Transitions with Jegede’s palette of probity
Art historian, Prof Dele Jegede, who was a celebrated cartoonist at Daily Times, attempts a probity of how his work has affected cross sections of people whose lives have been intruded, by his palette, within the context of his home country’s developmental challenges.
Based in Ohio, U.S., jegede, who is currently on a visit to Nigeria goes on the canvas for visual accounts of his thoughts via a solo art exhibition titled Transitions, showing from July 18-23, 2016 at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos. The exhibition is coming within six years of his last show, Peregrinations in Nigeria.
Between his period of being a cartoonist/painter and adding academia, quite a lot has transited – for him personally and for the nation – making the artist’s second solo in a tumultuous and longest democratic era of his country worth appropriating in visual narratives.
As a professional whose career in the creative circuit has been largely within the academic environment, the activism texture of his palette hardly changes from his media period, so suggest some of his paintings in Transitions, viewed via e-copies. More interesting, the renditions, which come with blossomed colours are complemented with equal diversity of trending words, sometimes garnished with the artist’s coinages.
As much as it could be conveniently argued that quite a success has been recorded, by government, in the past one year against the religious lunacy known as Boko Haram, it would take vegetation of human memory to erase some of the key words that emerged from the nearly nine years of destruction in north east of Nigeria. Such, as depicted by jegede, in diverse nreative tones include IDP, #BBOG, Sambisa Forest. Chibok, among other dark memories of the era.
In a conceptual armed figure titled. BH-Sambisa Forest, painted in acrylic on canvas (2016), a body of armed terrorist implanted with a tree, adding sci-fi touch to the concept. But the deadly terrain is not missing as depicted in the scull beneath the forest of head. A jegede composite of Boko Haram-capture such as this is scary, suggesting that beneath the surface of the vast Sambisa forest – said to be as wide as four states put together – is the real battle ahead in rescuing the abducted Chibok girls.
From the government’s battle against Boko Haram, descriptions such as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and Improvised Explosive Device (IEDs) suddently became louder in the Nigerian security vocabulary. But jegede, whose canvas highlight victims of the insurgency also reminds us that IDPs come in diverse forms beyond the real definition. A miserable-looking man, dressed in class attire of VIP in one of the works, and adults in fisticuffs, in another, which jegede places under his coinage Internally Displaced Politicians series broaden the meaning of IDPs. Satirical as the artist’s concept is, the salient aspect of the highlights is the tragic consequences of the Nigerian politicians whose systemic looting artistry has financially bled the nation to comatose.
Displacement, according to jegede, also extends to the nation’s security professionals whose compromised values have, in recent years, provided fuel for the wild fire of impunity across the country. Like bulls in head-to-head battle, two policemen, in jegede’s Internally Displaced Police (Rofo-Rofo Fight), represent a disorgnised security sector.
And for those whose DNA is formed with perpetual denial of the missing Chibok girls, jegede’s paintings such as Chibok-Agony of A Mother, BH (#BBOG), IDP Aisha and BBOG Sheer Anguish, among similar BH-related titles could serve as piercing truth meant to haunt the conscience of heartless tribal jingoists and their bigots cousins. It is disheartening that over 800 days after the girls were declared missing, and with overwhelming evidences of abduction, most people from certain sections of Nigeria are still dwelling in denial, perhaps, as an extension of their ethno-religious partisan behaviour.
However, history tellers – across genres and medium of creative disciplines – are not infallible, particularly where sentiment comes as a natural extension of emotion. For example, one questions the message, which Prof jegede attempts to pass across with a seemingly divisive painting titled BH (Boko Haram) 3. Capture of an agonising woman against devastating and destructive explosions, ordinarily, would not raise any question; such scene is a common ‘trademark’ of the BH satanic group.
But when the artist conspicuously places a cross – symbol of Christianity – in the hand of the woman, the contents of the painting becomes suspiciously divisive. It’s on record that the Boko Haram terrorists, from 2009 when the insurgency started, have not been selective along religious lines in their targets. While it makes no meaning trying to go into numerical contest of which faith suffered more, records have it that, more innocent non-Christians have been felled by bombs and bullets of the terrorists, than Christians. The Boko Haram insurgency has been an attack on all peace-loving peoples across faiths.
Perhaps avoiding an art exhibition walls full of only bloodletting stories from north east of Nigeria, Prof jegede brings a balance in other pieces known as Celestial Aesthetics Series. These sets of paintings could take viewers into the realm of spiritual galaxy; another world created from the imaginative strength of an artist. The Celestial Series, he discloses, are spiritual reminders of his deceased son, Ayo.
Whoever has not exactly dissected the direction of jegede’s art or missed something, in the artist’s over four decades practice, here comes another window in his Transitions exhibition. “As an art historian, my work attempts to disrupt the canonical imbalance in the historicization of texts by privileging the Black perspective,” jegede writes in his Artist Statement. “Our own lions must have their own historians lest the hunter write the story of the hunt,” he argues, recalling that “as a cartoonist, I drench acerbic issues in palatable coats of humor for public consumption, often at the expense of the powerful.”
In retrospect, he revisits how his career attempted to impart on people he met over the decades. “As a teacher, I relished motivating my students to remain intensely committed to the pursuit of knowledge, be respectful of the essence of divergency even as they sought to embrace critical thinking and contribute to the construction of knowledge.” And as a painter, he “employs a variety of media to inveigh against economic constructs and political shenanigans that wreak unimaginable havoc on unsuspecting publics while perpetuating the subaltern condition of the underclass.”
Last year, jegede’s 70th birthday had community of art academia in Lagos celebrated the artist whose career has inspired quite some professionals cross art and culture disciplines.
Jegede is a Professor Emeritus at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. After a first-class honors degree in studio art from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria, he obtained his Masters and doctorate degrees from Indiana University, Bloomington, U.S.A where he studied under Professor Roy Sieber.
His professional experience includes several solo and group exhibitions in Nigeria and the U.S and a long list of scholarly publications on diverse aspects of African, and African-American art. He began his career at the Daily Times of Nigeria as Art Editor and cartoonist before moving to the University of Lagos, Akoka, Yaba, Nigeria in 1977, and eventually became Director of the Center for Cultural Studies. In the late 1970s and 1980s, he was adjunct faculty at Yaba College of Technology where he taught Drawing and Art History.
He was Fulbright Scholar at Spelman College, Atlanta, Georgia, from 1987 to1988, where he curated an exhibition of the collection of African Art at Spelman College, with an accompanying catalog, Art by Metamorphosis. In 1989, he was elected President of the Society of Nigerian Artists, succeeding Professor Solomon Wangboje.
He stepped down in 1992 when he accepted a position as faculty member at Indiana State University, Terre Haute, to which he relocated with his family in January 1993. In 1995, he was at the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC as Senior Post-Doctoral Fellow.
He is recipient of the Distinguished Africanist Award of the University of Texas at Austin. In 2014, a 422- page book, Art, Parody and Politics: dele jegede’s Creative Activism, Nigeria and the Transnational Space, edited by Aderonke Adesanya and Toyin Falola, was published by Africa World Press.
It focuses on the artist’s work as scholar, cartoonist, painter, and administrator, and features 18 chapters of essays written by 15 scholars. His latest book, Onobrakpeya: Masks of the Flaming Arrows (Milan: 5 Continents) was published in 2014 and remains the authoritative book on the African icon, Bruce Onobrakpeya.jegede is actively engaged in full-time studio practice in Cincinnati, Ohio.
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