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.