Orry Shenjobi deepens Nigeria’s pensive socio-political narrative in Beauty Within
Orry Shenjobi is not a familiar face in Nigeria’s exhibition circuit, however, she is an artist with abundant gifts. As a trained product designer from the University of Leeds, her approach to ‘subjects’ is scientifically calculated.
Her first show, Beauty Within The Struggle, which held from December 18 to 24, 2020 at Angels and Muse Art Gallery, Lagos, will remain in the memory.
In two days of opening and with just 13 works, she had nine red stickers.
The Creative Director of Studio Orry, Shenjobi, in the exhibition, proved that she was a storyteller. She used mixed materials to capture the depth of every individual’s identity.
In Beauty Within The Struggle, her figures smile and grin and frown and laugh, and struggle all the way to eke a living and make a meaning out of life. The works are not only inspirational, but realistic.
Born in London, and raised in Lagos, both cities influence her interrogation of the mélange of cultures in heterogeneous populations through her unique Nigerian lens.
Shenjobi’s debut solo showcases a collection of mixed media paintings and photographs. The work in this collection offers a chance to experience stories captured around Lagos, a majority of which are from the shantytown of Makoko, located on the Lagos lagoon.
Her curated pieces tell the beautiful story of Nigerians and their amazing resilience in the face of unconventional situations.
Every character is imagined and every setting is made-up. She creates her worlds and people there in, leaving her audience to figure out — the beauties and the struggles of life.
Orry’s universe has no answers, no end questions, just visual stories to lose yourself in. Everything about the 13 works is that they are intense, absorbing and overwhelming. They lift out of the canvas or canvases to dialogue with you and partake in the pensiveness of Nigeria’s socio-political narrative.
Even if you didn’t know it, you’d immediately perceive the intimacy between the works and the audience.
She conveys a sense of vibrancy and photorealism through her distinct layering and texturing of surfaces, which emphasising human complexity and vulnerability.
Watchful, vibrant and profound, the works exude empathy. Her process of working directly on photographs makes her paintings as close to reality as possible. She creates what could be described as unique characters, whilst still allowing viewers to be in the captured scenes.
Shenjobi, through her works, highlights the diverse challenging circumstances experienced by people living in Makoko. She takes her viewers through a journey of exploration into popular captures, natural settings and people in their true state of mind despite the overwhelming hardship.
Through her vast collection of media pieces, which comprise an integration of painting and photography, she interrogates the theme of hope.
“I hope to explore the depths of individualistic identity – the connections between society and self, whilst using prevalent social issues as a backdrop,” she says.
“From the everyday lives of the unheard, to the shared struggles of a collective, I capture these moments. By exploring the myriad of hopes, dreams and fears of said individuals, I emphasise a sense of unity in uniqueness among these narratives. And this concept of unified individuality is made apparent in my work.”
There are so many narratives, emotions and actions happening in the 13 works on show that it’s almost impossible to take it all in. And that’s before you even start thinking about the actual art of it. There’s so much to see, so much to say and so much to analyse.
In Shakara irun didi (102 x 69 cm), a mixed media, there is an aggressive motion as the canoe glides gently, shimmering with glee across the murky waters. The work evokes a certain sense of peace and tranquility. The viewer is left adrift in figuring out the emotions of the canoe paddler and the woven hair.
From the beaded hair to the canoe itself, Shenjobi nudges everybody to seek encore in life, even as humanity traverses the waters.
This message is also reflected in Baba Mutun ‘Cool Guy’, 91 x 51cm. Religion is eye of the camera through which the mixed media is gleaned. The image of seated Islamic clerics looms very large. They are calm and collected in communal discussion as they prepare for prayers. Despite the different garbs and ages, there is an undisputable sense of unity, indicative of strength in these clerics.
In Anelechi, 91 x 122cm, another mixed media, Shenjobi unveils a soul piercing and all-absorbing work. It is innocence unbridled. “A child’s gaze is unlike any other. It is curiosity unending. Most of all, it is stillness, within, which lies the promise of a better tomorrow,” she says. “In a casual reversed stance whilst moving forward, the young man faces what’s to come with a hardened confidence. He trusts the waters to lead him to where he’s meant to be.”
The artist also celebrates the Chibok girls in Bring Back Our Girls. The work rechoes the solidarity campaign that called for the release of girls from who are still being held. Although divided by ethnicity and religion, the movement, even if for just a moment, united the nation to take a stand. The mixed media piece, 91 x 61 cm, looks at the relationship between the message and the messenger.
Another work that elicits attention is Boys Who Play. As with the accentuated colours amidst bleak grays, blacks and whites, Shenjobi reflects childhood innocence. She reveals that playful liveliness and youthful exploration will always abound where as many as two children congregate in an area. No matter where they may be, ‘boys must be boys.’ The mixed media work is 102 x 51 cm.
The Funky Bunch, 102 x 76 cm is another attempt to reflect on childhood innocence. Orry states that it is “one of my personal favourites, these five, their youthful aloofness highlighted in uniformed style and colour, are cool and collected as they glide across the murky waters in an unmanned canoe with no destination.”
According to the Gallery statement, “the objective of this exhibition is simple to highlight the beauty found within the challenging circumstances by exploring the stories and perspectives of the unheard. It is for this reason that Makoko was chosen. With its various media coverage and location right opposite one of the longest and busiest bridges in Africa, its inhabitants are seen yet not heard due to their symbolic isolation from society-as we know it, Often heralded as Lagos’ quintessential slum, the narratives surrounding Makoko and its inhabitants are by and large those of poverty, suffering and despair, with a surgical focus on the populace’s survival.”
The Gallery notes, “this exhibition is motivated by people. Regardless of socio-economic or political conditions, there is always an unfailing liveliness that buzzes through the city’s streets, indicating the people’s resilient hearts. Despite often facing overwhelming adversity, their sheer happiness and adaptability aids in making apparent one truth.”
The statement continues, “life, with its peaks and troughs, is a beautiful journey and all we can do is move forward. In this act of striving-forward, in plowing through uncomfortable experiences and learning from mistakes, we develop and bloom. We become. But we also should not forget that even amidst difficulty, the beasty of life still abounds.
“However, upon further exploration of the community with open eyes, I could feel the same lively buzz through the community as I do on the city streets; the children, played joyfully, the men laughed heartily amongst themselves, and the women traded with lively determination, antithetical to the described feelings of hopelessness often I depicted by contemporary representations. Despite the very critical living conditions, they are still able to live, to thrive and to love. With this, my goal became clear: to depict the life and camaraderie of the community to portray a fresh perspective. I aim to bring to light this beauty, informing my audience of life and hope that abounds amidst difficulties.
“Like a boat in the face of a storm or calm, life is a turbulent journey. Nigerians being I the most resilient of all, find the strength to pick ourselves up, learn, grow, and continue to move forward. This ultimate declaration of life is beautiful in its purest form.”