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Ndidi Dike’s working through an impasse

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor, Deputy Editor
15 August 2021   |   3:05 am
Ndide Dike is a contemporary artist, who works across a multiplicity of fields, including painting, sculpture, collage, lens-based media, video, and installation.

A Kindred Lament to Quarantine, 2021

Ndide Dike is a contemporary artist, who works across a multiplicity of fields, including painting, sculpture, collage, lens-based media, video, and installation.

Born in London, she returned to Nigeria to train as a painter and emerged from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, graduating with a BA degree in Fine and Applied Arts in 1984.

Although known internationally as a sculptor, having taught herself to sculpt, Dike has periodically revisited painting, weaving materials, and meanings through both conventional and experimental processes.

In her shows, she has explored the fleeting transformation of the value of human life through global processes of commodification, consumption, and colonisation.

In a career that has lasted close to four decades, she has traversed different media of expression.

“It’s been a great transition,” she smiles. “That ongoing quest or search for or reinventing what you have done before.”

Among various in-depth research themes she has explored, the slave trade, in Waka-Into-Bondage: The Last 3/4 Mile (Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos, 2008) is still discussed and so are, the aspirations of West African migrants in Unknown Pleasures and Competing Tendencies, (National Museum Onikan, Lagos, 2012) and the relationship between power, petroleum, and politics in State Of The Nation: New works and installations (National Museum Onikan, Lagos, 2016).

Using objects as material metaphors, Dike catalyses the multiple singularities in human collective experiences of everyday life through the vibrant prism of visual culture that situates Nigeria within the transnational landscape.

Dike now primarily works with a special interest in personal archives and long-term research-based projects.

From July 17 to September 25, Dike’s work will be showing at Art Twenty One.

Titled, Working Through An Impasse, the show interrogates life during the pandemic. “It is actually based on our lives since Coronavirus pandemic,” she says.

Highlighting questions concerning globalisation, consumption and market culture, Dike depicts formal and technical approaches to global issues that remain unresolved — problems that present themselves in a new guise under the lights of COVID-19.

“The pandemic pointed out to me that these various concerns are not discrete issues that impact single societies. Rather they are all interconnected and world effecting. They constitute an impasse that must be worked through,” says the sculptor whose forte now is installation art.

Through her work, she signifies the collective experience of quarantine and isolation, inequities surrounding sanitation and health, recent histories of racial and political upheaval, and the exploitation of natural resources and human labour.

The show questions a lot of prejudices and leaves the answers to the viewer, who is turned between two worlds.

Beyond the pandemic, the show journeys between space and time — the distance between the country’s sovereign emergence in the 1960s in comparison to its current medical and political framework as seen in The Luxury of Distance: Between Empathy and Apathy, 2021.

Dike asks metaphorically, “how do we observe social distance in a ‘face-me-I-face’ accommodation… where about eight people share one room?”

In Panoramic Meditation On: Trade, Capitalism, and Dispossession, 2021, a large-scale black-and-white panoramic installation, Dike combines archival images and photographs taken by her at markets in Lagos.

The work uses the panoramic format to suggest the passage of time and a macro perspective on the centrality of marketplaces to African life worlds — both historically and in the present. Here, ‘centrality’ cuts in multiple directions, speaking not only to the overwhelming dependence that many Africans have on markets for acquiring imported everyday necessities, but also the global dependence on “Africa as a market,” a site for both the pernicious extraction of natural resources that ultimately enrich the lives of societies in the Global North, and a virtual dumping ground for expired or secondhand products.

With recent images taken at Ladipo spare parts market, the panorama emphasises through its content and composite form the ways in which consumer markets are filled with everyday materials associated with repair and re-engineering.

“The work offers a subtle and optimistic metaphor for “putting things back together,” whether in the current climate of pandemic, or, historically, in the wake of the aftermath of Biafran war where the Igbos were given just 20 pounds to start life again after confiscation of their accounts by the Nigerian government,” she says.

Consumer goods found in some images, appear in the three-dimensions in the form of large totems, while fiberglass masks (in assorted of fleshtone colours) stand tall on metal armatures and appear before the photographic panorama.

Dike says, “I include both the totems and masks as a way of linking the histories of exchange and exploitation suggestion by the market display with current debates surrounding the looting and repatriation of cultural artifacts from Africa, specifically Benin Bonzes and Ife sculptures.”

The Reckoning (2021) is another mixed media installation. This installation consists of hundreds of black batons, of the sort used by police officers, each placed into a single slot within a large grid structure. The batons symbolise at once police violence and tools of resistance, and their formal placement within the gridded armature is meant to evoke the countless black bodies that have been slotted into the dark and cold refrigerators of morgues following lethal conflict and instance of violent police misconduct.

Many of the batons are adorned with tags bearing the names of Nigerian and black American subjects whose death in recent years have sparked outrage and grassroots organising including BlackLivesMatter and EndSARS. The work is both a memorial to those who have perished and a call to continue to struggle, resist, and reckon with the systemic racist violence and inequities wrought upon black bodies in Africa and the world over.

Unlike her massive installations, which explore urban space and infrastructure, Building Blocks of Desire and Consumption takes up the natural environment and technology as keys points of investigation.

“With this work, I wanted to use the similar colours of both the traditional Uli palette and the hues of rare earth minerals to advance a two-part critique of the role of natural and indigenous resources in the production of consumer technologies like cellphones, laptops, and other gadgets. Technological advances depend on the ceaseless and violent depletion of resource reserves on the continent, this depletion comes at the expense of not only the land, but also human beings given not only the necessity for cheap and exploited labor, but also the various forms of pollution involved in the extraction of these resources,” Dike reveals.

For Residues of Provoked Dissent I-IV , 2021 “mixed media on aluminum”, she was drawn to the discarded, torn, and tattered residual forms of campaign posters, which are often torn up or exchanged during and after political rallies and protests.

As with other works in this show, “I was interested in exploring how to preserve and re-present this detritus, which for me symbolises not only political promises but also the vast amounts of waste and malfeasance that underwrite the political process in Nigeria,” she confesses.

Ashes beyond the masses (2021 Spray paint on Aluminum) is a diptych. This diptych is inspired by the mass cremations in India following the tragic effect of the second COVID-19 wave. From an aerial perspective, using spray paint on aluminum, the ember orange and smokey grey shades are symbolic of the transitioning of life where ashes turn to dust; while the abstract composition is used as an attempt to signify both the beauty and the fragility of life, and also offers a metaphor of peace through its light and spacious aesthetic.

The Luxury of Distance: Between Empathy and Apathy, 2021 mixed media installation

This installation draws parallels between the promises of modern sanitation infrastructures in Nigeria during the 60s and 70s, and the present state of the country’s inadequate healthcare system and water facilities.

The work consists of seven pristine white hand washing basins, each situated atop white rectangular plinths.

The plinths, evoking the form of bodies, are neatly organised into a grid dictated by white tape applied to the Art space’s floor—tape that evokes social distancing guidelines found in public spaces in Nigeria and throughout the world.

“With the basins filled with shiny gold appropriated water taps and situated below suspended gold-sprayed bottles of hand sanitiser, I conceived the overall installation in order to raise questions about the efficacy of social distancing practices in the Global South, the scarcity of sanitation resources, and the inadequacies of local governance to ensure the health and safety of the nation,” Dike says.

In A Kindred Lament to Quarantine (2021), mixed media installation attempts to model and reconstruct a history of modern health culture in Nigeria, focusing on the aesthetics of sixties-era hospital wards and their visual correspondence to contemporary spaces designed for quarantine.

Bringing together salvaged and appropriated vestiges of hospital interiors, the work consists of two antique hospital beds closed off with bespoke tulle curtains.

This combined with other mnemonic devices related to health and the passage of time lends the installation an elegiac tone suggestive of memorials and monuments to the millions of people who succumbed to the coronavirus. “I wanted to create something light, both in its colour and material composition, something that’s suggestive of the passage of time. I want visitors to enter the ward, consider the instruments and their history, and to question the realities and inadequacies of the health infrastructure in not only Nigeria but across the globe, inadequacies that were recently brought to light in the way of the pandemic. My motivation for making the work stem largely from the question — when and how does one use art to honour the lives lost and the courageousness of medical workers and loved ones even as the pandemic—or its effects— are likely be with us for the foreseeable future.”