VisualArts:Searching For The Smile With LABAF Artists
IN a world increasingly exacerbated by violence, agitation and counter forces of government, the other side of negativity, which is hardly explored, attracted the attention of seven artists at the exhibition wing of Lagos Books and Arts Festival (LABAF) 2015. The artists, through installation, performance, paintings, poetry, ‘spoken words’ and photography, take inspiration from the liberal side of a troubled world and articulate respite in They Have Asked Us To Smile, title of the exhibition.
Curated by Nkechi Nwosu-Igbo, who is also among the exhibiting artists, the gathering brings into a single space mental escape from man’s self-inflicted colossal damages.
Organised by Committee for Relevant Art (CORA), the exhibition featured works of Jelili Atiku, Aderemi Adegbite, Jumoke Verissimo, Diseye Tantua, Bob-nosa Uwagboe and Efe Paul Azino.
Like other gathering of artists who had dissipated so much energy, getting worried about the collapse of values in social and political spheres, the LABAF exhibition also has a fair share of deeply artistic and activism narratives. But for 2015, the texture shifts.
“We are having loosely arranged conversations around art as a powerful tool to visualize a beautiful future,” Nwosu-Igbo states in the curatorial notes.
With its energy of conceptual content, a performance work Earth with Trees and Water I Am (VIII Alaragbo) by prolific and globetrotter artist, Atiku, welcomes one at the lobby space of Kongi’s Harvest Gallery where the exhibition was mounted. Viewed on a screen, Atiku’s work, which was performed in June this year at Rapid Pulse Performance Art Festival, in Chicago, U.S., as well as in Norway, dwells on the issue of violated environment, and draws attention to African mythology about eco-reality. As much as the work appears to project a world of green haven, it also provides food for thought for the political and economic deceits of policymakers around the world as regards the increasingly fragile eco-system. As a narrative, Atiku’s touring work looks like a solo performance in form, but it is interactive and audience participatory in texture.
With a possible extinction of mini yellow commercial buses on Lagos roads, photographer, Adegbite’s oeuvre could be a vital source of information in the future when it comes to the ubiquity of yellow mini (danfo) buses on Lagos roads. At the 2014 edition of LABAF art exhibition, the bigger bus molue was the photographer’s tool in communicating his concept.
Occupying a section of the spacious headroom of the gallery in the 2015 edition are two doors – one of yellow and black stripes, the other in blue. And to the left of the space is another yellow door – as wall hanging – just as each, perhaps in Adegbite’s search for ‘smile’ and the future is matted with faces or Roadmate, the theme of the installation-photography. The photographer must have aligned his thoughts on road usage with the former governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Raji Fashola who constantly urged the people to treat the road as a partner that also communicates. For Adegbite, his argument is that the road as a “metaphor for human movement through the surface of the earth is central to change.”
A limited space in relation to contents at the ground floor of the gallery could be challenging in curatorial responsibility, particularly when paintings on canvas are mounted with installations that are so very expressive. But in large wall canvases, Tantua’s drawings and paintings as well as Uwagboe’s easel-mounted mixed media, the diversity of the gathering’s contents is confirmed.
For Tantua, his palette in pop art widens with a body of work he calls Gentlemen’s Club series, a peep into the future. With human representational figures that speak so much of volume amidst humourous rendition, in which Tantua communicates in subtle thoughtfulness. Collective effort, he argues, is an assurance for Nigeria’s “better tomorrow.”
In his style of simplified painting, Uwagboe encounters Art Therapy after a journey of distress. In fact, his personal experience re-enacted on canvas, though a coincidence with the theme of the group exhibition, generates the ‘smiles’. Being bereaved, the artist discloses, brought out a fresh look of his canvas, recalling how he was immersed in protest art.
“I was advised to focus on joyful thoughts for some months,” he discloses what led to his current period of creating “art filled with positive energy and virtue that will bring smile and light into my face.”
As much as Nwosu-Igbo’s Leaving The Past Behind series attempts to get out of the protest and activism space, perception appears to be haunting the respite direction of the concept. In sincerity, bagging of the troubled past, as seen in Series 3, left of the gallery’s wall, with some of the bags tagged ‘Siddon They Look, is no doubt the antidote to a dagraded environment. But in Series 2, mounted at the extreme end, doubt hovers over the mind’s ability to actually let the dark past give way to respite and generate the much-needed smile. Unable to comprehend how Nigeria got to the state of bloodletting as terrorists have taken over a chunk of northern Nigeria against the weak state of economic and social conditions, Nwosu-Igbo, however, hopes that “one day, someday we will have cause to smile again.”
Contemporaneity, in the last two or three editions of the LABAF art exhibition, has been expanded to include poetry and what the curator describes as ‘spoken words.’ The academic ‘headache’ of such broadening is, for now of less important as long as the content align perfectly with the context.
Poet, Jumoke Verissimo is again on a familiar terrain, having contributed to the last gathering titled Merging Stories. In two works, The Orange Land and Those Who Died Smiling, Verissimo expands the search for the brightening of the face. From the chromatic vein of our sprain of faith/We will keep the smile/In a future where peace is pampered, she assures in ‘The Orange Land.’
For Azino, Hope Is A Nigerian, in which he is confident that I know because I’ve met her… His second work in the exhibition is titled Dream Country, stressing the brightness of the future.
“Over the past years, LABAF art exhibitions have opened up discourses on the different aspects of The Power of Art,” the curator recalls a journey through activism via the art space. “In 2012, our project was on the power of art to incite political change; 2013, we had dialogues around Art as social examiner and in 2014 it was the power of art to heal past pain.”
But the 2015 edition starts a new period in the search for “beautiful future.”
Excerpts from her curatorial notes: “They Have Asked Us To Smile has brought together a rich force of artists to help interpret a better tomorrow in their own words, using hope and positive attitude as creative perimeters. We live in times where extremist groups have reigned supreme and grown very quickly as they terrorise the whole world to support what they believe in. This project looks at the strength of belief but from a positive side. What if I innocently believe that tomorrow can be better?”