Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Nigeria: Repositioning African Art With Afrocentric Affinities

With the current advancement in technology all over the world, African art, as it were has remained the same in the eyes of the world. Though several industries in Nigeria can be said to have evolved from the old way of doing things in recent times, Nigerian and indeed African art still has a lot to do to gain acceptance in the eyes of the world.

To some, African artists have not left their contemporary themes of paintings and they still rely on the old methods. To correct this impression is Nigerian born, but American-based seasoned artist, Ajogu Idachaba, who has come up with his exhibition titled, Afrocentric Affinities.

Said he: "I live in the U.S. and over time, I have found out that a lot of people have misconceptions about African arts and about how Africans approach art. People don't know what we have and they look at it within the context of being fetish. They don't understand that we have progressed beyond that point and even deep traits of contemporary art expressions can be found in most of our works and the way we use colours and so I use my work as a medium to address these. As much as we take the very traits that reflect our work, we also have to transcend that image that we have been boxed in"

The artist explains that the core emphasis of Afrocentricity as he puts it, is giving credence to what the people of African descent bring to the table of global discourse as it relates to culture, philosophy, history, economics and the dynamics of everyday life and living. The motifs that define our traditional architecture, our textile prints, sculpture pieces and our paintings and drawings - all seem to speak loudly of the undeniable weight of the riches and depth of our ethnic heritage.

"I want people to feel something heavy, ominous, powerful and compelling in my work at the same moment, not overlooking the underlining thread that defines who we are as a people with phenomenal ethnic values. I've never come across anyone working in the public sphere, in the arts, who has not had a longing to reach people. I've been opportune to study great minds within the creative community, and we all have this longing to connect," he added.
With over 30 works on display at the exhibition which is scheduled for May 15 to May 20, the artist said Afrocentric Affinities which comes in series is not an attempt to totally revamp African art but rather, to redefine its stance in the eyes of the world.

The array of colours on display at the exhibition testifies to the fact that Affrocentric Affinities as a topic might well have been addressed. Through several colour schemes, the artist tries to redefine Nigerian art in the eyes of his foreign counterparts. Sprout, for example is a work that stems from deep imagination of the evolution of flower. The artist explains that the work stems from his fascination of nature at work.

"I grew up in the village and my dad used to have a lot of farmlands and because of the artist in me, I usually am very fascinated at what I see in the bushes. Sometimes I switch off from everybody and when I see a flower that is sprouting, with intense observation, I look at the colours, the dynamics and even the entire beauty of nature and I take the image and store it in my memory until the right time when I want to put them on my canvass," he exlained.

This, he added, is a far cry from the regular painting of a Fulani woman carrying a calabash, a Yoruba man beating a drum or a Benin mask.

Though art has become more contemporary, the artist tries to draw a line between the modern and the old as reflected in the painting, Ethnic Percussions. Ethnic Percussions, in its own way tries to portray traditional topics and values, using a contemporary colour format.

On his choice of colour scheme, Idachaba said it is defined by his mood. Another sound, for instance, he said reflects excitement.

His words: "Sometimes I get so excited that it seems my heart is beating very fast; so I try to capture that moment with the colour scheme that comes to my mind."

Put together for over a period of three years, Idachaba explains that Affrocentric Affinities also tries to take art across several categories of people. "I've never known an artist who only wants to connect with intellectual elite, a very small fragment of our society where one's merit needs to be proven. Now, all of us who are ambitious want that as well. And all of us who go through a process of engaging in something like art-making are fully aware of how much we're chastened by education, by refining our impulses and our thinking and being able to consider deeper exploration. I love the philosophical, intellectual framing of things. I think it's incredibly rich," he said.

The Ahmadu Bello University trained artist who worked creatively for over 20 years, combining his formal training with being a studio artist, said when he entered the university he saw no need to formally study arts because his father had grilled him in the various aspects of it so much so that though he school in a secondary school where the subject of arts was not taught, he nevertheless took the subject during his General Certificate Examinations (GCE), and came out with an A.

"My father was very attentive to detail and he made sure I was just painting without purpose. Daily I got assignments from him, which I had to creatively produce and sometimes I would do over 10 works thinking I had created 10 masterpieces and he would look over them and choose just one.

Over the years Idachaba said he had experimented with various media in a bid to express his creative thoughts and he had discovered that the urgency of the work most times determined the medium with which he expressed it. He explains that when the creative release of a piece he had been brooding over hits, he normally preferred to use acrylic as his medium of expression because it dried quickly thus it allowed him work quickly. On the other hand, he says, whenever he wants to pace himself and exercise patience while painting aspects of a particular piece as the creative release comes, the use of oil becomes handy as no one can hurriedly finish a work of art that is based on oil.

From the U.S., Idachaba comes with a piece of advice for African artists. "I am very particular about the issue of patience. A lot of artists want to make it very fast. They have all the talents but they need to understand that the seasoning of an artist takes time. I have been painting for 20 years and I can not say that I have stepped into that point where I see tremendous success. There have been opportunities here and there but it takes time to come out as a seasoned artist. Also, a lot of artists here need to find a forum of collaboration. One of the tremendous points of artists and even the printing community in the United States is that they form themselves into coalitions and groups which give them a voice," he said.

By: Ovwe Medeme

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