Two years after, Orara returns, Standing Tall
Zinno Orara is making a major come back to the art scene with his show, Standing Tall. The show, which opened yesterday, will be on for two weeks at the Tera Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos. He is exhibiting 45 major works.
With 15 solo and over 30 group shows, Orara is obviously one of the most exhibited artists of his generation.
Aside from Nigeria, the artist, who is currently experimenting with heavy textures and flat colours, has exhibited in South Africa, United Kingdom, the U.S., France, Sweden, Germany and Holland.
He had a major setback in life, when Adaora, the mother of four, was diagnosed of cancer in 2007 and died on December 21, 2014.
Speaking on how he started his journey of painting and drawing, Orara said, “My parents wanted me to be a medical doctor but I started my life drawing on everything I see. All I wanted was to draw, eventually I lost my dad very early, he died at 36 and I was just eight years old.”
He added, “I made a good grade at the Government College, Ughelli. Midway into my secondary education, I won a national award in fine arts. When I got back home to my mom and announced the feat, she pretended she didn’t hear me because she wanted something else.”
Orara continued, “at that point, there was no one to point to. It was just a dream I had. Eventually, I read about a few foreign artists and that was the encouragement. At that point in my secondary school, my fine art teacher was the poorest, the only one who didn’t have a car, so, there was nothing to look up to, but somehow, I had an A1 in Fine Art, Economics, Government, Geography, and others. I had admission to study Geography and Regional Planning at the University of Benin to read, but somehow art was the only thing I wanted.
“I met a friend who was studying Fine Art at the Auchi Polytechnic, who convinced me to move over there that I was even better than him. So, I got the admission to study Fine Art at the Auchi Polytechnic. I went through school and my records are still there, still unbroken till date.”
He added, “the journey was very smooth. I left school and I broke into the scene and it was magical in the early 90s. People used to apply to galleries and art house then, but they called me to come and exhibit, since then there has been no looking back. It has been from one show to another.”
According to Orara, “during my youth service, in 1988, we had a national exhibition in Abuja and President Ibrahim Babangida went round and he told me not to look for any white-collar job. Another big artist told me the same thing and that gave me a lot of gut, I left school and I started practice.”
Until 2007, his career ascendancy had been like a joke, but tragedy struck. “My late wife was diagnosed of cancer and we battled that for seven years and that brought me to my knees. I lost everything I worked for. I had four little kids — 10, nine, six and two years old — with no brother or sister. So, I was caring for the kids and sick wife. Everything I gathered through hard work — Houses, businesses, cars, landed properties — slipped away.”
He said, “Adaora died in my presence and in the presence of the four kids. It’s not an experience I wish my worst enemy. While she was sick, it got to a point where I could not do anything. You need to be in a good mood to face the canvass and express yourself. It got to a point I sold my work so cheap because I didn’t want people to know about the story.
“After she passed on, I was blank. It got so bad that my first daughter didn’t talk for some months; I now began to battle that again. It got so bad that I wasn’t feeling anything. I don’t know where the strength came from to survive the turbulence, but I’m so thankful to God. I’m fully back.”
He said, “the show I had two years ago was to celebrate her. I had a woman that was near perfect, everything I did as a young man in my early 20s, she was my strength. It has been difficult to even date any lady since her departure.”
On the exhibition, he said, “my birthday is on November 17 and it will be 30 years of studio practice. I’m celebrating a major comeback.”
On what he has been doing since the death of his wife, Orara said, “In 2017, a couples of friends came to meet me that Adaora is gone and I must move on. I told them I want to, but I can’t, so after we marked the fourth year of her demise, I sat down and I decided that I had to move on. I wouldn’t say the tragedy shaped my work and I can’t say it doesn’t shape it. 10 people can see one work and read 10 different meanings to it.”
He added, “if I don’t decide to start my life again, nobody will start it for me. So, in January, I made a conscious decision. And if you check the theme of this exhibition, Standing Tall, it’s positive.”
Explaining the concept behind The Bridge II, one of the works being exhibited, he said, “we need to build bridges in life.”
For Friends Even At Sunset, he said, “there are some friends that will stand by you no matter what happens. I have only two friends that stood by me.”
The message in the work titled, The Bridge Builder, is more on the positive side, you see the builder fading away but his works are still there. When you build a bridge, it is meant to outlast you. There are things that Awolowo did, even if the person is fading away, his works are still there.
On A Stitch In Time, he said, “the work is inspired by Nigerian roads. You see a small pothole, and you leave it, but if you patch it immediately, it won’t get that bad. Once there are little issue, we must begin to solve them. If we dwell on some things, we might never see the gain of life. I believe that no matter what is happening in Nigeria, it will get better some day but I’m going to tell the truth how it is right now. The show will be on for about two weeks but officially, it will be open for 10 days.”