EVENTS, Exhibitions, In the News

IDENTITY TONES – The New Modernization of Africanism In the Face of Globalization

A keen observer of the Nigerian art scene might have heard and know of John Madu, the black muse. An eighties born Lagos-based artist with a rather distinct artistic oeuvre; his compositions are rife with what he has termed pseudo (humanoid) silhouettes and figures portrayed in varying degrees of movement and expression, laced with multiple layers of metaphors.

It is a fair argument to say John has a preoccupation, probably bordering on obsession with identity. In his eight years as a full-time studio artist, his ethos, as expressed in majority of his works can be summed up by the term ‘Identity’. Madu’s works being metaphorical often tell stories; stories of identities being discovered, lost, infused, or engulfed in globalization, and the interpretation of which he is bold and contented enough to leave to his viewers to unearth, decode and interpret at will. According to the artist in a recent exclusive interview I had with him, he is actually happy to have people ponder on his works and subject them to multiple interpretations, not minding that these conjured analyses could stray from his intended message or motive. “I actually like my work to have an eclectic feel -my viewer is open to his own interpretation. Sometimes, when I create [a piece], I’m thinking something, but before I finish it, it means more than what I thought about -it’s even bigger than myself. I like leaving those spaces open, it’s more fun! … [It] makes it interactive. A good artwork is work that makes people talk -so the metaphors are actually key parts in my work, because you have to think; I want you to think …you have to actually walk closer and really look“.

This is not the first time John Madu will be taking a swipe at Identity and the effects of globalization on the concept. In SAO and the Muses 2, in 2017, he exhibited a similar body of work which addressed the contributory factors of globalization on the alienation of individuals, during a two-day group event which portrayed and celebrated various creatives -Dipo Doherty, Niyi Okeowo, Medina Dugger, Adam and Daniel Obasi, Dennis Osadebe, fast rising eclectic artiste Kaline and a host of other talents, on how they go about their crafts and professions all trapped within the Lagos urban sphere. Now on his third solo exhibition, following on the heels of Morphogenesis, his first ever solo show in 2013, held at the Didi Museum and his second solo at Terra Kulture in 2016, Identity Tones is an arrangement of palettes used to depict identities and the shifts in these identities brought about by an ever shrinking world, catalyzed by the effects of social media, the internet and globalization as a whole. John Madu’s thematic concern is hinged on globalization’s contribution to the alienation of individuals from their native traditions and culture, (arguably being) modest as compared to the impact of modernism on same. According to this deep creative, “my process is marked by the consumption of cultures that have been diffused by the internet, popular culture, the media and international travel”, [amongst others].

In a recent conversation with a collector friend and art benefactress, she expressed her displeasure and dissatisfaction with the ubiquitous faces that now pervade contemporary Nigerian art as created by the upcoming crop of artists.  True to this claim, there has indeed been an upsurge in the focus on faces and facial features in recent art; popularized in my opinion by the growing trend of hyper-realism –especially the water-splashed, sweat-drenched faces that saturate the social media space and which now has everyone with the technical ability to shade declaring themselves as professional artists. Not that I have anything against hyper-realists and their art, I manage some of these artists, being mindful that their works are more than technical enough, and of course, time consuming.  Nevertheless, it is refreshing to witness art that considers the message crucial and perhaps more critical than the mode of delivery. A cursory glance might cast John Madu along with the lot of earlier portrayed “artists”; however, he is well aware of his strengths and shortcomings and he use them well to his advantage. He has never touted himself as a hyper-realist, and he is not, nor as a professionally trained studio artists, even though, his creative propensities can blend him in a room of true fine artists. With a background in Policy and Strategic Studies from the University of Lagos; his passion for working with his hands -creating things, got him to experiment in the Visual Arts, after having dabbled into the fashion world. While in the University, he enrolled in Fashion School and had a relatively successful clothing line that was popular among his peers and friends. His clothing line -Dark Muse even partook in a fashion show sponsored then by Diesel; thus, creating for public consumption is not really new to this creative. As for the seeming fixation with faces, he set things straight educating me that “isn’t the face the best way to portray identity”? Of course, I had to agree with.

A close examination of his oeuvre shows that he paints faces with as much passion and frequency as he depicts the body in movement. More of these movements and figures can be seen in this bold body of works themed Identity Tones.  One of the many personal favourites on exhibit is a classic composition of a charcoal black prima ballerina silhouette, coasting through the air in mid-flight grand jeté pose: confident, free, and seemingly carefree, with a trail of her jet-black smoky hair giving a clue of her trajectory. Not all is as it seems however; the apparent blithe danseuse definitely conscious of her environment seems to be leaping over a traditional fiery red hurricane lamp atop a stool or rostrum draped with painted Ankara fabric –the signature African textile export of the 21st century. The lamp happens to be a household item in most poor and many average African homes, where electric power supply is erratic and unreliable. It is often said that such devices are the power infrastructure, with the public, government electric power relegated to the role of the backup option. The incongruity in the said composition will not be lost on many, as the lamp and the ballerina seem to be from two divergent worlds, times and climes; yet, this is the current Nigerian reality –where many parents strive to pay exorbitant fees for extra curricula activities as ballet and elocution classes in private grade schools; but fail to consider the ever declining and decaying educational standards into which they thrust their wards.

It is such subtle but deep metaphors that endear me to this Delta-born, Lagos based artist -John Madu; whom I have worked with now for a few years. Down to earth, unassuming and yet severe in his ways; his will be faces which will continue to thrill and open themselves up to deeper layers of interpretation with each passing glance. I am certain we are yet to see the best this ingenious artist has to offer, and his offering will continue to be relevant in a society as ours; where communal forgetfulness and complicity masked in indifference seem to be our national identity.

Catch the artist at #IdentityTones, the solo exhibition, running from August 18th – 24th, 2018, at the Artyrama Building; 1B Alhaji Masha Close, Off Ademola street, (Off) Awolowo Road, Ikoyi. Curated by Akinyemi Adetunji for Artyrama (online) and sponsored by Bombay Sapphire and Artyrama Limited.

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

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. 



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).



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.

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.