The Graduating Class Of Young Contemporaries
Every year, the Rele Arts Foundation selects five young artists and awards each of them grants to create a body of work that would form the ‘Young Contemporaries Exhibition’. The initiative was launched in 2016 and the sophomore edition, held earlier this year, intimated art lovers with frontrunners in the budding contemporary art landscape – Marcelina Akpojotor, Rewa Umunna, Sejiro Avoseh, Ezekiel Osifeso, and Oladimeji Coker – who were selected for their youth, promise and ability to create work that “boldly contributed to conversations around human identity, traversing racial and cultural boundaries, femininity, and the duality of human nature”. Akpojotor, Umunna and Avoseh were the standout acts of the 2017 class and, over the course of the year, developed the potential for productivity.
Marcelina Akpojotor, famous for her portraits on canvas with different layers and colours of Ankara fabric, was already of renowned pedigree having won the first prize in the “Off the Bin Project” art competition in 2013 and participated in the 19th Bone Performance Art Festival, Bern, Switzerland in 2016. Her contributions to the Young Contemporary Exhibitions were representations of toddlers in different frames of emotion in celebration of motherhood. In an interview with Style HQ, Akpojotor said of her work,
“There’s a saying, ‘You cannot really appreciate your parents until you have children of your own. I have found that I’ve been really appreciative of their love and support when I was very little. The series is also inspired by my baby. For this, I used pieces of Ankara sourced from different tailors, for variety.”
Between May and June, she also participated in The Temple Management Company’s exhibition, It’s Not Furniture at the Omenka Art Gallery, curated to represent art as more than furniture but an extension of the culture of young individuals. By the end of the year she had diversified from portraiture into the indoor scenery, as evident in her Power Series collection at Rele Art Gallery, but still remains masterfully embedded in the Ankara media.
Rewa Umunna is the archetypal superwoman. Despite the otherworldly pressures of her insurance career and shuttling between homes in Lagos, London and Johannesburg, Umunna still found time to cater to the basest human instinct: creation. Her entry for the ‘Young Contemporaries Exhibition’ titled Travellers celebrated feminine identity by channelling her own experiences navigating societal and racial boundaries in the three cities she lived in. Using bright acrylics, she challenged and dared to recreate popular visual representations of Nigerian goddesses such as Ani, Mawu and Yemoja.
Umunna also captured the art world’s gaze with her body of work titled: ONICHA ADO N’IDU (naming rites and traditions of the Igbos of Nigeria), which showcased at the Gallery of African Art (GAFRA) in London. She was also nominated for the Inaugural Her Network Woman of the Year award.
Mixed media maestro Sejiro Avoseh, whose stylistics features paint and a collage of automobile-related themes, received critical acclaim at the ‘Young Contemporaries’ exhibition. The inspiration behind the showcased collection – physiognomical distinction – was to reverse the objectification of individuality by examining “the act of judging people by mere looking at their physical appearance”. The art explained in the artist’s own words says,
“Sometimes, I distort my figures to preach that no one should be compelled to live under societal expectations. Everyone should have the liberty to live their life without people questioning them.”
This ideal was reinforced in his other collections of the year: Baldie at Rele Art Gallery and his interactive projects at the second edition of Art X Lagos in October.
On the 14th of January, 2018, the Rele Art Foundation would be launching its third edition of the exhibition. The tips of the brushes have been dabbed in the paint and the art scene eagerly anticipates the masterstrokes of genius that shall be unveiled. You should too!