Seven years ago, I was invited for an exhibition at the National Museum, Onikan by an artist unknown to me at that time: Raoul Olawale da Silva. It was a good thing I decided to “risk” and visit the show. Surely, I was not the only one among the visitors that felt excited in front of Raoul’s works. The exhibition goer in Lagos –and there are a few regulars, out there- is rarely confronted with works of such intensity and character. Without knowing the artist, his background or his artistic trajectory I was immediately struck by the works before my eyes.
Just two years ago, when I was exploring some contemporary art collections in Lagos, I visited Agatha da Silva –Raoul’s mother- and was able to see in her house a good number of works left behind by Raoul. This time the experience was more intimate, deeper. These works -some of them uncompleted- were challenging me. I could not remain indifferent in front of them. A couple of months ago, thanks to the good efforts of Sandra Obiago and –of course- Agatha da Silva, we were fortunate to have him back in Lagos -the city he left in 1981, when he was just 12 years old- for another exhibition.
Raoul is a complex and intensely independent artist. His rich personal history is, no doubt, marked by the fact of having a Nigerian father (a Neurosurgeon from a well known Brazilian-Lagosian family) and a Swiss mother. His is a multifaceted creativity finding expression through different media: painting, photography, craftsmanship, music. Perhaps, I should add skateboarding, an activity he considers a true –though ephemeral- form of art. He is passionate about it: “I am street skater for more than 20 years now. Skateboards, boarding is an art and an art form always crossing borders and boundaries, influencing and being influenced, always developing and staying young for the young state of mind. Maybe just like dance or Asian martial arts, it is a most direct and sincere forms of expression”.
It is difficult to fit Raoul’s works into a neat, clearly defined artistic pigeon hole, to associate them to a recognizable name or qualifier. But, perhaps this search for “sincere forms of expression” provides the key to access the paintings, drawings and installations in this exhibition. His works appear as an externalization, an “expression” of a many-sided personal world. And in this process of expressing -of bringing out- inner realities, spontaneity plays a central role. This is the way he explains how he starts a new work: “I start from somewhere deep within almost on a subconscious level letting the canvas or working surface to get stained or “randomly” marked, trusting that there is enough material inside me to work with that will come to show an idea or at least a route I can follow… This process is being repeated over and over till I feel I have something that can evolve into meaning for me. Then I try to transport/transform that aesthetic to a plane where I now sharply observe and act and react to what is going on on the surface and around it. Taking off, scratching off, peeling off paint and then putting on, slapping on, dripping on, brushing on paint till a harmony or dissonance starts to create tension which is a sign that I am on the right path”.
More than 60 years ago, the critic Harold Rosenberg coined the expression “action painting”. He wrote in his well known essay of 1952, “The American action painters”: “At a certain moment the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act — rather than as a space in which to reproduce, redesign, analyse or ‘express’ an object, actual or imagined. What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event. The painter no longer approached his easel with an image in his mind; he went up to it with material in his hand to do something to that other piece of material in front of him. The image would be the result of this encounter”. Rosenberg’s expression “an arena in which to paint”, seems particularly apt to refer to most of Raoul da Silva’s works.
In this exhibition Raoul juxtaposes works produced over a span of ten years (2003-2013). This allows the viewer appreciate the continuity and evolution of his oeuvre. Two formal elements call immediately our attention. First, there has been a progressive increase in the size of the works. The use of larger canvases (some of them over 2.00 meters wide) shows a much more self-confident artist, not afraid to face increasingly challenging works. Second, the “painterly” works of ten years ago, with their blurred contours, broken shapes and overlaid colours, have evolved into pieces in which lines and boundaries are more defined and prominent than in earlier works, when gestural brushstrokes had pre-eminence. The organic, fluid, dream-like creatures have given way to more defined shapes taken from the real world. While some of these older works brought to mind references to Osogbo artists (specially, Twins Seven Seven), or to de Kooning and Pollock, the recent ones are more akin to the explorations of Basquiat, Bacon or Ritcher.
In addition, there is a more subtle development: these new works engage the outside world in a much more distinct and direct way than the older ones. For instance, the insertion of four telephone handsets in one of the 2013 works would have been totally out of place in the ones produced ten years earlier. It seems there is a gradual shift from works emerging from an “inner”, self-referential universe to a messier, more real world.
But despite the development of his artistic identity, Raoul’s works still grow from inside out. Their strength -and they are undoubtedly, strong- continues coming from within. Perhaps, that is the reason why they are so intensely personal. Like with good music, or with dance, the viewer is not encumbered by the demands of meaning, rationality and context. His works need not to be “understood”, but to be enjoyed, letting them tell each of us a different story.
This is an exhibition to enjoy quietly. Raoul da Silva is allowing us a view of a personal, intimate, suggestive world of great formal beauty. This is a privilege rarely available. I am glad not to have missed the opening. The works are on display till August, 15. I might go to see them again.
His web site is www.rods.ch/home.html
The Nigerian art world continues gathering strength and growing in depth.
A vibrant art scene needs many actors: artists, private and institutional collectors, scholars, galleries, art schools, art critics, art historians, curators, auction houses, dealers, Museums and art institutions, publishers, art educators, sponsors, tourists, interior designers, investors… One more piece in this complex structure has just been put in place. A new art magazine, called Omenka, is already available on the stands.
Published by Revilo in association with The Ben Enwonwu Foundation, it is described by its editor as a magazine with “focus on contemporary African art, business and lifestyle… Written for the serious collector, Omenka will provide the latest news and insider intelligence on the African art market including auction reports and art transactions. It will investigate key trends and showcase the artists who drive the industry”. The scope of the project is ambitious –perhaps, over ambitious- for a new publication: it aims at covering not only the Nigerian art scene but to look as well at continental art markets and developments. That’s a tall task. On the other hand, making it initially a quarterly publication will facilitate its sustainability.
Looking at the magazine, the first thing that calls attention is its material quality and great visual appeal. The design, layout and printing are surprisingly good. But the worth of a publication of this type is measured not simply by the glossiness of the paper, the readability of the text, or the sharpness of the images. What differentiates the best from the others is the quality and relevance of the content and the competence and prestige of the contributors. Here, this first issue, also scores high.
The 75 pages of the magazine are organized around seven sections: Editor’s letter, Antennae (art trends and events), Focus (interviews and profiles), Lifestyle, Feature, Market file (art business: auctions, galleries, art as investment), and Reports (reviews, studio visits). The scope is ambitious. Despite the unmistakable focus on the business side of art, the magazine tries to cover a broad ground. Definitely, this is not an academic art journal with heavy historic-critical articles, but this not a shallow publication with news and gossip about art celebrities either.
There is an aspect of Omenka that might worry some readers. By including a section on “lifestyle” and giving it prominence throughout the magazine, there is always a risk of presenting art as one more piece in a “luxury lifestyle”. The generous inclusion of luxury brand adverts does not help in assailing this danger. Perhaps, this is the price a financially viable art magazine for the general public has to pay to remain in business, but the peril of the “commoditisation of art” remains there: portraying art as the ultimate “commodity” to posses in an affluent lifestyle.
Generally, art magazines have one of two main possible focuses: either they are centred on art or they look primarily at the business of art (the art “industry”). Depending on what side readers are, they will be interested on a type of art related magazine or another. A university professor in a department of fine arts will be interested primarily on academic journals and learned peer-review publications. A collector/investor will be more interested on publications that provide in depth information on the art market trends and results. In this respect, Omenka succeeds in having something of interest for a broad spectrum of readers. It is significant that the first issue of the magazine includes, on the one hand, interviews with two serious players in the Nigeria art market, Robert Mbonu, founder of The Art Exchange, a venture set-up to promote art as an alternative asset class and with Giles Peppiat, director of sales for African Contemporary Art at Bonhams. On the other, the magazine includes articles on three artists: Nnenna Okore, Yusuf Grillo and Kelani Abass. In the middle, there are a good number of titbits of useful information.
All in all, Omenka is a valuable and promising contribution to the development and deepening of the Nigerian art world. The challenge is now for the publishers to sustain the initial high level achieved in presentation and content. Taking into account the calibre of those involved in the project, it is not difficult to guess that the next issue, devoted to photography, will maintain the quality of this first one. This, will undoubtedly, benefit the whole art sector in the country and beyond.
I have added a few more books published recently. If you know of better ones, please let me know.
B.A. ADEMULEYA, Akin ONIPEDE & Mike OMOIGHE (ed.) Creative traditions in Nigerian art, Culture and Creative Art forum. Lagos 2003
Cornelius O. ADEPEGBA Nigerian Art. Its traditions and modern tendencies. Ibadan, Nigeria, 1995. JODAD Publishers.
Agbarha-Otor 2000: the 3rd Harmattan Workshop Lagos: Ovuomaroro Studio and Gallery, 2000
Agbarha-Otor 2002: the 4th Harmattan Workshop Lagos: Ovuomaroro Studio and Gallery, 2002
John Tokpabere AGBERIA (ed.) Design History in Nigeria. University of Port Harcourt, 2002, National Gallery of Art and Association of Art Designers.
Chike C. ANIAKOR and C. Krydz IKWUEMESI Crossroads. Africa in the twilight. Lagos: The National gallery of Art 2000
Ulli BEIER Thirty years of Oshogbo art. Bayreuth: Iwalewa-Haus, 1991.
Chukwuemeka BOSAH and George EDOZIE, A celebration of modern Nigerian Art: 101 Nigerian Artists. Ben Bosah Books, 2010.
Jess CASTELLOTE (ed.) Contemporary Nigerian art in Lagos private collections. Ibadan: Bookcraft Publishers, 2012.
Jimoh BURAIMOH My life and Arts. Ibadan 2000, Spectrum Books.
Kevin CARROLL Yoruba religious carving. London 1966, Geoffrey Chapman.
Chinedu C. CHUKUEGGU Contemporary Nigerian Art and its classifications Abraka, Nigeria, 1998. Delsu Consult Publishing House.
G. G. DARAH and Safy QUEL (Ed.) Bruce Onobrakpeya. The spirit in ascent. Ovuomaroro Gallery. Lagos, 1992.
Clémentine DELISS (Ed.) Seven stories about modern art in Africa organized by the Whitechapel Art Gallery; Paris; New York: Flammarion, 1995.
Paul Chike DIKE & Pat OYELOLA The Zaria Art Society: a new consciousness Lagos, 1998. National Gallery of Art, Nigeria
Paul Chike DIKE & Pat OYELOLA Uche Okeke and Modern Nigerian Art Lagos, 2003. National Gallery of Art, Nigeria.
Osa EGONWA African Art: a contemporary source book Benin City, Nigeria, 1994. Osazu Publishers.
Okwui ENWEZOR and Chika OKEKE-AGULU Contemporary African Art since 1980. Damiani, 2010.
Kunle FILANI Patterns of culture in Contemporary Yoruba Art Symphony Books, 2005
Kunle FILANI, A. AZEEZ & A. EMIFONIYE (eds.) Perspectives on Culture and Creativity in Nigerian Art Culture and Creative Art Forum. Lagos, 2003
Kojo FOSU 20th Century Art of Africa Zaria: Gaskiya Corporation, 1986 and Accra: Artist Alliance, 1993.
C. Krydz IKWUEMESI, Ayo ADEWUNMI (Ed.) A discoursive bazaar Enugu: Pan-African Circle of Artists 2001
C. Krydz IKWUEMESI (Ed.) The triumph of a vision: an anthology on Uche Okeke and modern Art in Nigeria Lagos: Pendulum Art Gallery 2003
C. Krydz IKWUEMESI, Emeka AGABAYI (Ed.) The rediscovery of tradtion: Uli and the politics of culture Lagos: Pendulum Centre for Culture and Development 2005
Jean KENNEDY New currents, ancient rivers. Washington, Smithsonian, 1992
Sidney L. KASFIR. Contemporary African Art. London: Thames and Hudson, 1999.
Bernice M. KELLY & Janet L. STANLEY Nigerian Artists. A who’s who and Bibliography. London, New York: Published for the National Museum of African Art Branch, Smithsonian Institution Libraries, Washington, DC, by Hans Zell, 1993
Nkiru NZEGWU Contemporary Textures: Multidimensionality in Nigerian Art Binghamton. The International Society for the Study of Africa (ISSA). 1999
Onyema OFFOEDU-OKEKE Artists of Nigeria . Five Continents, 2012.
Sylvester Okwunodu OGBECHIE Ben Enwonwu, The making of an African modernist . New York, University of Rochester Press, 2008.
Olu OGUIBE Uzo Egonu, an African Artist in the West. London: Kala Press, 1995.
Olu OGUIBE and Okwui ENWEZOR, eds. Reading the Contemporary: African Art from Theory to the Marketplace. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999.
Moyo OKEDIJI African Renaissance / Boulder, Colorado. University Press of Colorado, 2002.
Uche OKEKE Art in development: a Nigerian perspective / edited by Leclair Grier Lambert. Nimo, Anambra State: Documentation Centre, Asele Institute; Minneapolis: African American Cultural Center, 1982.
Bruce ONOBRAKPEYA Sahelian masquerades: artistic experiments, November 1985-August 1988 / edited by Safy Quel. Papa Ajao, Mushin, Lagos: Ovuomaroro Gallery, 1988.
Simon OTTENBERG New Traditions from Nigeria: seven artists of the Nsukka group. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1997.
Simon OTTENBERG (Ed.) The Nsukka Artists and Nigerian Contemporary Art. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2002.
Pat OYELOLA Everyman’s guide to Nigerian art. Lagos. Cultural Division, Federal Ministry of Information, 1976.
Pat OYELOLA Nigerian Artistry. Ibadan, Nigeria, Mosuro Publishers, 2010.
Peter PROBST Osogbo and the Art of Heritage: Monuments, Deities, and Money. Indiana University Press, 2011.
Chris SPRINGAngaza Afrika. African Art Now. London. Laurence king Publishing. 2008.
Grace STANISLAUS (Ed.). Contemporary African Artists: Changing Traditions. New York: The Studio Museum in Harlem. 1990.
S. J. TIMOTHY-ASOBELE Contemporary Nigerian arts and Artists: A modern guide. Lagos. Upper Standard Publications. 1992.
Obiora UDECHUKWU Uli: Traditional Wall Painting and Modern Art from Nigeria Bayreuth: Iwalewa House, 1990.
Susan M. VOGEL Africa Explores: 20th Century African Art. New York, Munich, 1986.
AA. VV. The nucleus: a catalogue of works in the national collection on the inception of the National Gallery of Modern Art . Lagos: Federal Department of Culture, 1981.
More than two years ago I proposed to the Pan-African University to create a virtual museum that would show to the wider public some of the best modern and contemporary art from Nigeria. The idea was accepted and we started working on it. We called it the Pan-African University’s “VIRTUAL MUSEUM OF MODERN NIGERIAN ART”.
With the help of Akinyemi Adetunji, Patrick Enaholo and a few others, in September 2011 we launched the web site (www.pau.edu.ng/museum), within the university’s site. Since then, we have continued working on it. Akinyemi, the Museum’s Assistant Director has done a great job on expanding and deepening the content. We already have more than 800 artworks online!!!
We have now prepared a 2012 REPORT that gives more information on the journey so far. You can read it here: The VMMNA 2012 Report
George and Uche belong to the same generation. Born in 1972 and 1973 respectively, they are good friends and they have more than a few things in common. Now, they have one more: the last two additions to the growing contemporary art collection at Lagos Business School are works produced and placed “in situ” by them. Both pieces, Peters’ “Free yourself” and Edozie’s “LBS” can be seen, suspended from the ceiling, in public areas of the LBS buildings at Ajah, Lagos.
In 2009 I helped putting together an exhibition at Omenka Gallery titled: Nigerian abstract painting now. George Edozie and Uche Peters (at that time his name was still Uche Igwe) participated in it. Since then, Uche has produced only a few works, mainly using galvanized steel wire, while George has been a prolific artist, increasingly incorporating textiles into his works.
Uche is an unusual artist. He did not study art; he does not earn a living through art, he is not a member of any professional art body, but there is no doubt about his being an artist. His works prove it, even if some art bureaucrats might disagree, adducing that he is not one, because he is not “registered” somewhere.
He has experimented with wire sculptures for the last five years. He “crochets” and twists the thin galvanized steel wire into two-dimensional “fabrics” that he then uses to create three-dimensional works. Since he runs a catering business that takes most of his time, producing one of these sculptures requires of him months of work.
Uche’s works have little to do with the ubiquitous wire sculptures sold at tourist markets all over southern Africa. He is not interested in producing tourist crafts, but he is an excellent craftsman. As he does not use soldering for his work, the cold joining method forces him to “bound” the wires around themselves. This is heavy, physical work, but the end result is excellent. The wires are beautifully intertwined creating works of delicate complexity.
But there is much more than skill and hard work. Each of his pieces explores issues, questions assumptions, and engages the viewer on a discourse. Uche has a great ability to “embody”, to materialize ideas into physical art works. In this case, the underlying narrative is about freedom and about the sad capacity we human beings have of creating self-imposed boundaries made of fears. The human body enclosed in the wire fish has his/her eyes bound. He can’t see that the tools to free himself are close at hand, because, also within the belly of the fish, there is a mallet, a saw, a pair of pliers, a phone and a knife. If the hopeless figure were to remove the cloth from his eyes, he would be able to use these tools to free himself… This is a powerful metaphor, delicately crafted into an arresting piece.
The other new artwork at LBS is also a suspended “sculpture”. Produced and mounted in-situ by George Edozie, in the main foyer of the School, this is a suitable piece for the large, high-ceilinged, bright space.
George trained as a painter and has always worked as a painter. It shows in the way he has treated this tri-dimensional piece. In his paintings on canvas he normally applies raw colours on the cloth and works them with the knife. The play between surface, colour and texture is central to his work. In the LBS letters, it is as if the “canvas” had been wrapped around the steel frame that supports the letters. His work is two-dimensional even when the surface is not. In this sense, his work is “superficial”, and with this word I do not suggest that it lacks depth. It is simply that he works on the surface of a tri-dimensional object, as if he had done it first on two dimensions and then enveloped the letters, like a flat cloth covering a body and taking its shape. He is still a painter that has “painted” these letters not with brushstrokes but with shreds of cloth… This piece is not “moulded”, this is a piece “covered”. It shows that this is not the work of a sculptor, but the work of a painter, and, again, I say it not pejoratively.
In this work George decided to arrange the cloths in vertical shreds. This is a subtle and successful choice. From the distance at which the piece is seen, the cloth is not “read” as cloth, but as an aggregation of multicoloured, vertical “scales”.
The central place given to “surface” is clear, but the volumetric, spatial quality of the work can’t be dismissed. The “body” is not fully hidden under the “cloth” that covers it. The sheer size of the letters (more than 2.00 meters high) plus the tension created by the dialectic between large volume and “floating” suspension are also at the centre of the success of this work.
Lagos Business School has taken a risk with these two artworks. Perhaps they will not be appreciated by everybody; the detractors will continue asking the old question: but, is this art? I do not know whether it is or it not, but I think LBS has done the right thing risking a little and going beyond the conventional. I hope they continue inviting many other artists to surprise, inspire and challenge us with their works. George Edozie and Uche Peters have done so quite creditably. Congratulations to them (and to LBS).
Here is an updated list of Art Galleries and Art Event Centres in Lagos, Nigeria
Suite H209/210, Ikota Shopping Complex, VGC, Lekki, 08053485162
AFRICAN ARTISTS’ FOUNDATION
Raymond Njoku St., Ikoyi, 08062451371
AFRICAN FOUNDATION FOR THE ARTS
Temporary Exhibitions and Permanent Display
29, Balarabe Musa Crescent, Victoria Island, 2616751, 08033359838
ALLIANCE FRANCAISE LAGOS
4C, Ruxton Road, Ikoyi
ARTISTIC LICENSE GALLERY
Sandilan Arcade, 230 Muri Okunola, Victoria Island
BAROYET ART STUDIO
12, Odozi Street, Ojodu, Ikeja, Lagos 234 8032168019
Bolatito Adikat OYETUNJI
BIODUN OMOLAYO GALLERY
National Museum Complex, Onikan, 08023118105
CENTRE FOR CONTEMPORARY ART
9 McEwen Street, Off Queen Street, Sabo, 0702 8367106
175, Akin Adesola Street, Victoria Island, 2629281, 08024108765
Temporary Exhibitions and Permanent Display
13, King George V Road, Onikan, 08034049839
Lagos City Hall, Catholic Mission Street opposite Holy Cross Cathedral, Lagos
+234 1 7746888
11 Adekunle Fajuyi Crescent, Off Adeniyi Jones Avenue, Ikeja
10, Elsie Femi Pearse, Victoria Island, 08056544281
HENRIMOWETA AFRICAN ART GALLERY
7, Adebayo Mokuolu Street, (Opposite Hotel Newcastle), Anthony Village, 08023073158
Temporary Exhibitions and Permanent Display
5, Biaduo Street, Off Keffi Street, S.W. Ikoyi, 07028162978
KONGI’S HARVEST ART GALLERY
Temporary Exhibitions and Permanent Display
Freedom Park, off Broad Street, Lagos Island
Temporary Exhibitions and Permanent Display
74B Norman Williams Street, Ikoyi, 2694796
2, Elegusi Rd, Ikate 2nd Round-about, Epe Expressway, Lekki
08033036969 & 08034096656 Nike DAVIES-OKUNDAYE
9, Maitama Sule Street off Awolowo Road, South-West Ikoyi, Lagos
+234 1 2707436
UPDC Lekki Estate, Victoria Island
24 Ikoyi Crescent, Ikoyi, Lagos
11b, Teslim Elias Close, off Ahmadu Bello Way, Victoria Island, Lagos
Studio and Permanent of Bruce Onobrakpeya’s works
41 Oloje street, Papa-ajao, Mushin, 08060795466
Temporary Exhibitions and Permanent Display
Falomo Shopping Complex, Ikoyi, 08033357151
RED DOOR GALLERY
Temporary Exhibitions and Permanent Display
51b Bishop Oluwole Street, Victoria Island, 08058940874
5th Floor, Eleganza Biro Plaza, Adeyemo Alakija Street
Victoria Island, Lagos, 012702964, 012705891, 08033100306
107, Awolowo Street, Ikoyi, 08033177676
Bishop Aboyade Cole Street, Victoria Island, 08057774499
STRIP OF GAZA GALLERY
9, Joy Akugo Close, Magodo, 08023662902
126 ,Akerele Street, Surulere, Lagos.
08033068176 Ade ODUNFA
Plot 1376, Tiamiyu Savage, Victoria Island, 27005888
TREASUREHOUSE FINE ARTS GALLERY
130, Awolowo Street, Ikoyi, 08027172478
TRIBES ART AFRICA
Suite E208, ikota Shopping Complex, VGC-Lekki Expressway, Lagos
+234 (80) 330 74 428
TRUVIEW ART GALLERY
Shop F15, City Mall, Onikan, 08033228098
Juwon OLUSANYA (email@example.com)
WANGBOYE’S ART GALLERY
Pees Galleria Shopping Mall, 2A Osborne Road, Ikoyi, 2690856
Iwoje WANGBOYE EGUAVOEN
3B Unity Close off Africa Lane,Lekki Phase I, Lagos
Ade is a sharp observer. Since he came back to Nigeria in 2005, after almost 25 years away, he has looked with empathy at this unique micro world that is Lagos. Finally, he has put into words and images a very personal portrait of the city. A few days ago, Ade mounted an exhibition titled “Icons of a metropolis”, accompanied by a book and an excellent web site. I was lucky to visit it twice.
First, he has identified twenty “icons”. He could have selected places, wares or objects, but he has focused, almost exclusively, on people. As he says: “Icons of a Metropolis” offers a non-judgmental look at 20 character archetypes – they are the ICONS. They are a creative force, a self-organizing and self-referential manifestation of the zenith of urban survival. The ICONs add colour, help to reflect our consciences, test our moral compasses and above all offer signals to the fragile points of the rapidly expanding ecosystem of a megacity. In their guise as evolutionary change agents they can be considered as the city planner’s guide or muse and as such are living mentors on the design requirements for mega cities”.
These are his twenty icons: the cart pusher, the beggar, the load carrier, the street hawker, the opportunist, the scrap man, the traffic policeman, the thirst quencher, the masquerade, the molue, the okada, the water peddler, the oil scavenger, the praise crier, the prayer warriors, the sand dredger, the displaced, the child bride, the challenger, the load carrier. We all know them, and we take them mostly for granted. Despite their ever-presence, they remain invisible, impersonal, but they make this city what it is. Individually, they dissolve in the urban fabric. Together, these icons “create” an urban fabric. They sustain the identity of this living assemblage of flesh, concrete, steel and blood. Ade, unveils that identity. Taken separately, each of these “icons” tells us a personal story. Together, they give the story of the metropolis.
Exit Ade, the social anthropologist. Enter Ade, the social archivist.
He has photographed these “icons” and made them visible. But documentary photography is only the raw matter for his work. His images are more philosophically ambitious than most of what we are accustomed to: Ajegunle, the markets, Makoko, the oil spills, etc. Referring to his artworks, he says: “(they) seek to tease the mind and invite viewers to engage, as a means of reflecting on their own lives and that of the society in which they live“. I think this is an apt observation.
Exit Ade the “documenter”, the archivist. Enter Ade, the artist-craftsman.
He does not present to the watcher an aseptic, realistic view of the icons. He has processed these raw images, manipulating colours and hues, contrast and saturation. Undoubtedly, Ade is extremely skilled in the use of image processing software, but he has not stopped here. The processing of the images enables Ade to give them a new life, conferring them a layer of disconnection from the realities they portray. Uncoupling from reality is accentuated by his use of solarization and colour shift processes. This is particularly successful in the photographs in which he plays with complementary colours: red on green, blue on yellow. In addition, by “detaching” the foreground from the background and playing with them in multiple combinations, he transforms a single image in a series of images.
Exit Ade, the computer craftsman. Enter Ade, the artist-creator.
Producing the individually processed images is the beginning of a compositional work. The brief essay that accompanies the exhibition is succinctly titled: Repetition. This is the key word to his compositional strategy. In his words: “Repetition, whether it be visual, verbal, or cognitive creates conditions for new meaning by placing the old (that which is repeated) in a new context of an expanded range of considerations. Conceptually, repetition is powerful; it creates infinite combinations from finite elements – just as the ICONs create infinite possibilities from limited choices. He is passionate when he says that, through repetition, he would like his photographs to “go beyond a visual record of something we have experienced and become the source of a new experience. To become art”.
The end result is deceptive. What might have seemed the starting point, the photographs, is -in a way- the destination point. Does he go from reality to idea or from the idea to the concrete reality? Did the idea of the icons come before he went out to photograph them, or did he arrange them as icons once he came across them in his photography excursions through the city? Are we in front of a well structured (and manipulated) tableau of reality, or are we presented with the photographic embodiment of his “understanding” of the “icons of a metropolis”. What is first, the idea or the photograph? I am inclined to think that in Ade’s case it is definitely the former…
His web site for the exhibition can be seen at www.iconsofametropolis.com