Medley of Watercolour, Sculptural Offerings At Wheatbaker
THERE is something peculiar about the two exhibiting artists in the forthcoming joint show being hosted at Wheatbaker Hotel, Ikoyi, Lagos.
Entitled Akalaka: Following Our Destiny, the show, running from April 20 to July 15, 2015, will feature the works of Tayo Adenaike (watercolourist) and Dr. Obiora Anidi (sculptor).
Both are Enugu-based, and more or less stakeholders in the Nigerian art scene, particularly in Enugu and the entirely Eastern part of the country.
Besides being a renowned watercolourist, Adenaike, as graphics designer, owns a major Advert agency – Artsaels – in Enugu.
He is also the founder of one of the best photo studio in Enugu (Tachi Studio). He is a member of the Board of Life in My City Arts Festival (LIMCAF), an initiative to promote creative enterprise of young Nigerians and the sponsor of the USD1000 prize for Photo Africa Competition, a segment of LIMCAF.
A sculptor with unique abstract expression, Anidi, on his part, lectures at the Enugu State College of Education (Technical). He is also the Chairman of the Board of Enugu State Council for Art and Culture and a strong member of the LIMCAF Organising Committee.
The two artists will be presenting, to the public, 20 pieces of work each.
Both happened to be foundation members of AKA Group of Exhibiting Artists that laid the foundation for the artistic professionalism in the Eastern Nigeria in the 1980s.
Although the group is no longer in existence, its ‘relics’ still flow in their artistic offerings as reflected in the headline of the Lagos display.
However, it was 31 years ago that both held a joint exhibition at the Italian Embassy in Lagos with the title: Akalaka: Following their Destiny.
Indeed, the forthcoming show, according to the curator, Mrs Sandra Mbanefo Obiago, is a continuation of the artistic ‘conversation’ started 31 years ago as she implores the viewing public to book a date with the four months-long display, saying, “we all stand to gain from this unplanned, excellent collaboration.”
Mrs Obiago said further: “I trust you will take time ‘far from the maddening crowd’ to meander through this exhibition and enjoy the rich symbolism, amazing artistry, and unique representation of our multi-faceted, culturally rich world view in Akalaka: Lines of Memory.
Hopefully these magnificent artworks will also inspire us to ponder upon how our deeper selves are quietly mirrored in their hidden meanings.”
Considered by Art historians and critics as a third generation artist of the Nsukka School, following in the Uli painting tradition pioneered by Uche Okeke and Obiora Udechukwu, Adenaike has developed his own unique visual idiom and a mastery of watercolour techniques.
His keen sense of colour, use of space, design and composition evident in his work, translates into delicate and yet dramatic thought provoking images.
Beginning from 1990, he has visited the United States of America yearly, and apart from holding regular exhibitions, he has lectured, had slide presentations and given studio talks in six universities.
For him, the show is like home-coming as Adenaike exhibited last in the country over 20 years ago. “Since 1990, I have been exhibiting in America, I tried to do something with somebody in 1994, and 20 years after, I’m coming back home, this is the way it is for me, this exhibition,” he said during a recent encounter at his residence in Enugu.
As a renowned watercolourist, Adenaike’s body of work on display reflects his interpretation of human faces. “I am basically a painter of faces, and the body of work that will be on show range from 2004 to 2015, projecting different themes, but basically all revolving around the human face; the expression on the human face, the joy on the human face, the sadness on the human face.
There is a religious aspect too, I think there is one painting called Trinity, which has to do with my Christian upbringing: the Father, the Son and the Holy spirit. There is one called the Green face, and there is the Politician, basically faces…”
He loves to be described as “a watercolourist of faces and figures.” But why is he fascinated by faces? His fascination is derived from the fact that the face is part of the human head and a headless body does not portray any emotion. “You can only figure out any human emotion from the face.
Perhaps you may also want to say that Tayo distorts the human face to create series of emotions,” he explains in a conversation with the curator of the show, Mrs Obiago.
Generally, Adenaike hates talking “about themes, or for that matter my work or body of work.” Reason: he paints for the joy of painting, just like a dancer would dance for the joy of dancing.
According to him, “If in the process of painting, I have enough work to display for public viewing and I get applauded or chastised, neither response would make me to stop painting.
Painting to me is also like writing, you keep writing because of the joy you derive from writing.”
He argues further that “external factors or people far removed from your thoughts or the creative process should really not matter much. More often than not, I just drift on the 100% white cotton fibre that is my painting surface to whatever is eventually seen and called a painting. I will be a happier person if my paintings are actually not titled. I do not like the idea of people thinking along with me. I want people to feel free and think for themselves. I want people to see themselves and judge themselves in my work. I am not painting me. I paint what I think and distill from what I see and hear.
My art is essentially very human. I think every painting is a reflection of something, and every human being should engage in some form of reverie.”
He began his journey as a professional artist on a childish note. He reminisced: “I had my first formal art lesson in 1967, at Federal Government College, Warri, but prior to the formal lessons, I drew on walkways and walls like any kid would do in my mother’s home town – Ilese, in Ijebu land of Ogun State.
I continued with art studies in higher school at Warri but specialization commenced at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, from 1974 through 1982 when I was awarded an MFA degree in painting.”
Born on April 27, 1954, at Idanre, Ijebu-Imushin, in Ogun State, Adenaike has lived in Enugu for more than four decades.
As for Dr. Obiora Anidi, Chief Lecturer, Department of Fine and Applied Art, Enugu State College of Education (Technical), Enugu, artistic expression as a career is hereditary. He was born into an artistic family, “one that appreciates the values of aesthetics and creativity,” he told the Curator in a conversation. As the third in a family of five children and following his disposition, he was encouraged very early to take to art as a course of study.
The resolve was strengthened by the kind guidance and support of his parents, Chief Raphael Ejiofor and Nono Lydia Nwaliweaku Anidi, and his elder brother, Arc. R. C.Anidi.
He narrated, “I was also privileged to have had good art teachers, early in life. In the late 60’s, at St. Patrick’s Primary School, Enugu, our art teacher, popularly nicknamed ‘Utulo’, provided an enabling and motivating start; in the 70’s, Mr. Ibeto (the father of the Nigerianlady musician) taught me Fine Art, at the Colliery Secondary School, Enugu-Ngwo (then, in the former East Central State of Nigeria). I trained and graduated as a Sculptor, in 1982, from the Fine and Applied Art Department of the Institute of Management and Technology (IMT), Enugu, Nigeria.
Then, at the IMT, students passed through good lecturers, such as, Paul Igbanugo, AneneObianyido, Chike Ochi, Charles Nduanya, and others. Lecturers at the IMT Art School, then, allowed a measure of freedom in their methods of instruction, concept formation and experimentation, with various materials, in the execution of student assignments. It was indeed a good start.”
He underscored a deep connection between his sculptural offerings and contemporary issues in Nigeria. “It is almost absurd for an artist to work outside the environment. A lot of the works are addressing some of the challenges confronting Nigeria including the general elections we just held. The world is waiting for Nigeria to crack, isn’t it? Let’s see if it will crack. Some of them even though I did a long time ago, are addressing contemporary issues, like the aftermath, never say die, if you look at it, it is like a piece of bone shredded but still hanging on, on the pedestal.”
As a foundation member of AKA group, he elucidates on the vision of the group and how it evolved and gained expression without missing the connection between AKA and the title of the forthcoming exhibition.
“The AKA group is envisioned and rooted on the philosophy of co-operation and unity in diversity, comparable to the structure, capacity and potentials of the human fingers and the hand and palm. As noted, in all our exhibition catalogues as published, the word, aka, is from Igbo language, meaning ‘hand’. The hand makes things. The hand creates. It may be directed by the brain or the mind. But then, different cultures and ages have also advanced talent, intuition as a third force in realization of works of art.
This factor is often associated with destiny, akalaka, another Igbo word literally meaning ‘the lines of the hand and palm’. It predetermines what a man would be, encodes the choice he made at the point of reincarnation, of returning to the world of the living. The hand is also made of individual members, the fingers, whose collective enterprise gives control and direction to the whole.
The saying “aka weta, aka weta, onueju” is also a driving philosophy of the AKA circle of artists, for each artist retains his individuality while working with the group. In one of the AKA brochures, it has been made clear that AKA is not an art movement or a school but a circle of exhibiting artists – a forum for the interaction of kindred spirits and professional artists, Nigerians and expatriates working in the then Anambra State.” Anidi is optimistic that his collections will be appealing to the viewing public.
BUT the journey to Wheatbaker on Monday, April 20 began one year ago when Mrs Obiago went in search of two master artists in Eastern Nigeria. Her determination then, was “to find these two unusual artists who had important global reputation, but had not had a major showing in the Nigerian art scene for over a decade,” she narrated in her introductory remarks to the exhibition.
Continued she said, “My search brought me to Enugu, the town where I grew up, and after a few phone-calls and investigative conversations, was quickly given the telephone numbers of two men who everyone knew and hailed as not only artists of repute, but as important patrons and mentors to generations of creative minds.
“My first encounter with Tayo Adenaike was like meeting a long lost friend. Waving away stiff formal introductions with his signatory humour and quick wit, he reminded me that he knew my parents well, and ushered me into his studio. With an amazing clarity and enthusiasm, he began educating me on the Uli and Nsibidi art traditions, sharing his fascination and deep knowledge of Igbo culture and its aesthetic roots, which he learnt during his over 41 years of living in eastern Nigeria.
“While talking, he pulled out a whole sheaf of beautifully crafted, intricate paintings and casually flipped through them, while cross-referencing his art by showing me numerous international publications and coffee table books in which his works were featured. The depth, linear form and intensity of his work astounded me.He promised me he would consider doing a show, but that he needed at least a year, as his thriving advertising business was taking up most of his time. I drove out of his compound stunned and elated by the warm reception, and immediately anxious about being able to do justice to this master artist’s proposed exhibition.
“The next day, I drove to meet Obiora Anidi in his campus home, and was warmly welcomed by him and his wife, also an academic, and their kids, gathered around the dining table doing afternoon tutorials with an astute lesson teacher. Before long, he brought me into his studio, and I immediately felt like a child who had been brought into a candy shop. My art collectors’ antennae went up as I beheld some of the most amazing sculptures I had ever seen.”
It’s been a year of preparation culminating in the show you are about to experience, said Obiago of the April 20 show. As the Wheatbaker Art Curator, her commitment is to ensuring that “our creative platform showcases both emerging talent, as well as honours those master artists who have had a major influence on Nigerian art.”
Both Adenaike and Anidi, she asserted, “are part of the Uli art movement which originated at the famous Nsukka Art School of the 1970’s and 1980’s, spearheaded by internationally acclaimed Professor Uche Okeke of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka; the contemporary interpretation of ancient Uli traditions has also been made famous in the work of Professors El Anatsui and Obiora Udechukwu.
“Adenaike and Anidi are globally celebrated artists whose works have drawn inspiration from this important Uli tradition (‘a repertoire of motifs found largely in Igbo land, which is a dying art form; it was solely at the preserve of women, who either used it for body adornment or wall decorations of sacred shrines,’ Adenaike explains); both have created an unforgettable, powerful visual language that though expressed in different media, has a deep congruity.
“Whether you marvel at the profound simplicity of Anidi’s three legged sculpture Ekwu Ito…trinity of the extended family which clearly shows a strong external family structure harbouring deft internal politics and alignments, or you admire the poetry and symbolic significance of Adenaike’s layered visual echoes in Our Hope Lies in the Begotten Son, we see an incredible, beautiful interplay of thoughts and expressions across starkly different media.
“Adenaike’s layered human forms with their intense expressions remind one of the complex tension between emotion and the spirit, which can be seen in perfect alignment with Anidi’s concave spaces and solid marble planes representing symbiotic relationships, beautifully intertwined with metal accents; both artists echo the interplay between existential perceptions vis-a-vis physical form and energy, and the traditions as well as the restrictions of culture and society.”
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