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 this month of June. More about these assumed obscure, yet relevant artists and their works can be learnt by visiting the show. Phillips Nzekwe, (1982) 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 continuing 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 partly 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

Exhibitions

A FUSION OF PERSONALITIES AT WORK

I am fortunate enough to have had personal dealings with all four artists showing their works at the ongoing exhibition by the Arthouse Residency themed ‘At Work’. Olumide Onadipe and Dipo Doherty, Jelili Atiku and Tyna Adebowale jointly shared a building with me on Norman Williams, Ikoyi in the recent past; a building that uniquely houses two independent art foundations –the Foundation for Contemporary and Modern Visual Arts (FCMVA) operational office and the Arthouse Residency live-in quarters. Each of these artists express themselves with different mediums and their works are as different yet appealing as their personalities are.

Olumide Onadipe and I go way back; back to when he was still a two-dimensional painter that I helped document and organize his exhibitions at the Lagos Business School. Then, he was preoccupied with rendering abstracted faces masked with vegetation, expressed in oil and acrylic. This was between 2008 and 2012.  A simple yet deep individual, Olumide started out like many contemporary painters, but somewhere in-between, he made the shift to sculpting. I can say that not many artists make that shift successfully from two-dimensional expression to three-dimensional complex forms. For him, this prompt came, after noting the ubiquity of polythene bags in everyday transactions. In a 2016 interview I had with him, his unease with seeing non-biodegradable “nylon” materials discarded improperly got him to experiment with how he could utilize the material. It did not take him long before he got the idea that applying some form of heat to the polythene made the material mouldable. This is now the primary medium he works with, the focus of his residency at the Arthouse Foundation and the ongoing exhibition. A magnificent humanoid display by Olumide stands at the middle of the exhibition space, made completely from polythene, not only is it at the centre of the space but it is apparently the central attraction. A few other works made with this medium spots the exhibition hall.

Onadipe holds an NCE (Nigerian Certificate in Education); a special A-Level grade course from the Federal College of Technology, Akoka (2001 – 2004), after which, he enrolled at NSUKKA for a degree in Art Education and subsequently at the University of Lagos, bagging a Master’s degree also in Art Education. True to his undergraduate studies, Olumide explores material usage like many from the Nsukka Art School, while still retaining the technical traits he picked up during his NCE days. His dexterity; turning trash to art serves him well and he is one of the artists to look out for.

014 ONADIPEOlu1
Left: Olumide ONADIPE, The Orphan, 2012, Acrylic on Canvas, 91x89cm, RGA Collection
Right: On display at the Kia Showroom, created in 2016 during the residency.


Dipo Doherty is obviously the youngest (still in his 20s) in the quartet featuring in the exhibition, and he has the shortest involvement in the art world as well- having only started his formal artistic career less than five years ago. This is not to say he is naive, or uninformed about the dictates of the art world. With an engineering background, Dipo incorporates elements of spatial design, lines and an admirable knowledge of perspective into his works. Many of his paintings, made out in acrylic and marker have a rotational appeal -they can be hung anyway; sideways or upside-down and would still retain the element of its communication. He unlike the others in this group exhibition has a suave demeanour and a youthful appeal. He carries this trait across to his works as the energy in him is palpable in his works on display. After studying abroad, it is understandable that his muses are contemporary Caucasian artists like Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Brian Donnelly and the likes.

Probably the most sociable and eloquent of the bunch, Dipo has for the time being put his career as a business analyst and his academic training as an engineer on pause and taken on full time studio practice like all the others. In the short while that he has come to the limelight, he has featured and sold remarkably well at the Lagos auctions; a fact many young, upcoming artists like him cannot boast of. Many of the works on display by Dipo are abstract figures of what look like mythical beings. The appeal for me though is the confidence with which he distorts and contorts his forms and figures, with a brazen disregard for anatomical fidelity or rigid conformity to realistic representation. The creative and imaginative tendencies in this artist will take him places.

Artworks by Dipo Doherty on display at the exhibition..


Jelili Atiku would be the most experienced and perhaps the oldest of the lot, a colourful performance artist and a controversial activist, Jelili is perhaps the most travelled too, yet the most traditional in the Nigerian sense. This of course might be a deliberate ploy to stay true to his roots which form the basis for most of his artistic performances. He travels extensively, featuring in exhibitions and shows globally. Born in 1968, he has had a few run-ins with the Nigerian Police because of the themes of his performances. Notwithstanding, he was honoured with the 2015 Prince Claus Award by the Netherlands Embassy in Nigeria and has many other awards under his belt.

A typical Lagosian, Jelili is a risk-taker and his boldness pays dividends. During his residency and at the exhibition, he explores the rot in the Nigerian system -the rape of democracy especially within the Senate and the ruling party. Highly vocal and expressive, he can be likened to a modern day Fela Anikulapo-Kuti; using his trade to express his grudge while enlightening his audience. He studied at the University of Lagos, Akoka, – Master of Arts (Visual Arts) between 2004 – 2006 and had his first degree, Bachelor of Arts (Fine Arts) between 1991 – 1998 at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna. Flamboyantly dressed in a pink flowing garb during the opening of the exhibition on Saturday, March 20th, Jelili was excitedly interacting with both clusters and individual attendees; explaining the reasoning behind many of his displays with such themes as Tom Jones Tower, Senate Are You a Rotten Head? (Maanifesito IV), etc.

Left: Jelili Atiku in performance during the residency, 2016
Right: On display at the ongoing exhibition


Tyna Adebowale
, absent during the opening due to another artistic commitment outside of the shores of Nigeria was represented no less than the others. The only female in the group exhibition and the first female in the residency programme; Tyna is a mixed media artist who explores issues of feminism, gender identity and discrimination during her residency and features works of a similar theme at the ‘At Work’ exhibition. In one of her recent exhibitions, she was quoted thus: “I am passionate about presenting issues around gender identity; I love celebrating the diverse shapes of the female form to counter the stereotypes and challenge the false standards”.

Raised in Edo State, Nigeria, the 35 year old full time artist shuttles between the Federal Capital and Lagos. She studied at the Auchi Polytechnic, popularly nicknamed the fauvist school because of the extensive use of colours by artists associated with the school. Incidentally, many of Tyna’s works made during the residency and currently showing in the Victoria Island showroom are monochromatic and loaded with inscriptions and defining lines. Tyna is one of the few women painters recording strides in a male dominated career as the visual arts. In the past four years, she has had about an equal number of exhibitions ranging in themes from gender to politics. She recently concluded her MAF in Ghana, and has also completed residencies at the Instituto de Arte E Cultura Yuroba in Brazil and Asiko Art School, Ghana.

Clockwise: Tyna during the residency, followed by works on display at the exhibition.

Tyna Adebowale and Jelili Atiku were the last artists to successfully complete the residency programme, right after Olumide Onadipe and Dipo Doherty. The former duo handed the mantle to François Beaurain a French multimedia artist and Nengi Omuku, the current residents. Dipo and Olumide were residents during the Spring Session (April 18-June 22, 2016), while Tyna and Jelili were residents of the Fall Session (September 12-December 16, 2016).  The exhibition should not be missed and it is open till April 9th.  More can be seen and learnt by visiting the Kia Showroom on Akin Adesola, Victoria Island or visiting the Arthouse Residency portal.

Arthouse participantsL-R: Joseph Gergel (Residency Programme Director), Olumide Onadipe, Dipo Doherty, Kavita Chellarams (Arthouse founder & CEO) and Jelili Atiku at the opening of the exhibition.