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Going To Art Dubai Modern With Onobrakpeya’s Masterstrokes Of Native Contents

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d-1-2When one of Nigeria’s ‘Living Legends’ and modernists, Dr Bruce Onobrakpeya exhibits under his representative outlet, Lagos-based Mydrim Gallery, at the 2015 edition of Art Dubai, UAE next week, a statement of consistence in native contents will be loud. Mydrim Gallery is the oldest active facility in the business of art promotion in Lagos just as Onobrakpeya is one of the early generation of formally trained Nigerian artists whose career have imparted on over five decades of the country’s art.

From Onobrakpeya’s native Urhobo, South-south, Nigerian origin through diverse interactions with other cultures, particularly Yoruba, he has established a profound skill as master of folklore in visual narration. His strength in skills such as deep etchings, as well as self-innovation techniques like additive plastograph, plastocast relief, bronze lino and mixed media assemblage sometimes make his art cross into the terrain of contemporaneity, despite being a modernist. In the era where art historians appear to have gone on holiday in Africa, Onobrakpeya’s self-documentation of his work is legendary, particularly with distillation art vocabulary peculiar to some of his techniques.

Mydrim has an impressive record with the Nigerian modernity era of which Onobrakpeya belongs. For example, in 2007, the gallery recorded what stands till date as Nigeria’s largest gathering of master artists when it showed Living Masters, a group exhibition that featured the works of Abayomi Barber, Onabrakpeya, Yusuf Grillo, Bisi Fakeye, El Anatsui, David Dale, Isiaka Osunde, Muraina Oyelami and Kolade Oshinowo.
From March 18 to 21, 2015 when Art Dubai Modern, holds at Madinat Jumeirah, UAE, Mydrim is showing alongside other galleries from Africa and across the world. Artists from Africa in the Modern section include Moroccans Mohamed Melehi b. 1936 and Mohamed Hamidi b. 1941 represented by Loft Art Gallery, Casablanca; and a Cape Verdian master, Manuel Figueira as well as Ernesto Shikhany from Mozambique showing under Perve Galeria, Lisbon.
Debuted last year, Art Dubai Modern, according to the organisers is exclusively partnered with Mashreq Private Banking, and features “artists who proved influential in the twentieth century, particularly through the vibrant modern period of the 1940s to 1980s.” Each of the participating galleries presents a solo or two-person show, “with works by masters from Africa, the Middle east and South Asia.” The Advisory committee includes Savita Apte, Catherine David, Kristine Khouri, Nada Shabout and Bisi Silva.

For Mydrim Gallery’s Booth MB at Art Dubai Modern, the works on display, which were viewed via soft copies few days ago, reveals how Onobrakpeya brings to the global gathering a rich oeuvre, perhaps rarely assembled in recent time. The 32 works of the Nigerian master that are going on display were created between 1960 and 1989. Some of the works include impressions of 16 compartmented and one central imageries in foil metal titled Nativity (1969); figural drawings in etchings, Ekuroegbe (1975); abstraction in metal foil, Kwamo Olo (1975); motifs-populated Ibiebe Aro Oguan in ideograms shall alter; and a panel of three, The Last Days of Christ.
Apart from being a member of a generation of Nigerian artists known as the ‘Zaria Rebels’ – students from 1958 -1962 at the defunct Nigerian College of Art, Science and Technology (NCAST) who challenged westernisation of

Nigerian art education – Onobrakpeya has been consistent in exploring as many sources as possible to excavate native African contents, particularly from oral and literary sources. In fact, most of his periods as highlighted in the solo exhibition Jubilee Festival, when he marked his 80th birthday in 2012 confirmed the anthropological context, which most of his themes emit. The Jubilee Festival exhibition focused Onobrakpeya’s periods such as Mythical Realism, 1957-1962; Sunshine, 1962-1967; The Mask and Cross, 1967-1978; Symbols of Royalty, 1978-1984; Sahelian Masquerades, 1984-1988; The Mask, 1990-1995; Social Unrest, 1995-1999; Installation (1995 till date).
But Mydrim, in its gallery statement for Art Dubai Modern, notes that Onobrakpeya’s periods are marked by the titles of his major solo exhibitions such as Spirit in Ascent (1968-1978), Symbols of Ancestral Groves (1978-1985), and Sahelian Masquerades (1985-1988). The gallery however adds that during these periods, “he has produced oil paintings, lino-prints, serigraphs, metal foil print sculptures, deep etching, plastocasts, engravings, plastographs, and complex contemporary installations.”

More importantly in the career or periods of Onobrakpeya is the panel in metal foil. As there seems to be quite a number of metal foil works of the artist going to Art Dubai Modern, the panels evoke the memory of the artist’s local record auction sale till date. From such memory cimes Greater Nigeria, a panel of five and small cubic-like pieces, which sold for N9.2 million in 2008 at Arthhouse auction in Lagos was also Nigeria’s record sale as at then.

Mydrim describes his technique as “inextricably bound up with the themes of his works.” As an artist whose career has touched generations of artists and collectors, Onobrakpeya’s work has been a reference point in African modernity and contemporaneity. “Through his work he has contributed immensely to artistic growth of modern African art and helped define a role for the artist in postcolonial Africa,” Mydrim argues.
In addition to his many art exhibitions in Nigeria and abroad, Onobrakpeya has shown at the Tate Modern in London, U.K; the National Museum of African Art of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C; and the Malmö Konsthall in Malmö. Some of his Honours include Human Living Treasure Award by UNESCO (2006), National Creativity Award by Federal Government of Nigeria (2010) and was the Gala Honoree Artist at the 50th anniversary celebration of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art Washington DC(2014).
Founded in 1992, Mydrim Gallery focuses what it describes as “global promotion of 20th century and contemporary Nigerian art.”

Art Dubai is held under the Patronage of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice- President and Prime Minister of the UAE, Ruler of Dubai. The yearly gathering is held in partnership with The Abraaj Group and is sponsored by Emaar and Julius Baer. Madinat Jumeirah is home to the event. Mashreq Private Banking is the exclusive partner of Art Dubai Modern.

At Art Dubai 2015, Onobrakpeya and Mydrim joins others such as Shafic Abboud, Agial Art Gallery, Beirut;
Shahid Sajjad, ArtChowk, Karachi;
Gouider Triki / Hatim Elmekki Elmarsa, Tunis / Dubai;
Mohsen Vaziri Moghadam Gallery Etemad, Tehran;
Mahmoud Hammad Green Art Gallery, Dubai;
Shafic Abboud / Abdallah Benanteur, Galerie Claude Lemand, Paris; Farid Belkahia, Le Violon Bleu, Tunis;
Dia Azzawi / Marwan Meem Gallery, Dubai;
Ernesto Shikhany / Manuel Figueira Perve Galeria, Lisbon;
Jamil Molaeb Galerie Janine Rubeiz, Beirut;
Kourosh Shishegaran Shirin Gallery, Tehran / New York;
Aref El Rayess, The Park Gallery, London.

At Art Dubai Contemporary, 72 galleries from across the world are showing, including Africa-based such as Art Twenty, Lagos, showing Nigerian sculptor Olu Amoda and Beninoise artist, Gérard Quenum; Vienna, Austria-based gallery, Galerie Krinzinger, represents Nigerian, Jude Anogwih, from works produced during his residency in Europe.
Ivorian photographer, François-Xavier Gbré joins his countryman, Yéanzi at Galeries Cecile Fakhoury in the contemporary circle; Sammy Baloji, represented by Galerie Imane Fares; and Cameroonian, Pascale Marthine Tayou, at Galeria Continua.

Some of the other galleries from across the world, showing at the event include
Shafic Abboud, Agial Art Gallery, Beirut;
Shahid Sajjad, ArtChowk, Karachi;
Gouider Triki / Hatim Elmekki Elmarsa, Tunis / Dubai;
Mohsen Vaziri Moghadam Gallery Etemad, Tehran;
Mahmoud Hammad Green Art Gallery, Dubai;
Shafic Abboud / Abdallah Benanteur, Galerie Claude Lemand, Paris; Farid Belkahia, Le Violon Bleu, Tunis;
Dia Azzawi / Marwan Meem Gallery, Dubai;
Ernesto Shikhany / Manuel Figueira Perve Galeria, Lisbon;
Jamil Molaeb Galerie Janine Rubeiz, Beirut;
Kourosh Shishegaran Shirin Gallery, Tehran / New York; Aref El Rayess, The Park Gallery, London.



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