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With new Nigerian conjectures, Edozie interrogates modern slavery

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One of Edozie’s paintings titled, ‘The Last Consignment To Lampedusa’

Mediterranean, the artist George Edozie’s latest paintings and sculptures look at the origin of human trafficking in Africa and indicts the continent’s leaders over the needless deaths of greener pasture seekers along the inglorious routes.
 
Recently, Director-General of National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), Dame Julie Okah-Donli, disclosed that 10,500 emigrants from Nigeria were rescued in Libya. 
   
The figure, she explained, included the 3,500 so far rescued by the Federal Government and over 7,000 by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
   
Known for his stylised figurative paintings until a few years ago when he started producing large scale and aggressive sculptures, Edozie employs bold, visual narratives to address issues of modern slavery with no holds barred imageries. 
   
In his current body of work, showing as , ‘New Nigerian Conjectures’ at the National Museum, Onikan, Lagos, Edozie blames African leaders for this problem.
 
Among his works that highlight the deadly sojourn of African emigrants is, ‘The Last Consignment To Lampedusa’, a painting compartmented into 30 pieces. 
   
In large size of 620 cm x  231 cm, and architectured to three rows, the painting  reverberates the dehumanising treatment allegedly pounded on the asylum seekers at Lampedusa, an Island, south of Italy. 
   
With the artist’s signature of loud primary colours lavished on the paintings, the agonies and lamentations of the victims — who are mostly women — could be heard through the canvas.
   
From a total of seven paintings and three sculptures for the exhibition comes ‘Sojourner-I’, in which Edozie takes viewers direct and bold into the painting, just as the composite explains how the fragile travellers are herded through the cloud of uncertainty. 
   
Again, dashed hopes and wailings of the victims are well captured by the artist, with his strokes of mixed cubism and freestyles. 
   
The exhibition, ‘New Nigerian Conjectures’, which also focuses on recurring deficit of  infrastructures in the artist’s country, is his sixth solo show. 
   
From trans Sahara to Transatlantic, and now Trans Mediterranean, trading in slaves of Africans is about self-enslavery, Edozie argues. 
   
He says the exhibition is not just about highlighting the travails of the travellers, “but looking at the reasons that always make people leave their own country,” in such desperate manner. 
   
It worries the artist that “more than 50 per cent of youths” leaving Nigeria through such routes are from southern part of the country. Edozie takes the blame to what he describes as “enormous power of African leaders.”
   
The youths, he insists, do not fit into the power structure of most African society.  
 
Strangely, the wisdom in the elderly as cherished by most African values appears to have lost its potency, according to Edozie. “When the leaders are too old to lead, youths leave for greener pastures.”
 
Ironically, religious worship centres, he notes, encourage youths to take such brazen and undignified ways out of socio-economic challenges.

He depicts such in a sculpture titled ‘Ikpokuchi’ (calling on God), as it captures intending “migrants who patronise spiritual and worship centres before traveling out of the country”.

He traces the problem back to the Slave Trade era. “It was self-slavery for selling ourselves from then till now”.
 
However, Edozie also leans towards spiritual solutions to resolve the issue of 21 century slavery confronting black Africans.

“The solutions is to say ‘sorry’ to those sold out as slaves” during the era of transatlantic slave trade.
   
Edozie agrees that leadership across political and communal levels have failed the people.

He explains this much in quite a number of sculptures. Among such is a huge size titled ‘Obinka’, which recalls his childhood days in eastern Nigeria.
   
He notes that human relations across ethnic divides, which he grew up with, has been lost over the decades. 
   
‘Obinka’ is about “a tailor known as Ade, a Yoruba man we all loved as a child in the East,” he recalls, adding, “any cloth made by Ade makes one happy, though the designs were always Yoruba, we wore them with pride.”
   
Based in Lagos, Edozie’s last solo show, ‘Shifting the Paradigm’, was hosted by the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, Florida.

The exhibition was listed among the four best shows at the Art Basel Miami 2014.


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