An exhibition of body of work by one of the leading voices in contemporary Nigerian art scene, Raqib Bashorun, opened on March 18 at Omenka Gallery, Lagos.
It will run till April 5. Using steel, bronze, enamel, as well as leather, brass and spark plugs, the artist brings to the fore various socio-political issues including quest for better Nigeria and the change mantra of this administration.
He notes that the looming theme in Nigeria today is coated with ‘change’ and it is elusive; an average Nigerian’s expectation is that those managing the country’s affairs are the custodians of the anticipated change.
Indeed, Bashorun, like all Nigerians, yearns for a state of utopia, of bliss, and of freedom – a Nigeria where all are offered respite from the effects of the recklessness and impropriety of her leaders. Bashorun continues to incorporate in his work found materials from his immediate environment, most notably metal in form of aerosol and soda cans, as well as domestic accessories like table cutlery.
These experiments begun in the past decade remain a key feature of his oeuvre. Major solo exhibitions like Evolving in Discovery (2013) at Terra Kulture, as well as Evolving through Waste (2014) and Evolving in 360 (2015), both at Omenka Gallery, chart the course of his trajectory.
His latest solo at Omenka, Realm of Freedom builds upon these experiences. Borrowing from the constructivists and expressionists, the artist’s skill is evident in his ability to effortlessly blend metal, wood and other found objects.
The body of work in this solo exhibition, he says, was inspired by the thought of the common agitations shared by all irrespective of race, tribe or nationality and the hardships visited on everybody.
He said: “We struggle to function in a society that frowns at freedom and is petrified by looseness. I guess we all clapped for deceitful performers. We did not hope that something terrible was in the offering, we bought into the cheap deceit. This route from far and near flags disaster; we have to recalculate, we have compromised our freedom innocently and it is our responsibility to go back to the drawing board and re-articulate our moves.
“We get what we ask for but we have to keep asking, be relentless and be engaged in the process until the very end of the tunnel. We must challenge our own thinking.” According to him, there are a few places where he tends to enjoy an abso- lute sense of freedom; at the airports (the open concept and human traffic and expressions on those faces) by courtesy of the airline associates, in the aircrafts through the tones in the voices of the crew members, on the runways and in the emptiness of the sky.
“It is however uncertain if I discovered or found the freedom – I do not know what your take is on this subject and I am uncertain if indeed you have found yours. I guess I do not know myself even though I assume that I do.
“The majority of us endorsed the slogan ‘change,’ and we did unquestioningly even when the protagonists of the phenomenon did not know any better.
From all obvious indications, they have not lived up to our expectations and on our part, we continue to perceive this issue as though we have no role to play to advance the cause,” Bashorun stated.
The Director, Omenka Gallery, Oliver Enwonwu, who is the president of the Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA), in his statement on the exhibition, notes that Bashorun’s skill is evident in his ability to effortlessly blend metal, wood and other found objects.
“Design is central to the artist’s oeuvre, his leading dictated by his materials. Essentially a commentary on the state of the Nigerian economy, the artist reveals his inspiration behind the 19 works on display.”
According to Enwonwu, alongside an exemplary career spanning over three decades as a teacher, Bashorun has maintained an active studio practice accompanied by a rigorous exhibition schedule that have all contributed to his prominence as one of the most significant artists working in Nigeria today,” he said.
Values, morality as panacea for unity, development
Title: Music of the Muezzin
Author: R. Adebayo Lawal
Year of Publication: 2014
Reviewer: Mahfouz A. Adedimeji
Against the sorry state of our world that has lost its moorings, resulting in the Hobbesian conception of life as being “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short,” Adebayo Lawal in his second collection of poems, Music of the Muezzin, offers us a way out of the miasma. Through a blending of soulful sounds, delicious lines of pure poetry that offer us sense from the pervading nonsense beclouding our global horizons, the poet draws our attention to the need to uphold morality and promote character in our lives.
Basically, Music of the Muezzin is a collection of 38 poems divided into six unequal parts: “Pro-Song: Symphony of the Lonesome Lark”, “Invocation: the Cock’s Mystical Music,” “Smiles of Sorrow,” “Exhortation: Cryptic Clauses of Counsel”, “The Snail’s Courage” and “Epi-Songs: True Time is but Timelessness”. As common to most works of poetry, the themes are as diverse as the poems artistically woven in the compelling collection, but one thesis that reverberates across the work is the need for values and morality in our society. This the author does by distilling messages that tantalize or religious, moral, cultural and ethical sensibilities.
The first poem in the collection is the “eponymous” poem (i.e. the poem that gives the collection its title) where the poet explains the impact of the muezzin’s call to prayer on him. The rationale for putting the poem first is most likely informed by the fact that when a baby is born in Islam, the first thing he hears is the adhan or call to prayer. We then have the poet’s interpretation of the magnificence of His Creator, Whose majesty he celebrates in “The paradox of your presence” (p.12).
However, the first two parts are not about Islam and faith alone. There is a striking poem, “Lines for a don”, dedicated to his teacher, Prof. David William, with which the poet decries the decline in the academics, which is of interest to every lecturer or don. In his usual inter-lock of sense with sound, a major stylistic feature of the collection, our poet takes a swipe at academic shoddiness and intellectual laziness, a cankerworm that seems to have seeped, or sneaked like a thief in the night, into our ivory towers. The sense is compelling in describing various types of dons in lovely lines and repetitive sonority before upholding the standard as symbolised by the teacher: “There are dunces / And there are dons. / Dons by distinction, / Dons by connection / Dons by compassion / Dons by constipation. / The mafia don, / Done by cruel connection, / Is the Don Juan / Thriving on a code of terror.” … (p.20)
There are interesting poems in Part Three, which begins with “The multinational tycoon’s theory”, a witty and humorless poem that ascribes the black man’s tragedy to the accident of creation. He lampoons the archetypal politician in our era of politics without principle describing him in powerful imagery using the bat metaphor: “Bird by day/ Rat by night/ The bat vies with the vulture/ And races with the rodent.” (p.25).
In “Damsel of the ivory tower” (p.31) and “City damsel” (p.32), Lawal has urgent and pungent messages for the students who waste their present and future on illicit sexual adventures.
For the latter poem (i.e. “City damsel”) that exploits the computer imagery, the warning to men is that the city damsel is not more than a lovely laptop with a caveat: when you “insert a randy flash-drive / You end up with a vicious virus” (p.31).
The third part under consideration contains the longest poem in the collection, “Smiles of sorrow” (p.34), which drives home the need for character and morality in our society.
In Parts Four and Five, the author offers antidotes to our troubled and troubling times while canvassing the virtues of love (i.e. “True love”(p.38); “We are all one” (p.39)) reason (“Who are you? (p.40); “Rat race or human race? (p.41)), religious tolerance and righteousness (i.e. “The cannibals” (p.42), “The bubble shall burst” (p.48), “Blessed are they” (p.52)) and other poems of similar thematic concerns. There are also well-crafted poems in this section like “Ilorin” (p.45) which offers a food-for-thought that everyone would like to relish and “In the long run” (p.47) which gives poetic expression to the maxim, “Justice delayed is justice denied.”
Generally, this collection is “larger than its frame” in terms of the profundity of the timeless messages that make good sense for our troubled season in a world that is going amok. It is a call to action to eschew what is morally bad, religiously sinful and ethically repugnant in our day-to-day interactions.
Unravelling the mystery of Tola Wewe’s ‘stolen’ painting
A mild drama played out mid last month when renowned Nigerian artist, Tola Wewe’s oil on board painting titled ‘Iye Boabo’ surfaced at the auction house, Arthouse Contemporary Limited 29 years after its production and disappearance. ‘Boabo’ is an annual cleansing festival at Igbobini, an Apoi-Ijo community in Ese Odo Local Government Area of Ondo State. In this community, contemptuous flouter of socio-moral order and hardened committers of taboos are cleansed with a ritual during the festival; and this is meant to rid the community of any burden of deviant or flagrant upsetting of societal order. Wewe was then a young lecturer at the Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo, and the painting was among some works kept in the Ile-Ife home of his colleague, Moyo Okediji, after a group exhibition held at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan, Ibadan.
On Wednesday, 18th of April, 2018, Tola Wewe received an image of the painting and a message from Nana Sonoiki of the Arthouse Contemporary Limited, requesting him to authenticate the painting, which was submitted by “a client” to the Arthouse for their next auction already slated for May, 2018. The artist was shocked to see the image of his painting, which was “stolen” 29 years ago. He then quickly responded to the enquiry, “It is one of my missing works. I will give the title, stories about the work, etc. But I must earn my remuneration.” Apart from appreciating his response, nothing else was heard from Sonoiki for two days until Wewe broke the silence: “Still waiting for your response on the work,” and Sonoiki quickly replied, “I forwarded your mail to the owner and no response yet.” Wewe then reacted again: “We need to act quickly because I may be forced to make this public o.”
“How? That we stole your work?” Replied Sonoiki. “Arthouse has no problem,” buttressed Wewe, “In fact, you are my saviour now. If not for an institution like Arthouse, how would I have seen this work? Kindly tell him to link up with me so that we resolve the issue or I go through my own way.” And silence took over from the Arthouse, for 10 days, which then prompted Wewe to go public.
The story of this missing work, according to Wewe at the media briefing of Thursday, April 26, 2018, occurred in 1989. The Ona Movement, which was just birthed at the time, had had its maiden exhibition at Ibadan. After the show, all works, including those of Wewe, Okediji, Kunle Filani, were taken to Moyo Okediji’s home at Ile-Ife. Soon, Okediji relocated to the United States with his family. Unknown to Wewe, the house was burgled and many paintings carted away. Seven years later, Wewe went to the then Fenchurch, a frame gallery at Onikan, Lagos, to frame some works. There, he saw two of Okediji’s paintings brought to the Fenchurch for framing. As at the time, he had no idea that Okediji’s house had been burgled. Neither did he know that even his own works had been stolen. Wewe only saw Okediji in later years, and got to know about the burglary and the stolen works. In fact, apart from Wewe who lost about 30 works, and Okediji who lost all his works, Kunle Filani also lost many works to the burglars.
On her part, Nana Sonoiki expressed disappointment in Wewe and condemned his hasty run to the public. She confirmed the conversation between her and Wewe, but that the reason she didn’t get back to him for almost 10 days was because “the client” who submitted the work had taken ill and so could not read the mail she had sent to him. She, thereafter, divulged the name of “the client” as Mr. Mike Oduah.
Mr. Oduah later confirmed that he had been contacted by a few media men who were concerned to know the true position of things. He said, as a regular art collector, he had in his collection more than 1,200 artworks by over 240 artists, and therefore had no business stealing any artwork. He claimed to have patronised Tola Wewe severally and had had the work in question in his collection for more than 20 years. On the question of where he acquired the work from, he said it was a little difficult to recollect. In his words: “We always have families clearing out their collections, and agents seeking patronage of artworks. Such families probably have lost the family head, assumed a new life of being born again and decided to sell the works they suddenly tagged as fetish. So, through such processes, works are acquired. “Such families and artists hardly give you receipts when you buy directly from them. That’s why I love to buy works from galleries and at exhibitions.”
The visual art industry is getting stronger and more attractive by the day. It has become a money-spinning industry that demands absolute cooperation among all stakeholders: artists, galleries, and collectors. If receipts, as evidence of acquisition, are possible with galleries and certificate of authenticity signed by the artist can be obtained from exhibition venues, the issue of art vendors, agents and dealers is a different ballgame. Many of these so-called agents or vendors have no reliable forwarding contact, and thus can easily heat up the art market. And this can easily upturn cases of originality, provenance and authenticity. That the Arthouse, by their standard practice, often reaches out to artists for authentication or verification, is a way of placing the auction house on a pedestal of integrity. Perhaps if Nana Sonoiki had reached out to Mr. Mike Oduah on the telephone two or three days after sending an email message with no response, there would have been no lacuna that stagnated action for 10 days. Perhaps contact would have been established between them and there probably would have been no reason to bring the case to public notice.
On a larger format of cordiality, artists, collectors and galleries must be careful not to allow uncertified agents and vendors ruin their beautiful dreams of propagating Nigerian art.
Sam Dede supports PHLS Poetry Slam
The PHLS Poetry Slam has received a major boost from acclaimed and award-winning actor, Dr. Sam Dede, with the institution of the Sam Dede Prize for Best Spoken Word Artist.
Dede made the announcement in Port Harcourt when he spoke with the Resident Poet of the Port Harcourt Literary Society, Chijioke Amu-Nnadi. He commended the Society for energizing literature in Port Harcourt.
“What you guys are doing is quite remarkable and deserves the support of every well-meaning artist and sponsor of the arts,” Dede said.
The actor, whose inspiring performance in Isakaba earned him Africa’s top acting honours, stated that the Prize comes with cash and a plaque.
The Sam Dede Prize is in addition to the N100,000 already set aside by the Society for the winner of the PHLS Poetry Slam. Other prizes are N75,000 for first runner-up and N50,000 for the second runner-up. A fourth prize of N25,000 will go to the best Spoken Word poet from one of the secondary schools which have benefited from the Society’s monthly PHLS Literature for Teens programme.
The PHLS Poetry Slam, already described as Nigeria’s biggest Poetry Slam, will be judged by award-winning poets, Efe Paul Azino, Andrew Patience, Obii Ifejika and Graciano Enwerem.
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