ALL-ROUNDER.

I first met this unassuming and friendly young man on one of my trips to the Eastern part of the country. I had been invited to Onitsha by a prominent Collector to document his large and rich collection of contemporary Nigerian artworks. It was a rather big project so I was ready and glad to be away from Lagos for a good number of days. Habitually, whenever I visit a city or town, I try to meet the local artists there and even document some in their studios. Having been to Onishta a good number of times in the past, on this trip, I made my way to Abraka (the Delta State University) and then Asaba, it was here I first met Hillary Uzomba, at the Akademik Art Studios, Asaba, Delta state.

4aHillary Uzomba at the Moorhouse, venue of his first solo exhibition 

The Akademik Art Studio is one of the vibrant art spaces for artists in and around Asaba, it is run by Phillips Nzekwe, an energetic sculptor who works with discarded materials. The studio caters to the needs of artists just as it hosts art students on internship. Hillary happens to be the studio manager, holding the fort for Phillips at the studio whenever the latter is away. He thus acts as an art instructor to the interns on apprenticeship at the studio, he is also an archivists and of course an artist. For the better part of my visit to this studio, Uzomba was preoccupied with other stuff and I did not get to see his works till I was on my way out. However, after I chanced upon them, I had to schedule another visit, just so I could digest what he presented before me.

As with all works in this exhibition, this artist simply puts ink to paper and creates engaging abstracted figures and forms from memory. His style as revealed by him is to ponder on a word, then make an abstract representation of what the word means to him. At first glance, the pieces might seem ordinary, but a closer and deeper look will certainly get most people engaged. It is even better when he gives his insight into the work. Each piece is loaded with calligraphy, iconic forms and motifs that draw from local folklore and African culture. All the works on exhibition are ink drawings, but Hillary does more than put pen to paper. Perhaps through the effect of Nzekwe and the Akademik Studios, he now explores creation of mixed media art made from salvaged and discarded materials too. Prominent in his oeuvre from this class of art are compositions made entirely out of flip-flop synthetic foam slippers. “I walk about the streets scavenging and always on the lookout for these items; I make each artwork, carefully embedding the original colours of the material to form the narrative in each piece”, he disclosed in a recent chat I had with him before the opening of his exhibition. He also paints with auto base paint on Perspex glass.

Works on display at the exhibition, themed Online Timeline

This is his first solo, themed Online Timeline. It opened on Saturday, April 1, 2017 and it features a body of work created solely in ink. These works are on display at the Moorhouse, which is a co-supporter of the exhibition, in partnership with the Alliance Francaise. The drawings explore the relationship between space and time and the cyclic relativity between both boundless concepts. His lines are fine and they appear as one consistent stroke -a conscious doodle if you will, laden with intense contracts effected from heavy shading and highlighting. In his words, “lines are, in my deepest understanding of them visual enjambments that define people, subjects, objects and mental realities.” Hillary’s eye for composition is laudable and I praise his bravery for electing to base his first solo on monochromatic ink drawings –a fear many emerging artists are too conscious of, dreading to be judged and stereotyped as simplistic or naive.

Hillary’s love for the arts is multi-directional -he is an avid poet as well and a lover of the literary arts, film and music. He has won a handful of awards through his literary compositions which litter the web. What’s more, his love for poetry and the literary arts shines through as, next to each piece is a short narrative of his inspiration, or an insight into the work. This not only gives the display more depth but affords the audience a sneak-peek into the mind of this brilliant artist. He is indeed a brilliant mind; one only has to converse with him to get him reeling off.

A native of Isuikwuato, Abia state, Hillary Uzomba was born in 1991 and was raised in Owerri. He had most of his education in Imo state -from grade school to the Tertiary level where he studied Art at the Alvan Ikoku (College of Education) Campus of the University of Nigeria.
Online Timeline will be on display till the 15th of April, it is worth your time.

1aWith Hillary Uzomba and Phillips Nzekwe at the exhibition (L-R).

EVENTS

TRIBUTE TO BEN OSAGHAE (1952 – 2017)

Another devastating blow hit the Nigerian Art Community a few days after the New Year, when on January 18th, 2017; the lifeless body of Ben Osaghae was discovered at his Egbeda home. It came as a shock for all that witty, comical Ben, popularly called Master by his colleagues was no more!

The fine details surrounding his demise are still uncertain, but the 54 year old artist was apparently alone at the time of his last conscious moments –faced down on his bed. Ben was more than a friend and brother to many, thus arrangements were made speedily to convey his remains to his hometown in Edo state where he was interred in a matter of a few days. The event was a sad one attended by a handful of his artist-colleagues and family.

‘That cannot be all’ was the general refrain within the art community, so two months after his passing, precisely on March 30th, 2017, a worthy tribute, organized by the Guild of Professional Fine Artists of Nigeria (GFA), was held in his honour at the National Museum, Onikan Lagos. It was well attended by dignitaries, artists, his family and friends. Special guests at the event included HRM Nnameka Achebe -the Obi of Onitsha, Chief Ede Dafinone, Jess Castellote, Kavita Chellarams, Julianna Edewor, Rahman Akar, and Dapo Adeniyi of the Position Magazine –all who played a key role in the development of the artist and shared tear-evoking tales of their past with the audience. Other personages at the event were Dr Kunle Filani, the famous Yaba Tech artist and retired lecturer Kolade Oshinowo, gallery administrators, curators and approximately the entire troupe of the GFA.

The event was far from sad and was a colourful one where dignitaries reminisced on how they met Ben and what made him special. Jess Castellote reflected on what led to the only publication on Ben, co-authored by himself and I, titled OSAGHAE; Visual Chronicles of a Society in Flux. Ms Edewor and the Signature Gallery owner; Rahman Akar spoke well of the trying beginnings of Ben and how they encouraged and promoted him. The tribute ended with wise words from the Royal King of Onitsha who advised that some form of intervention fund should be established to aid ailing artists and those who may have the need in the art world. These talks were spiced by a showcase of his oeuvre that I have documented over time. Though I was prepared to say a few words, as were many others, the event was brought to an official close after two hours, and the guests present were ushered into the courtyard of the National Museum for a session of informal bonding, photography and refreshments.

Ben Osaghae (1962 -2017) lived a full productive life and his works will continue to highlight the struggles and challenges of life -especially city life. Click on the images below to see a comprehensive chronology of Osaghae’s life.

Below is the transcript of the speech I prepared for the eve of tribute.

TO GOOD OL’ BEN

I’d like to thank everyone who is a part of this community or anyone who has said a kind word or shared a condolence message over the past weeks since we lost dear old Ben. Your kind words, conversations and other positive gestures have kept many of us going and helped us cope better with the sudden loss and grief.

To some, Ben was a brother, a teacher; many fondly nicknamed him The Master, and to others, he was an associate, a neighbour, an artist, a creator; an author who strove to point out the ills he observed around him, in a bid to make our world better.

I have managed the portfolio of many artists and others within my budding career in this sector, but I can say none touched me in the way Osaghae did. I was recommend to him, at a time when he wanted to expand the appeal for his works to the international stage. I started off by building and managing his online gallery and in a short while, the relationship progressed from a professional one to a more personal type. I spent numerous hours with him, interviewing him on many subjects, we both criticised and analysed his works, while sharing a bottle of wine… or three and I’d like to think it was him and not the wine, but Ben had that remarkable gift of taking a seemingly mundane issue and dissecting it at length in a manner in which most times we’d both discover we were late for whatever engagements we had planned for after our time together.

He was a brilliant artist whose style was to paint or draw things he wanted to call attention to and this he did methodically –it gave rise to many of the series we associate with him today, like the ecclesiastical series, transportation series, incarceration series, etc. With the joint effort and support of others, I have documented about 650 artworks signed by him. This might not seem like much for an artist whose career spanned three decades, or to others who churn out works daily, but for an artist who seldom repeated himself and who had such a critical illness has he harboured, I think it is remarkable!

My collaborations with Ben was largely based on evolving a medium for projecting his works to a wider audience. This was what led to the establishment of his online gallery and also the book on his oeuvre –OSAGHAE; Visual Chronicles of a Society in Flux, co-authored by myself and Jess Castellote. For me, all my interactions with him were personally fulfilling experiences and it is a solemn vow I am willing to enter into, that I will continue to project his works to the world.

Ben Osaghae, in the flesh is gone, but he lives on through us and his creations.

I dedicate the following adaptation of the poem by May Fenn to my dear friend and brother, Ben Osaghae.

Death is not the end, for love goes on

And we find the evidence, here after you’re gone.

The flowers that you planted, will blossom without end,

We will find you in their beauty, as to their needs we tend.

The time we spent together, the laughter in the our memories,

Will continue to give pleasure, to us throughout the ages.

Thank you.
Akinyemi Adetunji

ben me