OLUMIDE ONADIPE

Yesterday, Olumide Onadipe opened at Temple Muse an exhibition of his recent works titled ¨Connecting the dots¨ and organized by SMO Contemporary.

Olumide continues evolving and maturing an artist. Though he started his professional career producing realistic paintings, in recent years, he has experimented with plastics and other media to produce sculptural pieces of profound quality, meaning and beauty. For those of us who have followed him for more than a decade, his new works do not present themselves as a surprise or a rupture, but as an evolution and deepening of ideas and formal solutions that are gradually developing as Olumide grows as an artist. He is a versatile artist comfortable with different types of media, so in “Connecting the dots”, Olumide, presents two distinct bodies of work: paintings and sculptures.
20161125_094257He initiated his artistic practice as a two-dimensional painter. Then, around 2008, he started rendering abstracted faces and figures masked with vegetation. Ten years later, in his paintings, leafs continue being a recurrent compositional element, but his vocabulary has expanded and the works have acquired a greater complexity and a deeper meaning. Nevertheless, the present exhibition shows that while his roots are still in painting, and some of the sculptural works retain a distinct pictorial character. His artistic identity is increasingly defined by his experimentation with plastics, paper, newsprint, cement bags, and other materials.
IMG_20180512_193611Olumide has always acknowledged the great impact Kainebi Osahenye’s exhibition titled “Trashing” had on him in 2009. It was a discovery. As he says speaking about that exhibition: “It switched on my inner light and became a guiding compass to what now characterized my artistic pursuit.” But, while his first works using melted plastics were tentative and, perhaps a little bit uncertain, the recent ones are much more assertive. Olumide is finding an aesthetic vocabulary and a formal language that allow him work with ideas and meanings in a much more forceful way.
20170304_150239Gradually, Olumide is mastering the primary elements of sculptural artworks: volume and line, weight and mass, shape and texture, solidity and flimsiness, emptiness and fill, roughness and smoothness, order and improvisation, colour and form. But, perhaps, the defining feature of these sculptural works is the fact that they are generally made of countless small units –each one similar, but each one different from the others- put together into a single piece. In this, he is not far from the work of some prominent contemporary artists in Nigeria: El Anatsui, Olu Amoda, Kainebi Osahenye, Eva Obodo.
Earth. 2When Olumide refers to his sculptural works he presents a narrative with allusions to socio-political issues. But these physical commentaries on events, social customs and malaises that affect Nigerian society are rarely explicit. In most cases, they vaguely suggest something through their form. In a few others, it is only the title of the work that opens the door to possible interpretations and readings by the viewer. Olumide is well aware of the difficulty of embedding meaning into a non-representational sculptural form. Nevertheless, since he started painting, he has been very much concerned about meaning and communication. The impenetrability and inherent muteness of matter are a challenge he takes head on with the hope that his works will, eventually, be able to relate, to communicate to both, the body and the mind of the spectator.
IMG_20180512_193521Generally, he does not work with untouched materials and there is heavy labour involved in the process of producing each of his sculptural works. Through physical and mechanical processes of breaking, melting, rolling, folding, wrapping, tying, welding and aggregating, the common materials retrieved and used by Olumide acquire a new life in his works.
In his work titled “Pyramid scheme” Olumide takes his aim at the fraudulent financial schemes, unfortunately, so common in the country in past years, taking money from the poor to give it to the rich schemers. The works in his “leg series” are about the movement of ideas, people and objects into and from the African continent. About those who came –and continue coming- and about those who left the continent and took with them part of it. The “legs”, in Olumide’s recent works are a powerful metaphor for change, for transitions and trade.
Movement-of-a-Dot..The physicality of these pieces is such that the first response to the encounter with them cannot but be intuitive –perhaps, I should say, instinctive. Then, there might be a complex process of perception, assimilation and rationalization of the narrative that permeates these works or, perhaps, the work may remain silent, incapable of conveying what the information we receive is supposed to tell us. In either case, the first response is almost instinctive. With the works of many artists, it is possible to remain indifferent, untouched and removed. In the most successful works in this exhibition, this is not generally the case. They talk to us forcefully.
heads7Consistently, Olumide Onadipe is building a substantial body of work with a well-defined artistic identity easily recognizable in the growing panorama of contemporary sculpture in Nigeria. “Connecting the dots” is another step forward. I hope not to miss the next one.

Connecting the dots May 2018

Jess Castellote

Advertisements

NIGERIA ART MARKET REPORT 2017

Finally, the NIGERIA ART MARKET REPORT for the year 2017 is out. You can download it HERE. In this report, I analyse data from nine auctions whose main focus was contemporary African art and that included a significant number of works by Nigerian artists. 2017 was not a bad year for Nigerian Art at Auction.  I hope the information contained in the report is useful.

namr 17 cover

Highlights

HIGHLIGHTS

18 NIGERIAN VISUAL ARTISTS UNDER 30 I AM GOING TO FOLLOW IN 2018

2017 was a great year for the visual arts in Nigeria. Nobody knows how 2018 will be but I have made a list of young artists, based in Nigeria, I want to follow this year. Obviously, this list does not aim at being comprehensive. Surely, there are quite a few others that are as promising as these ones. Unfortunately, I can only follow the few I already know. I will be glad to receive suggestions and review the list…

This very personal list includes 18 visual artists living in Nigeria (at least for now!!!) and who are under 30 years old. I am sure before the end of the year I will have added quite a few others and perhaps in my 2019 list I will drop some of those I am including this year.

1. Nengi OMUKU (b. 1987)  20170410_104905~01

2. Dennis OSADEBE (b. 1991)who-can-say-where-we-are-going-by-dennis-osadebe

3. Ayobola KEKERE-EKUN (b. 1993)IMG_5936 AAAAAAAAA

4. Dipo DOHERTY (b. 1991)Chief(2015)_ Acrylic on canvas_ 68x65 aaa

5. Ken NWADIOGBU (b. 1994)273 NWADIOGBU

6. Chibuike UZOMA (b. 1992)Chibuike_Artworks_ (5) aaaaaaaaaaaaaa

7. Odiabehor ODIBO (b. 1993)20171128_130041 aaaaaaaaaaaaaa

8. Logor OLUMUYIWA (b. 1990)logor-adeyemi-monochrome-series-design-indaba-16

9. Sejiro AVOSEH (b. 1991)IMG-20170831-WA0003

10. Yadichinma UKOHA-KALU (b. 1995)Capture

11. Adesokan ADEDAYO (b. 1994)Fordili

12. Marcellina AKPOJOTOR (b. 1989)Marcelllina 1

13. Babajide OLATUNJI (b. 1989) babajide-02 a

14. Jimmy NWANNE (b. 1989)Songs-of-Tomorrow-Jimmy-Nwanne-2014-Collage-Oil-on-Canvas-120-x-200cm-622x369

15. Stacey RAVVEROStacey 3

16. Ifedoyin SHOTUNDECapture

17. Osora MOJEKWUe28098the-wait_-by-osora-mojekwu

18. Tunde ALARACapture

 

LAGOS BIENNIAL 2017

Folakunle Oshun -Osh- is not an ordinary artist-curator. He has been working for some time on a truly ambitious project: organizing a city-wide art biennial in Lagos. Though, officially, he is just the Artistic Director, Osh is the soul and engine of the biennial. It is his idea and he is its main driver. He has Amira Paree as co-curator and Erin Rice is in charge of the Academic Conference that will be part of the biennial and will take place at the University of Lagos. The collective Perpetuum Mobile will provide curatorial support.

The Lagos Biennial 2017, comes as an exciting surprise soon after Tokini Peterside took another daring step and launched last year an art fair with an international character: ArtX Lagos. We have now in Lagos an art fair, an art biennial, an international Photo Festival, auctions houses, several new art galleries, an art museum under construction at Pan-Atlantic University, a couple of art foundations offering art residences, a well-funded art competition. Piece by piece, Lagos is developing the art infrastructure needed for a sustainable artworld.

Lagos Biennial 2017A couple of days ago, I had a long chat with Osh on the Biennial. I wanted to know about his plans, and his dreams…. There are already well over one hundred biennials spread all over the world. Why another one? What does he want to achieve? How is it going to be supported? What is its curatorial direction?. Where is it going to hold? Which artist will participate? He explained to me that the primary aim of this biennial is to open Lagos to the rest of the world as an art destination:  “As a Lagosian I feel a sense of responsibility and ownership of this space and I’ve always wondered why it took this long for Lagos to have its own Biennial”.

In recent years, Biennials and Art Fairs have sprung up all over the world. Though their scope and content increasingly overlap -and both of them aim at international representation and audiences- they tend to occupy different social, cultural and economic spaces. Art fairs focus mainly on the commercial side of art, while biennials tend to address issues and bring to the public a different kind of artistic concerns. Generally, art fairs work hand in hand with galleries and dealers, while biennials (Venice, Gwangju, Sao Paulo, Whitney (New York), Dak’art, Istanbul, La Habana…), are artist-led or have public institutions as their main partners. An important difference between art Fairs and biennials is the curatorial input they receive. Though both may have a general theme for the event, most art fairs will leave the selection of the artworks to each of the galleries or artists participating in the fair. On the contrary, the most important biennials have a heavy curatorial intervention at general level and at the pavilion or stand level. Every artist and artwork present at a biennial has, generally, been selected by a curator. For the Lagos Biennial 2017, Osh has taken the title of Mario Macilau’s project “Living on the edge” as the theme of the biennial. His goal is to catalogue the stories of artists all over the world living in and around crisis situations. With the Biennial, he wants to touch positively the lives of real people.

“We must accept that we are living in strange times. I hear a lot about the good old days, but I don’t know what I will tell my kids about these present times. The biennial serves as a sort of archive, like taking a portrait of the world: so I’m asking everyone to say cheese. Of course you don’t expect too many smiles, these are hard times. Nigeria itself is in a recession but as Fela noted “Suffering and smiling”. As a country we’ve learnt to shake of the dust and keep moving, gossip about the scandals and throw them under the rug. I think a lot of people will be shocked by the character of the biennial due to our curatorial approach. This is a biennial that could happen anywhere in the world, but in this peculiar case, Lagos is the canvas. You don’t even need to make art in Lagos, just go downtown of Idumota and breathe. It is the juxtapositions of these experiences brought by the invited artist (home and abroad) that really creates the magic.

The teamWhile art fairs tend to be market-driven and display “collectable” (read, “saleable”) art, biennales are ready to present to the public more experimental works (read, “not easily saleable”). Painting and sculpture predominate in the nice booths of art fairs. Installations, performances, conceptual and video art occupy most of the spaces in biennales. It is not a surprise that Jelili Atiku will present a performance at the Biennial. For it, he has asked Osh to look for a “not easily accessible” place in Lagos…  Osh intends to “work with the Local communities and investigate untold stories in the deepest crannies of the city. You can’t predict the outcome of that.” His target is to bring 40 artists from more than 20 countries. Over 30 of them have already confirmed their participation. Undoubtedly, the biennial is going to attract the attention of the global artworld to one of the most vibrant “peripheral hubs” in the global art map.

All the major global art fairs: Art Basel (Basel & Miami), Frieze (London & New York), ARCO (Madrid), FIAC (Paris), etc. take place in a large single venue. Biennials are different. Most frequently, they are organized around multiple venues spread through the city. Tyoically, they are city-wide events put together by local or regional authorities with the aim of giving international visibility to a city. Many of the most prominent biennials are just one more component of the “edutainment” or cultural tourism industry and quite a few of them have succeeded in putting cities into the global cultural maps. The case of Gwuangju, in South Korea, is a good example of it.

When Venice Biennale was launched in 1895, it was very similar in format to a typical 19th century phenomenon that has endured till our days: the world art fair organized around national pavilions. The Lagos Biennial will not follow this format. There will not be National pavilions, but Osh has managed to convince a few foreign-based artists to come to Lagos. “These artists will be bringing their own experiences and stories and I think it will be fascinating to trace the tangent points where our stories overlap. The human experience is one; it’s pretty much the same everywhere you go. People are trying to survive and get ahead in life, but you see, the Lagos hustle is incomparable to anything. Even I cannot predict how things will turn out at the biennial due to the unpredictable nature of the city.”

I asked Osh whether the fact that the art fair (ArtX Lagos) and the biennial will take place at the same time will be problematic. He is not worried: “I think Art X complements the Biennial and vice versa, It is important for the public to begin to understand that art is big money and that’s what Art X brings to the table. The Lagos Biennial on the other hand opens up more room for artistic expression and dialogue.”

With OshThe dates are already fixed (October 14 – December 22, 2017). Many aspects of the biennial are still undefined, but Osh is determined to succeed. Surely, we will not see the lavish extravaganza of Venice, the broad participation in Sao Paolo or the transformation of a city during the days of Dak’Art, but an art biennial, even if it has an ultra-low budget and not much of institutional support, can give a good push to the development of the Lagos artworld. I already look forward to the days in October when an art fair and a biennial run concurrently in Lagos. I missed ArtX last year. This time, I am going nowhere else during those days…

Jess Castellote

50 books for learning about Nigerian modern art

Regularly, we hear complaints about the lack of documentation of Nigerian Modern and Contemporay Art. There is some truth in this perception, but the reality is richer than we sometimes we may think. I attach a list of FIFTY books than can help get a fair undeerstanding of the rich and complex history of Nigerian modern art. The list does not aim at being comprehensive (my research list includes over 75 books!!!!). Except for a couple of books of particualr interest for Nigeria, I have not included books on a general history of modern and contemporary African art. Obviously, some of them also have useful chapters or sections for those wnating to know more about Nigerian art. The books are ordained by date of publication.

books-1

OKEKE-AGULU C. (2017): Obiora Udechukwu: Line, Image, Text. Skira Editore

BOSAH B. (2017):The Art of the Nigerian Women: Ben Bosah Books

BARLEY N. (2016): Nigerian Arts Revisited: Somogy Editions d’Art

CASTELLOTE J. & FISHER O. (eds.) (2016): Kolade Oshinowo: Bookcraft Publishers. Ibadan

IGWEZE D. (2015): The storyteller of Agbarha-Otor. Bruce Onobrakpeya’s Visual Tales. Hourglass. Lagos

books-2

OKEKE-AGULU O. (2015): Postcolonial Modernism: Art and Decolonization in Twentieth-Century Nigeria; Duke University Press

BOSSAN E., BENETTON L. & ADEWUNMI A. (2015): Nigeria / roots: Contemporary artists from Nigeria: Imago Mundi.

SILVA B. (2014): D ‘Okhai Ojeikere. Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos

CASTELLOTE J. & ADETUNJI A. (2014): Visual Chronicles of a Society in Flux; Bookcraft Publishers. Ibadan

JEGEDE d. (2014): Onobrakpeya: Masks of Flaming Arrows. 5 Continents

books-3

ADESANYA, A. A., & FALOLA, T. (2014): Art, parody and politics: dele jegede’s creative activism, Nigeria and the transnational space. Africa World Press. Trenton

LAOYE D. & AFOLAYAN-FAMOUS A. (2014): Contemporary Art of Nigeria. South Shore Country Club. Chicago

EZENWA MAJA-PEARCE J. (2013): Issues in contemporary Nigerian art 2000-2010. The New Gong. Lagos

CASTELLOTE J. (ed.) (2012): Contemporary Nigerian art in Lagos private collections. Bookcraft Publishers. Ibadan

OFFOEDU-OKEKE O. (2012): Artists of Nigeria. Five Continents.

books-4

VOGEL S. M. (2012): El Anatsui: Art and Life: Prestel

ODIBOH F. (2012): Creative Reformation of Existing African Tradition:The Abayomi Barber Art School and Modern Nigerian Art. Lap Lambert Academic Publishing

PROBST P. (2011): Osogbo and the Art of Heritage: Monuments, Deities, and Money. Indiana University Press

ENWEZOR O. & OKEKE-AGULU C. (2010): Contemporary African Art since 1980. Damiani

GLASSIE H. (2010): Prince Twins Seven-Seven: His art, his life in Nigeria, his exile in America. Indiana University Press. Bloomington

books-5

BOSAH C. & EDOZIE G. (2010): A celebration of modern Nigerian Art: 101 Nigerian Artists. Ben Bosah Books

OYELOLA P. (2010): Nigerian Artistry. Mosuro Publishers. Ibadan

OGBECHIE S.O. (2008): Ben Enwonwu, The making of an African modernist. University of Rochester Press. New York

AREMU P.S.O. (2006): Contemporary issues in Nigerian art: its history and education. Portion Consult Publications. Lagos

IKWUEMESI C.K. & AGABAYI E. (eds.) (2005): The rediscovery of tradition: Uli and the politics of culture. Pendulum Centre for Culture and Development. Lagos

books-6

FILANI K. (2005): Patterns of culture in Contemporary Yoruba Art. Symphony Books

ADEYEMI E. (2005): Contemporary art in Nigeria & Ghana 1995-2005. Friedrich Reinhardt Verlag.

IKWUEMESI C.K. (Ed.) (2003): The triumph of a vision: an anthology on Uche Okeke and modern Art in Nigeria. Pendulum Art Gallery. Lagos

DIKE P.C. & OYELOLA P. (2003): Uche Okeke and Modern Nigerian Art. National Gallery of Art, Nigeria.

ADEMULEYA B., ONIPEDE A. & OMOIGHE M. (eds.) (2003): Creative traditions in Nigerian arts, Culture and Creative Art forum. Lagos

books-7

FILANI K., AZEEZ A. & EMIFONIYE A. (eds.) (2003): Perspectives on Culture and Creativity in Nigerian Art. Culture and Creative Art Forum. Lagos

OTTENBERG S. (Ed.) (2002): The Nsukka Artists and Nigerian Contemporary Art. Smithsonian Institution Press. Washington DC

IKWUEMESI C.K. & ADEWUNMI A. (eds.) (2001): A discoursive bazaar. Pan-African Circle of Artists. Enugu

ANIAKOR C.C. & IKWUEMESI C.K. (2000): Africa in the twilight. National Gallery of Art. Abuja

BURAIMOH J. (2000): My life and Arts. Spectrum Books. Ibadan

OGUIBE O. & ENWEZOR O. (eds.) (1999): Reading the Contemporary: African Art from Theory to the Marketplace. MIT Press. Cambridge

NZEGWU N. (1999): Contemporary Textures: Multidimensionality in Nigerian Art The International Society for the Study of Africa (ISSA). Binghamton.

KASFIR S.L. (1999): Contemporary African Art. Thames and Hudson. London

DIKE P.C. & OYELOLA P. (1998): The Zaria Art Society: a new consciousness National Gallery of Art, Nigeria.

CHUKUEGGU C.C. (1998): Contemporary Nigerian Art and its classifications. Delsu Consult Publishing House. Abraka

OTTENBERG S. (1997): New Traditions from Nigeria: seven artists of the Nsukka group. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington

DELISS C. (Ed.) (1995): Seven stories about modern art in Africa. Flammarion.

ADEPEGBA C. O. (1995): Nigerian Art. Its traditions and modern tendencies. JODAD Publishers. Ibadan

OGUIBE O. (1995): Uzo Egonu, an African Artist in the West. Kala Press. London

EGONWA O. (1994): African Art: a contemporary source book. Osazu Publishers. Benin City

KELLY B.M. & STANLEY J.L. (1993): Nigerian Artists. A who’s who and Bibliography. Hans Zell

FOSU K. (1993): 20th Century Art of Africa. Gaskiya Corporation, Zaria

DARAH G.G. & QUEL S. (eds.) (1992): Bruce Onobrakpeya. The spirit in ascent. Ovuomaroro Gallery. Lagos.

TIMOTHY-ASOBELE S.J. (1992): Contemporary Nigerian arts and Artists: A modern guide. Upper Standard Publications. Lagos

BEIER U. (1991): Thirty years of Oshogbo art. Iwalewa-Haus, Bayreuth

 

EIGHTEEN WOMEN SHAPING THE NIGERIAN VISUAL ARTS

The ratio of male to female artists in Nigeria is strongly imbalanced in favour of men. In art schools, men are a majority of faculty members. Among art collectors, the inequality is even stronger. These are incontrovertible facts. But, the overall picture is more nuanced than that. Using economic terms, it is reasonable to say that art production and consumption are dominated by men. But this is not wholly the case in what refers to the interpretation and dissemination of art in Nigeria. More often than not, the person between the artist and the collector is a woman. I list below some of the most active and influential ones.

eighteen

A caveat: this list is NOT a ranking –they are mentioned alphabetically-; it does not aim at being comprehensive and it does not include artists and collectors (I intend to prepare a post exclusively on female artists and later on, one on Nigerian collectors). I am aware of the risk of listing together persons with such diverse levels of experience and influence on the visual arts, but I think doing it can be of use to those not very well acquainted with the Nigerian art scene. The “insiders” already know well who is who and who does what. For the rest, I hope this list helps them get a glimpse of the breadth and depth of the Nigerian artworld and the important role women play in it.

adenrele

aino

bisi

bolanle

bukola

bunmi

caline

jumoke

kavita

nana

nike

patty

peju

ronke

sandra

sinmi

tokini

ugoma

Ben Osaghae (1962-2017)

It is less than four months since we mourned the death of Sammy Olagbaju, less than two since Rasheed Gbadamosi passed away and now, we are confronted with the death of Ben Osaghae.  Rasheed, I knew him well, but Sammy and Ben were personal friends. In 2012, with the help of Sammy, I published a book: “Nigerian Contemporary Art in Lagos Private Collections”. Just a couple of years ago, Akinyemi Adetunji and I wrote “Ben Osaghae. Visual Chronicles of a society in flux”, a book monograph on Ben.

jess-osaghaeWorking on these books, I spent countless hours with both of them. I enjoyed their company, I learnt from them and they offered me access to their artworks. It was a privilege to have Sammy telling me stories about when, how and where he acquired some artworks. It was also a great fortune to let Ben talk at length, as he usually did when he was at ease, about the why and how on his works. He was a witty person and his conversations were always sprinkled with proverbs, words in pidgin and ordinary expressions. Though, frequently, he tended to be ponderous and philosophical, he could also be poetic and light. Chatting with him was never dull.

osaghae-the-food-leagueOsaghae was probably the most gifted draughtsman Nigeria has had in recent times, but, above all, he was a storyteller. He was the artist-seer and the artist-prophet of his society. Usually, there was a “narrative” in his works, but one that is not at all linear, unequivocal or direct. In his works, there is always an ambiguity of meaning that challenges the viewer to interpret metaphors and discover subtle references. He was not one to belabour his paintings with precise or accurate details in an attempt to get his message across; he merely suggested. Some could read his works as lazy, or even incomplete, but it is this quality that lends itself to multiple interpretations.

img_4991-1Ben Osaghae was, without doubt, one of the most prominent figures of a generation of Nigerian artists born in the years around the country’s independence in 1960. For three intense decades, Osaghae chronicled the adventures and misadventures of his land and people; he, like few of his colleagues and contemporaries, remained attentive to social and cultural developments in his environment. For the abstract expressionists of the middle part of last century, there was the art work and the viewer. Mark Rothko refers to “the consummated experience between picture and onlooker. Nothing should stand between my painting and the viewer.” For Osaghae there was another element: social reality; and the painting was a medium between the onlooker and that reality. Through his works, he communicated; he commented on what was happening around him. He straddled the thin divide between the artist as a creator of self-referential objects and the artist as a communicator.

img_4346He was always on the lookout for societal or personal miseries and joys, with a full awareness of the limitations and weakness of human nature. Osaghae captured them sometimes with the cool detachment of a historian and other times with the fire of a social reformer. I remember well how, when showing me in his studio a painting on NEPA, he exclaimed in his usual forceful manner: “how can somebody continue painting landscapes when we do not have electricity for days?” Osaghae’s works are inextricably linked to the society in which they were produced. They are “political”, not because they propose specific, partisan, solutions to the organization and government of society but because they always refer to the “polis”.

prison-choir-oil-on-canvasben-osaghae2003-aw-0543-aSammy and Ben were a special collector and a special artist. Sammy, genuinely, cared about art and artists. He did not put together a wonderful collection as an investment or as vehicle to proclaim his status and feed his ego. Ben cared about art and he cared about his fellow citizens. Few Nigerian contemporary artists have been so independent from the dictates of the art market as he was. Trying to please the market was not a motivation for him. At times, he was a chronicler, telling us a story; at other times, he was a voyeur. His paintings were, most frequently, an instrument of social critique. He painted with a “photographic perspective.” He did not describe in detail; he merely suggested. There is great empathy in the way he looked at the people represented in his works. He documented their struggles, and offered a social commentary. In his animal series, for example, he satirizes corrupt politicians that use their positions for personal enrichment. His figures are always close to the viewer, like snapshots at close range. He gives great attention to expressions, feelings and dramatic gestures, drawing inspiration from the events of daily life. Frequently, his figures are in movement, and he repeatedly looks at children at play.

img_5803As he matured artistically -especially in his best period, 2000-2010-, his human figures became more and more emotionally charged. In trying to make meaning of the cluster of forms, lines and splashes of colours on the canvas, I was tempted to tilt the painting, flip it on its sides, rotate it or, at the least, cock the head and angle of vision. A recurrent preoccupation with the human condition pervades his works. For years, there were always groups in his paintings. Only later, does the solitary human figure appear.

100_0929In Ben Osaghae’s works, the “psychological distance” between the viewer and the scene is collapsed. The viewer finds himself immersed inside the scene. Osaghae told me many times how he painted from memory. He was able to do this because he was an excellent draughtsman with an uncanny gift for portraying the human figure even in the most contorted positions or from the most unusual angles. After his first, formative years, Ben never painted a landscape, a self-portrait. He did not paint out-doors. He preferred to work in his studio, to sketch some ideas from memory and develop them on the canvas. His works sometimes are humorous, playful and light-hearted, but they are never trivial. Osaghae’s passionate and intense personality does not leave much room for shallow artworks reduced to mere decoration. With every painting he wanted to say something. He wanted to compel the viewer to confront a situation and take a position. There was no room for neutrality. That is why a formal analysis of his paintings is never enough to understand and fully appreciate them.

Ben OSAGHAEIn his works there is no horror vacui ‒ the fear of emptiness ‒ that seems to grip many contemporary Nigerian artists of more “decorative” inclinations. He is not afraid to leave large areas of the canvas covered with a single background colour. For this reason his human figures frequently seem to be “floating” in an indeterminate context, detached from their surroundings. Colour plays a central part in all his works, but drawing is the anchor that keeps them in place. His lines become outline, sign, sketch, contour, text, graffiti or boundary. In his best works, the line remains clear underneath the ragged edges of the colour masses. Because of the flat backgrounds the characters of his paintings are brought to the foreground. He painted with sweeping brushstrokes and great gestural intensity. Undoubtedly, this way of painting helped him transmit the emotional intensity of the subjects.

sam_6243Art historians will need some time to write about Osaghae’s legacy, his place in contemporary Nigerian art, his influence on other artists and his contribution to the Nigeria art discourse. But, undoubtedly, in his three decades of artistic production, he left a mark. No other Nigerian artist was able to portray so vividly the liveliness, complexity and vibrancy of Lagos life. Sometimes this was done just through a small “vignette” with one of two characters; other times it is a whole tableau of the city’s inhabitants. But it was always done with the confidence and self-assurance of a visual chronicler that happened to be an extraordinary draughtsman.

tricycleI visited him with a couple of friends just a few days before Christmas. Though, clearly, he was not perfectly well, he remained the cantankerous and argumentative person I have known since 2004, when I organized in LBS an exhibition titled “Without Borders” with four artists not so well-known as they are today: Ben Osaghae, Kainebi Osahenye, Rom Isichei and Wole Lagunju.

hpim1138Nigeria has lost a good man and an excellent artist. We will miss him. I have lost a friend. I will miss him.

This is the link to the post I wrote in 2010 on Ben. Ben OSAGHAE. The untiring chronicler