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Self-generated Motifs… Strength Of Adenugba’s Works


Maiden Dance, one of Adenugba’s works.

Maiden Dance, one of Adenugba’s works.

Between a choice in globalisation and identity, individual artist’s vulnerability is constantly fueled by contemporary period. But painter, Bimbo Adenugba digs into archive to bring old motifs and signs into what he describes as “self-generated” motifs, which strengthens his identity.

Striving to be global appears to have led quite a number of artists to challenge some norms, for example, questioning the tradition of such label as ‘African artist’.

It is quite complex how identity is becoming an issue at a period when African art is making a gradual inroad into the international art market. While the west has started recognising art from the continent for its uniqueness, some artists prefer to hide their African identity.

“On identity, I believe that creativity has a universal language,” Adenugba says during a chat at Universal Studios of Art, National Arts Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos. “But motifs and designs are unique to African artists, depending on the culture.”

He notes that Africans are unique in language, art and fashion, which “are natural aspects of us.” He therefore warns on the negative side of globalisation. “We must be aware of systemic re-colonisation of Africa through art, fashion and music.”

The African identity, he insists, are too natural to hide such that “no matter how much you try to deny your roots, it will always show in one’s theme as an artist.”

The artist whose paintings, are mostly of city themes has found more inspiration to boost his visual vocabulary of self-generated motifs in the adire prints produced at the popular Itoku town, Abeokuta, Ogun State, South west Nigeria. He however cautions that his self-generated motifs are based on “my philosophy as an artist.” His work is quite a mix of ancient and contemporary signs and motifs that represent the artist’s notion of a creative borderless enterprise, within a modest tolerant of globalisation.

Modern and contemporary Nigerian art spaces have been populated with movements such as ulism, onaism and of recent, araism, among others. Clearly, in most cases, the artists who claim to have ‘invented’ such styles or techniques usually christen the kind of art. So, what is the name of Adenugba’s self-generated motifs? Basically, he draws his art philosophy from a motivational statement by popular painter, late Gani Odutokun (1946 -1995).

“I like to leave the naming to those whose business it is to document art,” he says, drawing from the late artist’s words. “During his last exhibition in Lagos, Odutokun told me that ‘as an artist, all you do is just work and work, and leave followers or critics to classify your work.”

The demand in creativity is such a huge one that self-documentation could be a distraction to artists. Among such demand, basically, is that “art is a process of giving birth, leading to the work having a life of its own after birth.” The process of creating art and the eventual birth as well as the growth – taking a life of its own – appears to have drawn the line of contemporaneity, in what used to be a liberal Nigerian art space.

In fact contemporary art content has become so relative such that some arguments seem to have created confusion between period of practice and the contents of a piece of art. Adenugba is a painter whose work leans towards modernism. But some observers would say he is not a contemporary artist despite practicing in the 21st century and still a generation of post-modernists Nigerian art.

“Every artist is contemporary to the period of practice,” he argues. However, the philosophy of every artist, “not necessarily his age or period of practice” may determine the contents of contemporaneity.

The essence of art or artist’s worth, Adenugba insists, is not to appease the wishes of whoever wants to confine his work or denigrate it in any form. He discloses how experience has shown him to respect his natural calling. “Coming out of school freshly, I wanted to start using enamel like Jackson Pollock. But Rahman Akar of Signature Gallery cautioned me on my sustaining the medium.” Having confined his appreciation of the American painter’s work to mere admiration, the experience, he discloses has thought him to be unique and work according to the dictates of his calling.

“I don’t work to please people, particularly the rigid advocates of contemporary contents. My identity is more important.” He cited the Picasso example of rise to fame as a cubism icon. “Picasso didn’t start with cubism; he travelled through a journey to arrive there. For me, my natural callings determine my direction”.

For an artist who progresses along his “natural calling,” he appears to have found like minds in a professional group, Guild of Professional Fine Artists of Nigeria (GFA), whose foundation members are third generation of Nigerian modernists. The foundation members, who include Biodun Olaku, Bunmi Babatunde, Edosa Ogiugo, Olu Ajayi, Sam Ovraiti, Ndidi Dike, Alex Nwokolo, among others are also a bridge between the old masters and young artists.

Adenugba was among the new inductees of GFA admitted into the professional group in 2013, seven years after the group formally announced its existence. The GFA attraction for Adenugba dates back to over a decade before the formation of the guild. He recalls that, while in his final year at Yaba College of Technology (Yabatech), Lagos, full-time studio artists were hard to come by.

“I rarely knew anyone practicing full-time except Olaku and Edosa, and this was worrisome.” From a distance, he took the two artists who are also alumni of Yabatech “as mentors,” stressing, “I have always wanted to be full-time artist.”

Doing art as a part time job, he stated, was never his calling. “During my internship, I tried to do other things, it just didn’t work. I have not regretted being a full-time artist.” The formation of GFA, he noted, is a boost to professional fine art practice in Nigeria. “For example, young lawyers coming out of law school already know the direction of their professional career”, and argued, “GFA, potentially, has a similar structure like that of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), to give hope to artists and others who may want to become artists in future.”

In 2007, when Adenugba had his solo art exhibition titled Living Experience held at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos, he described himself as “art journalist.” At the exhibition structural disharmony in most part of the third world, due to inadequate physical planning, particularly in Lagos, was depicted in Adenugba’s 48 x 54 inches, oil on canvas work entitled After the Rain. But the cluster of buildings fading into horizon and complemented by the foreground activities as the artist recreates them on canvas however unearths some splendour out of squalour of the city.

Eight years after, he has been consistent in his choice of themes. The toga of art journalist was based on the artist’s themes about documentation of streetscape in Lagos. Till date, Adenugba has more reasons to step up his kind of art in rescuing memory of the fast disappearing old buildings in Lagos.

As most Nigerians eagerly awaits the inauguration of a new government to be led by Muhammadu Buhari, quite a number of artists have been reeling out expectations from the much-promoted and expected ‘change’ era. Government agencies in the arts and culture sector, according to Adenugba, have never impressed practitioners.

He said, “Given the huge potential in arts and culture, I hope that the federal government, from May 29, will give artists hope”. He urged the incoming government to improve the state of security to enhance tourism. In fact, Adenugba argues, “Government is yet to realise how much of huge revenue it is losing in tourism until it starts to take security serious and get the benefit of patronage.”

Adenugba is a former illustrator at Classic and Hearts magazines, and had exhibited in a number of group shows. Such exhibitions included ECOWAS Day, and Salon, both in Pretoria, South Africa. His last group show, ‘Bringing Hope and Changing Lives’ was at Didi Museum, Victoria Island, Lagos.

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