Artistic nationalism: Okafor’s take on people’s consumption pattern

Art is inherently nationalistic; it stays true to its social context even in the face of sweeping changes. May Okafor’s “Of Consumates and Cannibalism”, is an exhibition of works of art in the exploration genre.

The art pieces mainly in the form of installations engaged issues of collective national and social conventions bordering on consumption, a culture that has led to the enthronement of significant level of foreignness over relevant and essential local resources, products and values, resulting to a growing sense of despondency. Okafor is a 2010 first class graduate in Fine and Applied Art, University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN).

Though a ceramist, her practice has evolved and expanded beyond the traditional notion of ceramics to the adoption of a post-modernist approach to creativity. She comes with a strong leaning towards the experimental which has seen her explore concepts germane to Nigeria’s contemporary realities.

The 2015 prize winner of the Annual Africa Arts Foundation (AAF) organised National Art Competition believes that art must be used as a tool to address societal concerns.

She said: “In my quest for newness and experimentation, I have been working on the idea of inordinate consumption for a couple of years, the type that has seized us as a nation, this serious crave for foreign goods have made us import items that have equally good local alternatives.”

She believes that this tendency for wanton consumerism, which though did not start today (as it already had a name such as ‘squandermania’ in the 70s), is a sort of cannibalism of a people’s future. While some blame the situation on bad leadership, others blame it on the ‘distortions’ of petro dollars on the economy, which has created the spiraling and guzzling demands of today.

The fact remains that taste buds are hooked to consumables from far flung lands.

There is no example as vivid as the importation of goods such as tooth pick from abroad despite the availability of bamboo trees in large quantities across many parts of Nigeria.

She calls this situation the “domestication of foreignness” which in her artistic opinion should be of deep concern to everyone especially the leaders and policy makers. The future is being mortgaged on the altar of our desires.

How else can the ugliness of this trend be exposed other than the biting reality of present day economic recession in Nigeria? Among the installations are the apple themed pieces which she sees as metaphor for extravagance.

“For a fruit completely imported into the local market, the apple has become even more common than oranges and other home grown fruits”, Okafor turned the ubiquitous wastes from apple crates into innovative studio materials to thematically provide the thrust for an artist under certain intense pressure to address matters of urgent concern in her beloved country.

Her body of work may also have its global implication, as consumerism and foreignness could arguably be linked to the general issues of globalisation and post-colonialism.

The danger, according to the artist, lies in the exterminating tendencies of consumerism which she captured in her ‘Genesis Series’ and the piece ‘Rolled Earth’. ‘Genesis Series’ is a composition made of hundreds of tadpole-like figures.

At a glance, the work seems to dwell on the idea of procreation and life but Okafor explains that the concept is a paradox which involves “the act of death” which is likened to what happens in our obscene desire for foreignness.

“Naturally the tadpole turns cannibalistic when it has inadequate food or space. This is the same trait I have found with imports. When they infiltrate the market, as is the case in Nigeria, they completely take over the locally produced items of its own kind.

That’s cannibalism,” she said. Enekwachi, an artist, culture writer and art teacher, wrote from Nsukka

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