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A peek into Duke Asidere’s Emotional Conflicts

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Duke Asidere.<br />Photo/AfricanArtswithTaj

Months have passed since Duke Asidere opened his Playspot Studio in Gbagada, after several years of operating in Egbeda, where it was launched in September 2012.

The Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria-trained artist is in the limelight again with a solo show.

Titled, Sketches & Therapy, the show opens on Saturday, March 30 at the Hourglass Gallery, on Saka Jojo Street in the Lagos upmarket neighbourhood, Victoria Island.

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Alongside the show opening from 4 pm, there will also be a presentation of a book of the sketches compiled by Dozie Igweze, the owner of the gallery.

The book is the fallout of a discussion between Asidere and Igweze years back. Both had agreed that there was a need to create a document of the sketches rather than simply disperse them to individuals.

More important to the two parties was the urge to enlighten the public more about art in general. This implies acquainting them with the process of creating art, the ideas that come to play in art and the struggles in that process of creation.

Somewhere along the line, they shelved the project and moved on with their other individual endeavours. While Asidere went on to hold several solo shows, Igweze wrote his first visual arts coffee-table book, titled, The Storyteller of Agbarha-Otor – the Visual Tales of Bruce Onobrakpeya.

That book, which focuses on the art of the iconic Nigerian artist, Bruce Onobrakpeya, explores his early influences and how they impacted his art.

But the original book project would not remain ignored for too long. Hence, in 2016, artist and dealer dredged up the idea of the book again.

This time, the moment seemed to be right and Igweze’s second book became a reality. It avails collectors a chance to enjoy the artist’s works without necessarily collecting them all. Thus, the reader gets the fuller picture of the artworks than he might have got from just looking at a few of the pieces.

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For Igweze, this is a spur to take a headlong plunge into his third book, which will be on the pioneer Nigerian artist, Abayomi Barber.

Back to the show, which ends on Saturday, April 6, it will feature 150 sketches by the artist, who formerly lectured at the Auchi Polytechnic with the likes of Sam Ovraiti and the late Ben Osaghae.

It happened that the then newly-established art department of Delta State Polytechnic, Ogwashi-Uku, desperately needed a visual arts lecturer.

Asidere accepted to fill in the gap temporarily. He was by then a leading full-time studio artist in Lagos and was experiencing a difficult period in his life emotionally.

For him, the job not only offered an opportunity of service, but also a chance to reflect and heal.

The two years in that tertiary institution saw him creating sketches for the exhibition.

For him, the creative process was his way of not only unburdening himself, but also that of regaining his sanity and renewing his spirit.

According to Igweze: “The lines of the pencil led him through the maze of his confusion and, sometimes, to the truths he sought. He sketched the Asaba expressway, the inner roads of Asaba, Ogwashi-Uku and Ubulu-Unor, the people he met in his perambulations, the models in his art classes, and his students.”

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Actually, these sketches are complete works on their own and were not created as preambles to the artist’s bigger paintings. For him, they were spontaneous efforts at capturing fleeting moments and quickly rendering emotional states.

The exhibition first leads the viewers into the artist’s inner world. If he considers them as a way to heal, it means the artist was experiencing an emotional turbulence.

In the series he calls The Empty Rooms, he attempts to re-evoke his Spartan-like room while he was in Ogwashi-Uku.

The room had no more than a mattress on the floor, a picture on the wall and a few other items. His sparsely-furnished abode echoed his inner world and the inexplicable feeling of loneliness that gripped him at that period. Thus, the sketches became his visual diaries over a two-year period.

There were also sketches, which could pass for the artist’s travelogue. These follow his travel through that time, capturing landscapes and the people that populated them. There was a brief stop at Kaduna, another at Ubulu-Unor. These are complemented by sketches of explorations of the Asaba Expressway, visits to a mechanic workshop in Asaba, the roads of Ogwashi-Uku and the surrounding areas.

As fully formed artworks, these sketches have a sense of fullness. They are not to be seen in the traditional sense as preambles to larger artworks.

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For Asidere, sketches have always been the end product rather than the beginning of something bigger. Yet, there are times his sketches become post mortem efforts for his already created paintings.

“In these sketches, he recreates the original oil painting in sketch form, and puzzles about what he could have done differently, how he might have changed some colours, for instance,” Igweze explains.

One thing is obvious from the exhibition: this is an artist, who loves to sketch. Asidere sees sketching with pencils as an instantaneous way of rendering his emotions. This serves his purpose better than if he had sought to paint them on canvas, which might imply a certain level of dilution or, perhaps, refinement.

For the Delta State-born artist, no precious moment must be lost as he seeks the instant translation of a thought-process or emotion into rigid forms.

This is the suitable medium to crystallise his many thoughts into visual expressions on paper. Could that be why his figures pulsate with so much energy and vitality? Through their facial expressions, the viewers discern the story of Nigeria. And that is a story of hope, love desperation, optimism, and despair.

Asidere, like many artists of his generation, decries the insanity of the daily life of the average Nigerian. He mocks the system, at politicians and at the listlessness of the oppressed masses.

The 58-year-old is obviously averse to conformity not only in his lifestyle, but also in his figurative expressions. He produces unique paintings that depict women as strong, powerful figures.

The latter could be seen as a visual homage to his mother, whose early influence would play a significant role in his art.


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