‘Exhibiting In Lagos Is A Milestone For Me’
U.K.-based Nigerian artist, Damilola Oshilaja, who is preparing for his first solo exhibition in Lagos says ‘the 21st century artist should be a designer, innovator, objective economist and evolutionary strategist’
As artist and writer
I run Grunge Studio and I also write for Eclectic magazine, which is based in Paris, France. A brief overview of my practice is about 17 years old, mainly based in Western London, and I have exhibited widely across Europe. The primary core activity of my art is painting from which I established an artistic language that I coined the Grunge Art. Grunge art is a progressive 21st century form of art that combines all the basic stripes of art: abstract, figurative. At this point in time, I am in the process of executing probably the largest project I will do till date, which is about having the Lagos and London exhibition simultaneously.
I’m simply a contemporary artist. In Britain, they will refer to me as British artist. I was born there in 1981, but I don’t see myself as either a Nigerian or British artist, I see myself as a world artist. The intention of doing the exhibitions simultaneously in Lagos and London is to consolidate that view and bring both markets through my practice to equilibrium. It will be my first in Lagos, and it’s a milestone for me. The title of the two exhibitions is Landscape Redus; it is essentially my effort to re-interpret the landscape of painting, figuratively, ecstatically and conceptually. The exhibition in Lagos is called Odyssée du chef-d’œuvre in French.
Why is it that European artists are more celebrated than African artists?
Before colonization, Africa had a rich history, and during the advent of colonization when the west advanced on Africa a section of that history was destroyed, including Africa’s arts and culture, architecture, songs and writings. Back then, we didn’t have pen and paper; we had oratory. The advent of colonization came to support the intentions of industrialization in the west because they needed our raw materials. There is a belief in the west that everything Africa knows about art was brought by the west. This is wrong and inaccurate. Our culture is richer and older than the west’s, and that is where I believe the discrepancy comes from.
Black artists are not exotic; they are humans like white artists. I don’t see myself as a special being; I see myself as an ordinary man, who has an insight to produce works. I don’t want to have my shows and work become more valuable and expensive, and at a certain point nobody in Nigeria can afford it. So the point of the show is to match up the economic values, settings and contents of both countries.
What do you think can be done to scale up visual arts in Nigeria to the international standard?
A lot of institutions have emerged over the last eight to 10 years. The last time I was here in 2008, I went to many art galleries and there were quite a few pieces of art. Now I hear that two exhibitions open every week in one gallery or the other. You have Arthouse, which is quite a formidable auction house. These kinds of activities, which show first class art, change the perception of standard and quality of what is coming out of our art. I feel the continuation of this is a good thing and those are the things that will change or remove the discrepancy.
When my exhibitions happen, that will add to it. We have a working opening launch date, which is on October 8, 2015. Obviously, the Lagos exhibition will begin first and the London end will open five days after.
Nigeria has just gone ahead of South Africa as the largest economy in Africa. We have the largest population in Africa; we are effectively the black China and that is significant. There is a problem with the perception of Nigeria. When I was growing up and I said to people that I was Nigerian, the first thing they would say was ‘fraud’ or 419, and I will say to them: do you know who Bernie Madoff is? He was the American swindler convicted of fraud. Up till this moment there is nobody in Nigeria that has done anything to that level. So, let’s call a spade a spade. I am as original as I come; it’s about time that the whole world recognizes that originality.
What comes to your mind when you are working?
I actually don’t think of anything when I am working. I might as well not be there; it’s almost a trance-like experience; all the thought processes, the logistics and thinking is done ahead. So, when I start, it becomes very automatic. I don’t usually develop a rationale over it until after I have completed the work. As a practitioner I am as much a person who is making it, but I am also an audience, because I have to go through that part to get to the end to have the physical work.
How would you compare art appreciation in Africa or Nigeria to Europe?
The fundamental is demand and supply; the art market is a midge market, and it’s all about the relationship between the individual and the artist. The demand for art has increased world over, not just in Nigeria, but also in places like Singapore, Ukraine and so on. The only difference is the price structure. For example, you could have a living artist in Europe selling over a hundred thousand pounds, but I think it will be a while before a living artist in Nigeria sells as much. It’s not impossible; it will happen.
That is part of my mission. I safeguard my creative integrity but I also have an economic objective. Art is a business like any other business. The artist in the 21st century should be a combination of designer, innovator, objective economist and evolutionary strategist, because the trading on art in auction houses and in private sales contributes to the economy of any country.