*** Art in Disguise ***

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Nigerian Artists: Brace up for the Challenges Ahead in this Period of Fuel Subsidy.

No businessman would delibrately invest his money where there are serious economic crises which offer little or no opportunities of getting back his/her returns (gains). Since 1960, Nigerians have fought series of fights to bring the nation to its present glory. For example,between 1967-1970 Nigerian faced a terrible civil war that almost divided the country.Although the war brought a serious set back in many folds to the progress of the nation, we sail over it. This was followed by the era of military juntas when we were brutally ruled for more than three decades, yet Nigerians collectively fought their way to democracy.Asides from that, there have been series of tribal, cultural, and religious wars which we have fought and won or are still fighting.By the grace of God, we will win them all.

In view of that the current fuel subsidy crisis should not be viewed by Nigerians especially practising artists as a delibrate plan by the government to throw citizens into utmost hard conditions; rather it should be considered as a sacrificial fight to better our economy in the near future. The effect of corruption on the nation has earn us underdevelopment for a long period of time. The result of this is unemployment, increase in crime, poverty,and high rate of insecurity among others. We can not ask our leaders questions to answer until we support their plans to better our nation. When they fail, we can now do so in relation to the support we have given them.

Artists in Nigeria have faced alot of problems in their practising career. While some of them resorted to treating their main profession as a sub in order to make ends meet, others have completely abandoned the art profession in the face of undiscribeable economic hardships which even threatens their lives. Ironically, the art practising environment is waxing stronger amidst the terrible practising conditions of Nigerian artists. This is attributed to the fact that many artists have come to terms with the value and role art has played (and is still playing) in the Nigerian society.In a sense, the art that does not sell is probably an embodiment of powerful ideas that can forcifully ignite a positive change and consequently moves the society forward. Hence, the value of art is not solely on how much an artist earns for a living, but somehow lies in the hidden messages which can be meaningfully interpreted for a desired social change.

With the present fuel crisis, artists would definitely fill the weight on their practising career in varoius measures. The decision to quit lies in the weak, while the mind to overcome this present challenge remains the choice of a true artist. With or without fuel subsidy, let the art survive.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

United Nations’ Security Role in Ivory Coast is Commendable.

As a culture vulture (devotee of art), I trust in soft diplomacy more than hard diplomacy. I believe that, more can be done through peaceful means in solving a problem or addressing an issue that threatens to bring war or conflict between different interest groups in a country or region. Base on that, I consider any form of international diplomacy (UN mediation, negotiation, peacekeeping team) that warrants the use of ‘extreme coercive measures’ like using arms to over-throw a government in order to install another leader as a failed diplomatic mission. Such measures often claim innocent lives, destroy properties and contribute to taking away the peace of people in the society, all in the name of collateral damages. It is on this note that UN, AU, ECOWAS should be commended for averting a sheer civil war in Ivory Coast. Although, from December 2010 to April 2011 that Gbagbo’s leadership was finally incapacitated, lives were lost, properties were destroyed and peace went into comma; however, the magnitude of damage can not be compared to what Ivoirians could have experienced if the issue resulted in a complete civil war.
Within this period of unpredictability, UN forces in Ivory Coast protected President Quatara in the ‘Hotel of Refuge’ (The Golf Hotel) till his time of glory finally comes. In this way, it was difficult for government soldiers loyal to Gbagbo to access the hotel and cause harm to him (President Quatara). Also, the series of meetings organized by these bodies did not seek out-right measures of pushing Gbagbo out of power even though he was an expired president who just wanted to cause confusion unjustifiably. Instead, the change of signatory to West African Development Bank, cutting trade relations and continuous visits to Gbagbo by other African leaders, making him to see reasons and handover power were diplomatic measures that were meant to exhaust his pride and ego and eventually deflate his pomposity in favour peace.
The expiration of Gbagbo’s claim to presidency, which was militarily influenced by French soldiers, in this case, can not be said to be glorious no matter what. This is because, the set-back that Gbagbo has brought to Ivory Coast’s economy, the lives lost, the properties destroyed, the post psychological trauma that people are still experiencing are far greater than the mere Gbagbo’s exit. Rather, UN, AU, and ECOWAS should be commended for their steadfastness to ensure that peace return Ivory Coast within a short time.
At this point, one can proudly say that African politics is currently under-going changes that will eventually make the continent an endearing place to live, work or visit by foreigners without second thought. The role of United Nations (UN) is to continue to support this change for transformation to take place.
From monarchical rule, Africa finds itself in the hands of colonial rule. After colonialism was displaced, military rule exercised its dominance in most parts of the continent. The coming of democracy brought another challenge. Most leaders who got power through democratic means were not ready to welcome a new democratic government. In this way, they prefer to violently oppose any political group that criticized their policies and instead stay in power for as long as its takes. This phenomenon led Africa into a stage of “power sharing”. In this way, if a leader refuses to let go, power should be shared between the ruling party (the serving president) and the opposition party in order to foster peace among the groups. The common ground for establishing a power sharing government was to let peace rain. With the successful deposal of Gbagbo by French soldiers (even though they claim otherwise) with the support of UN, AU and ECOWAS in Ivory Coast, it can be assumed that the era of power sharing has also come to an end. Coupled with the political development in North Africa, it is clear that, Africa is going through politically refined process that after it is complete, it shall never be the same again.
All that United Nations (UN) needs to do in this process is to offer continuous support to other African nations who desire and are working toward a positive change to better the lives of their populace. On the whole, the role of UN in Ivory Coast is commendable. At least, other African leaders thinking of power sharing deal after losing elections will take note.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Art of Recycling Waste

One of the biggest problems of developing countries especially in Africa is how to manage all kinds of waste products which have posed a threat/harm to the lives of people in the society. Take Nigeria for example, there are many streams and rivers in the Niger delta region that have seriously been damaged by the constant release of liquid waste from activities of oil companies. On the other hand, it is common to walk in major Nigerian cities like Lagos, Kaduna, Ibadan, Aba, etc and find heaps of refuse dumps which composed of solid waste as well as discarded materials like used-polythene bags, empty cans, e-waste products (like used recharged cards), vehicle/engine parts, and so on. The gathering point of some of these solid waste can be anywhere irrespective of whether it is near a major market, or close to a residential area.
Recently, new forms of artistic expression, most especially in sculpture have emerged and many artists have resorted to using discarded materials and recycling them, artistically, into beautiful art works. This form of art, essentially, focuses on the conversion of discarded materials into a more environmental friendly products that can be used either at homes or in public places. European artists like Subodh Gupta (“Very Hungry God”, 2006) and Michel Tuffery (“Pisupo Lau Afe”, 2000) are among individuals who have produced works in this direction. In Africa, the works of El Anatsui is a good example of this form of art. Anatsui’s “Peak Project” consists of used milk can-lids of about 3-foot high forming an anthills’ composition. The work also reflected, symbolically, a pattern of consumption which often generates trashes that are common in developing countries. It is against this background that the works of Anthony S. Ekpe, a young and vibrant contemporary Nigerian artist, genuinely caught my attention.
The works of Anthony are not only aesthetically pleasing but also environmentally meaningful (friendly). The artist usually move about collecting everyday waste materials like empty beverage containers from households, or visit waste bins and garbage heaps. After gathering a sizable number (quantity) of such materials required to start and finish a work, he will make sketches of the art forms he intends to create. According to the artist, “the conceptual formation of ideas for the art forms preceded sketches from model diagrams, photographs, and work actualization. The images sought for could be animals, human figures, mask or natural forms”. This is latter proceeded by taking mould of the image to be constructed after which the artist starts beating, compressing and doing repousse as well as joining (welding) the partitions of the entire work into an ideal shape.
Given this medium of exploration, Anthony employed stylization and abstraction as basic styles in rendering various sculptural forms of artistic standard. The “Trumpeter”(2009), for instance, the artist used iron rods and constructed anatomical frame on which the red compressed cans were selectively welded to cover parts of the work to achieve the shape/form of a person blowing trumpet. In this way, other parts of work are neatly covered while others are deliberately left, exposing the frame in a stylized manner.
The work is significant in two ways. First, the waste (discarded) materials used by Anthony in making the work qualify it (the “Trumpeter”) an environmental friendly art piece. This has contributed (no matter how little) positively in addressing part of the environmental issues which Nigeria is facing currently. Secondly, the image captured by the artist has cultural connotation to the lives of people in northern Nigeria which is the immediate practicing environment of the artist. Hence, it can said that the artist made use of trash (waste materials) in projecting the culture of the people in Northern Nigeria; a view which might sound controversial but realistically unassuming. Base on these significance, it is therefore, safe to conclude that, the “Trumpeter” is a work that is not only environmental friendly, but also cultural friendly since it portrays an image that is commonly associated with the popular culture of the people.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Africa, a Masquerade from Heaven

In an art historical field work, there is always a tendency for one to experience a strong or powerful work of art that will, unconsciously, threatens to redirect the purpose of his/her research on a given topic. This was the exact way I felt after experiencing “Masquerade from Heaven (2009)”, an installation work done by Gerald Chukwuma and exhibited in Goethe Institut, Lagos, in December, 2009. Before that time, I have come across a number of phrases describing Africa as “a God forsaken land”, “a black continent” and so on. My contention on most of these phrases hinged on the fact that, none gives a desired picture of the continent and her people. For example, calling Africa “a black continent” means that people in the Maghreb states are visitors and the sub-saharan states with black population are the real owners of Africa. Although the continent is obviously the root of the black race, calling it “a black continent” does not give a true representation of what Africa is.
Also, if Africa is labeled as “a God forsaken land” probably because of the disasters (wars, diseases, HIV and other forms of crisis) taking place on the continent, that is still not a suitable way of describing Africa. This is because other continents also do experience a fair share of some of these disasters mentioned above, either in natural (as in the case of Japan’s earthquake) or un-natural way (like the civil disturbance/wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestinian etc). Base on these, it will be out of point to say that Africa is the only God forsaken continent in the world. It is in line with such views that “Masquerade from Heaven” find its relevance especially in redefining Africa amidst the controversial views differently held by others about the continent.
The work is an installation art that represents the relationship between Africa and the outside world. The artist make use of compressed empty cans, used recharge cards, pieces of wood, and other light-weight waste materials of varying shapes and sizes, and knitted them together using copper wire. This resulted into a wide multi-colour surface that was neatly tied around a constructed frame of about 6 feet high. The different colours of the materials used were aesthetically pleasing such that, if viewed from a distance, look more like an interesting mosaic. The design of the installation kept viewers wondering what could be inside the chamber of this motionless masquerade. This is probably the same way Africa is being treated. While many people approached it from the outside, no body knows the true situation of things as actually happening in Africa.
On the whole, the artist considers Africa as a masquerade with evils features like wars, sickness, poverty, corruption; yet the West and so called “first and second” world countries have profound interest in her rich and valuable resources. The work, in a way, revealed something about the negative image of Africa which countries like Nigeria have engaged in active campaign (Rebrand Nigeria- Good people, great nation) to help change the negative beliefs/thoughts stereotypically held against the African continent or people of African origin by the outside world.