John Madu in ‘Identity Tones’
But with three solo shows in three years, he has triumphantly embraced the creative muse and woven an identity for himself with acrylic.
Recently, when he showed his latest works at the Artyrama’s Popup Gallery on Alhaji Masha Close, Off Ademola Street, off Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, it was an opportunity to see works represented through personal iconographic symbols such as, metaphors, texture, indigenous patterns and colours.
By the way, Artyrama is an online platform that makes it easy for everybody to procure art.
Its core objective is to provide a platform for emerging African artists to showcase their works as well as widen the access to contemporary African art globally.
This is done through regular online auctions and exhibitions as well as showcasing the best artists selected by a team of curators.
The philosophy behind these works rested on a premise that true art often pandered towards a chain reaction of socio-economic issues and the immediate environment.
Themed, ‘Identity Tones’, the show, which held from August 17 to 24, contemplated the effect of globalisation on African identity using collages, portraiture, figurative symbolism and mixed media to give it life.
The show focused entirely in identity and how it has been lost through what philosophers described as alienation or split image.
Perhaps, what strikes as a mesmerising trove for the show is the dazzling array of expressions, silent stories floating across the space in acrylic.
This eclectic mix of source materials is influenced by pop culture, African art history, music, and lived experiences.
While speaking on the collection, Madu states, “they reflect the time that we live in.
The spread of popular culture via social media has created an increase in cross-cultural contacts, which is a good thing, but original cultural practices could be lost in the process.
‘Identity Tones’ captures how I interpret this new state of consciousness.”
He continues, “this exhibition explores the effect of globalisation on African identity.
The process is marked by the consumption of cultures that have been diffused by the Internet, popular culture, media and international travel.”
The show, perhaps, offers a mood board that aggregates all ills of globalisation, especially how they affect identity.
Identity, as a subject, has been a regular vocation for the African, because of the continent’s colonial heritage.
Scholars, researchers and artists have treated the issue with seriousness that makes it to remain significant.
Thus, Madu’s loud, bold and heart-thopping painting fits the mood of the continent, which is still struggling to ratify the treaty on free trade.
Aside for the search for identity, the tone of the show, that is, arrangement of colours, the shades and tints follow a gradation, which lies between sombre and merriment: monochrome and blue.
The artist says, “this show is about ways colours are arranged. It is actually about colour figuration and formation, while the identity is my subject matter.
Identity is the subject I have always been interested in: studying people’s faces and trying to know what is behind the mask.”
Madu, a multi-disciplinary artist, whose paintings and art pieces are an overlap between art and design, says, “my subject matter is presented in the form of portraiture and figurative symbolism, with a variety of personal and recognisable iconography; heads replaced with camera’s juxtaposing identity, bitten apples, motifs and symbols, all hold metaphorical connotations relating to how my subjects internalise or externalise experiences and situations they identify with.”
His first show in Didi Museum, Ikoyi, in 2015, was not a success, because of his naivety.
He didn’t understand the economics of having such a show in a highbrow area. Of the 20 works that he exhibited, three were sold.
Madu says, “I didn’t understand the politics and how it was played. Now I know the dynamics.”
By 2016, when he appeared at the popular Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, he was able to sell up to 60 per cent of his exhibits.
In new show, Madu deploys evocative imagery to underline his creative oeuvre.
There is fluidity of transition and artistic freedom in his search for self and mission to create an identity.
“I’m not bothered about red sticker, what concerns me before and every show is my message.
It is an important power and when we’ll executed, brings the money,” he confesses like communicants in front of the priest.
The works are arranged thematically in a way that his personal reflections and historical paradoxes are incorporated in a long flowing chain of acrylic.
“Although my views may be modest compared to the impact of modernity itself, the exhibition seeks to shed light on contribution of globalisation to the alienation of individuals from their traditions,” he says.
With ‘Black Ballerina’ acrylic and ink (121.92cm x 121.92cm), which is the lighting rod of the show, Madu stresses there is no original culture anymore. Most people have become affected by globalisation.
For him, “the spread of popular culture via Internet and social media has increased cross cultural contacts, which is positive, but the effect is original cultural practices getting lost in the process, such as traditional music and a general decrease in the uniqueness of once isolated communities.”
He believes true art comes from a reaction to an issue or environment, which leads him to spontaneous modes of production. Essentially, his environment influences his output.
In ‘Mind Structure’, acrylic (76.2cmx91.44cm), Madu’s visual composition, though an odd combination of the domestic and international scenes, reveals an ingenious resonance.
This could also be gleaned from works such as, ‘Ride Along’, acrylic of 91.44cm x 121.92cm and ‘Memory Lane’, another acrylic of 121.92cm x 121.92cm.There is an innocence that runs round the show.
Madu has had three solos shows and participated in numerous group projects. He works in Lagos and holds a B.Sc in Policy and Strategic Studies.
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