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Riding on the wave of the 7th element

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So, you might be familiar with the classical elements – earth, water, wind and fire which the Ancient Greeks believed were the bedrock of life and matter. You might also know that Aristotle had his 5th element – aether or quintessence, describing one beyond the four and physical but did you know about the 6th and 7th? Well, here’s Osa Okunkpolor to tell you – ‘Every time the word ‘element’ is used in reference to an object, it’s indicative that the object is an irreducible (cannot be simplified further) constituent of an entity. It shows what the end result is composed of. In a world that strictly focuses on results, the 7th element is a reminder that a great outcome is the offshoot of great thinking and a well-executed process.

There are many philosophies that express the 5 elements by which all we see around us exists and interacts with each other. The 6th element in our thinking is the creative person.’ His 7th? That je na sais quoi a creative brings to the ordinary to create phenomenal outcomes.

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The first time I meet Osa, face to face – we’re ‘friends’ on Instagram, it’s at a design workshop in Lagos for ‘Your Ad Here’, a discourse and contest around art in advertising space which was hosted at A Whitespace Art Gallery and sponsored by the British Council. There Osa shares his principles of ‘social design’. Though he isn’t leading my group, I’m listening in and all I can think of is transformation.

Osa, Visual Communications graduate, storyteller, urban Grafitti artist and lover of yellow is letting the 7th element move him to express himself. Grafitti, from the Italian graffere, meaning to scratch on a surface is how he’s expressed his art since 2013, inspired by British graffiti artist, Banksy and the work of late American artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat who are seen by some to have legitimized the art.

And scratch, deep on the surface is what Osa does and is doing with his 7th element exhibition, painting new walls and convening a first time exhibition in Lagos City, wholly dedicated to Graffiti, its connection and stories. The exhibition consists of 30 art pieces, and 5 Installations which will allow people interact with and be a part of the Art, while encouraging them to share their experiences with their social networks.

What makes graffiti special for the proponent of the 7th element? Its freedom and flow, also reflected in the waves that accompany the 7th element logo, says Osa. ‘It shows our desire to see that more people are carried along and that more platforms and expressions are borne out of this. ‘I like the fluidity…there are no rules. It allows you to communicate serious topics one minute and light hearted subjects the next. In one artwork, I’m talking about Police Brutality, and in the next, I’ve got a drawing of Kanye West with his shades on. There are no limitations really’.
Urban graffiti art has found expression beyond public walls, tagging and vandalism – it is now considered a proper art form globally with artist commissions and exhibitions in leading art houses, and rightly too.

Urban Graffiti Artists tend to push boundaries and use everything in sight. While Osa hasn’t been able to properly experiment on public walls (lest the government comes for him), he thinks it would be great to have public walls dedicated to artwork which promote social causes, or perhaps support a campaign to educate people on a particular issue.

I asked Osa two questions. Why Yellow, as his signature colour – ‘symbolic of hope, promise, cheer and visibility. There is not a better colour that expresses what this exhibition seeks to achieve’ and what period in graffiti history he would choose to be born in. I find his choice inspiring, a confirmation of the many new narratives celebrating Nigeria and Africa. ‘I’d choose to be born in this period. There’s so much to talk about now, than there was in the past. Every era has its stories, but the stories in this time period are pretty amazing. Also, I’ve been able to commercialize my art – I actually sell art pieces and do Live graffiti as well on stage at concerts and events, in front of thousands of people. The excitement and support that I get from fans and friends, is a feeling that I can’t explain really. I mean, who would’ve thought that Graffiti would become a form of communication and entertainment in Nigeria?’

The show which opened yesterday at the Kia showroom, Victoria Island, Lagos, would end today.



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