Ochu, Komolafe in Beautiful: The exposition
From October 13 to 20, 2019, Freedom Park, Lagos was illuminated by full flowering interrogations of beauty under the curatorial direction of Kenii Ekundayo. Titled, Beautiful: The Exposition, the show provided a platform to appreciate what is considered as beauty and what beautiful art pieces look like.
For the eight days that the show held, works exhibited recast, in subtler and somber tones, the subject of beauty, while mapping out a path for the development of aesthetic canons.
The show was a two-part presentation that comprised: An art exhibition, a display of select works of art from private collections and a documentary — Eye of An Artist — that presents interviews with a number of artists across Lagos State on one hand, and a book presentation —Beyond Aesthetics: Use, Abuse And Dissonance In African Art Traditions — by the Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, an enduring art collector on the other.
The artists interviewed in the documentary include, Chief (Mrs.) Nike Monica Okundaye, Professor Peju Layiwola, Muraina Akeem, Ayoola Mudasiru, Ayoola Omovo, Ibe Ananaba, Oliver Enwonwu, Sadiq Williams, Iyunola, Godwin Samuel, Raji Babatunde, Ugonma Chibuzo, Adekile Mayowa, Yusuff Aina Abogunde, Emmanuel Odumade, Abinoro Akporode Collins, Adeojo Oluwaseun and Sylvester Aguddah, while the featured collectors are Professor Soyinka, Mr. Alexander Nwude and Mr. Ifeanyi Orakwue.
The show brought to bear elements that shaped or have shaped an artist’s definition of beauty, ranging from aesthetic compositions to experiential leanings and process, all of which were succinctly presented through the works, the words and collectors’ intervention.
“It is part of a curatorial resolution to shed more light on the artist’s will and at the same time, seeks to ‘repair’ the statement that ‘beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder’ to encompass the role of the artist; thus, becoming ‘beauty lies in the hands of the creator’, who is the artist in this case,” said Ekundayo.
According to her, “the subject of beauty is existential, and so, has been a topic of significance since time immemorial. It has also become a dominant factor in studies of man’s interaction with his environment — treated across discipline such as, philosophy, mathematics, literature, architecture, cosmetology etcetera, which provides alternative (and some, similar) view that posit its crucial definition as a state of value.”
With Chidynma Princess Ochu and Ronke Komolafe standing as the mirror, visitors to the show were exposed to vagaries of lucid, self-explanatory and innocent paintings on canvas.
For Ochu, a realist painter, her major medium of expression was oil on canvas. Mostly known for her explorative and expressive artistic styles where she experiments liberally with diverse media, art, for Ochu, is a never-ending process of expression that has translated her versatility into encapsulating the experiment, development and growth of her style and painterly language. Her works are centred on human affection, family, nature depiction and culture — all achieved from oil, watercolour, acrylic tempera and textural techniques.
Ochu, who holds a Higher National Diploma in General Art painting from the Auchi Polytechnic (2001-06), has participated in several art workshops and conferences, as well as featured in group shows.
Komolafe’s artistic approach, on the other hand, is steeped in the hyperrealism drawing styles, with an infusion of mixed media. The subject of her creation is more, a derivative of her musings. She also tries to capture and relate the beauty of human emotions, drawing lifelike portraits mired in quotidian details and realised by her bringing them to life on layer with charcoal and fabric.
Komolafe began practicing art from a tender age and has continued so, even without any form of training. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from Babcock University (2015). She was also an enrollee in the National Industrial Skill Development Programme (NISDP) 2018 where she took several courses in photography.
Today, she combines photography with her studio practice, which began in 2012.
Komolafe featured in a group exhibition, Phonesic at De Prestige (Red sparrow) Abuja, earlier this year.
The show explored elements that form the basis of the artist’s interpretation of beauty; it excuses external influences (mostly of opinion that conflict with their process and other constraints), by taking into account, the stage of their development, notably, the impact of time, environment and experience, mode of expression and, the will of the artist.
It also suggested that the ascription of the term ‘beautiful’ should be upon the creator, who is the artist in this case, and oppose the saying, “beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.”
In Beautiful: The Exposition, the artists try to create a narrative about beauty, which coalesces with the African definition.
Culture cognoscenti have argued that Western scholars and aestheticians have not always properly appreciated African art and what beauty means to them. They note that African art is not just something created to be hung on a wall and viewed from a distance. African art is utilitarian and an integral part of daily life – the objects have meaning and purpose, which turns them into art.
It’s not art for art’s sake, but rather art for the purpose of living a deeper and more meaningful life with a greater understanding of the world.
A lot of aestheticians and scholars of arts have argued that unlike Western art, African art is so simple and complex at the same time, which makes it difficult for the five elements of African art to capture its real meaning and purpose. They have, however, narrowed these basic elements of African art to the following:
• Resemblance to a human figure for purpose of conveying ideas;
• luminosity representing shiny and unflawed skin;
• youthfulness representing vitality and fertility;
• reserved demeanor representing a person in control; and
• balance and proportion through material choices,
The last element, they note, include ‘balance and proportion and material choices’, and is probably the ‘only element that coincides with Western art elements’. The ‘other four elements are used to describe the arts intuitive, religious and aesthetic value’ to the peoples of the varying African regions.
The five elements of African art define those qualities, which Africans imbue in the pieces in an effort to relate to the seen and unseen world in which they live.
In the words of Soyinka, “aesthetic response, admittedly, are mostly subjective, but even subjectivity involves a baggage of prior encounters, or immersions in tradition that induces instant comparison.”
Ekundayo said: “An exposition see the comprehensive description and explanation of a subject matter, thus, as the theme of this project implies, this exhibition is multi-verse into comprising a display of painting and drawings by two dynamic artists, a documentary featuring 19 artists of diverse extraction and an exclusive on three private collection that all align to present a wholesome view of beauty as understood by the artist.”
For the show, the artist displayed works that spoke on their ‘untainted’ vision of beauty. They created a narrative, which interrogated sub themes such as reality, seen in Of course it perishes, innocence in Looking Good, virtuous in Diligent Palms (mixed media on canvas 91.44cm x 91.44cm, 2019) and Faithful Steward 1 and 11.
The re-valourisation of culture and harmony also plays out in Oneness, another mixed media on canvas 60.96×76.3cm (2018), as well as progression (Effective Development), while the need for unity is dominant in We are one and femininity in Bold, Black and Beautiful I, II, III, the lighting rods of the show.
Bold, Black and Beautiful I, a mixed media on canvas, 101.6cm x 101.6cm (2018), wrestles with the tradition of western history painting and the African tradition of what beauty is. The work essentialises the different aesthetic modes.
The painting is done in different shades of colour, with the eyes and nose almost leaping out of the canvas. The image is striking and objectifying. With eyes as potent as her broad nose and full lips, her head tie is an emblem of her African heritage and sexuality.
However, Bold, Black and Beautiful II is a contrast. Done in red, blue, black and gold, the pretty figure takes a nap after a party session. Her ornaments and clothes are still on. The hue is darkened to stress the moment and so a little light is needed to adjust to twilight.
With compelling, unique views that respond to the questions of what beauty has come to be defined as and how it is actualised their production, the film presents another detailed angle on the artistic process and phases of creation of the interviewed artists.
Chidynma, in her artist statement, said, “Beauty is complex, and it is this intricacy that creates the various simplicities of living. Art is beautiful, universal and timeless; for me, it is a total way of life. My practice is rooted in passion that in turn, shapes my perception of beauty. Idleness does not exist in my world — there is always something to scribble on, thus occupying my mind and my time. That is beauty for me — boundless artistic expression.”
For Komolafe, “through the years of making art, my works have come to reflect emotions in their rawest forms. I witness constantly, exchanges of fake smiles thus, verifying my opinion that people are too frightened to feel, too afraid to stop for a break; and so, I draw out these emotions to allow the viewer see that it is okay for one stop to catch their breath, to reach within and feel. This is because I believe that the true appreciation of beauty does come from within if one cannot be open and accepting of oneself, then beauty can neither be accepted nor appreciated.”