By Toni Kan
Lemi Ghariokwu looks like a school boy despite the fact that he is coasting into his sixth decade.
But the boyishness is obviously a good thing and so very evident in the new works he is showing presently at Didi Museum. The exhibition, put together by Bloom on behalf of Lemi Ghariokwu and curated by Ugoma Adegoke, co-founder of the LifeHouse, is proceeding under the title Art’s Own Kind.
It showcases Ghariokwu’s works spanning over three decades to the present. Ugoma, by her curatorial choice, makes it possible for the younger generation not familiar with Ghariokwu, the artist and album cover maestro, to undertake a quick historical tutorial, if you will.
Ghariokwu has achieved iconic status as an artist, a self-taught artist, on the basis of his talent and prodigious output (over 2,000 album covers, 26 of those for Fela) just as Fela did with his music.
He acknowledges Fela’s influence in his art and career allowing proudly that he went through “the University of Kalakuta.”
Born in Agege, Lagos in 1955, Lemi met Fela and through his cover artworks for the Aftobeat legend changed the way we look at album covers. His art was subversive, political, satirical, erotic without being salacious and riotous. It was colourful and crowded depicting through his peculiar visual arrangement the disorderly conurbation that is Lagos and Nigeria.
There was a perspicacity that indicated that he was in tune with the music and the message. His art was didactic in many cases, but it was a robust marriage of music and message and it must have struck a chord because Lemi has put his signature touch and name on Album covers for musician as diverse as Fela, Bob Marley, The Mandators, Orits Wiliki and wait for it, R&B legend, Tuface.
While the artworks on show span over 3 decades, it is still easy to see that the more things change the more things remain the same. The medium may have changed and borrowed from the new digital reality but the mind of the man is still discernibly afro-centric and pan-African. The message hasn’t changed much, which is not so much a comment on Lemi but on the continent we live in. Most of the satiric barbs of his visual works from years ago are, sadly, still relevant today as if they were painted just the day before.
Afro-centricity , pan-africanism and revolutionaries are big issues with Lemi and you can see that clearly from the subject of his portraits. Mandela, Malcom X, Fela , Bob Marley, Achebe, Obama, etc. There may be no image of Marcus Garvey but you can bet he is surely on Ghariokwu’s mind.
He has made the transition from the past to the present in grand style. His works for this exhibition are delineated across three lines: “Vintage Lemi” predominated by earlier works in acrylic, poster colour as well as pen and ink on paper; Axiomatic Expressions with works which, as the exhibition brochure says, have “poignant social messages” and AfroPop Series, which feature mixed media works.
These are the works that will transport Lemi’s work and vision into the 21st century. He agrees easily that he has to find a foothold in the new. “I have to be relevant and it is not easy but with the Afro Pop series I am doing something new. Which is your favourite?” he asks with a boyish gleam in his eyes.
What Lemi has achieved with the portraits done up in an impressive mix of materials is amazing. He has borrowed from digital photography, thrown in a dash of early pop art influences and given it a twist with the cut and paste effect. This is like photoshop high on something potent.
Collectors were not just effusive in their praise, the works sold fast.
True art endures and pleases across time while the very best artists are marked by their ability to adapt and stay relevant. This exhibition makes it clear; Lemi Ghariokwu is truly one of the greats.
The exhibition, Arts Own Kind ran from May 25 to 30 at the Didi Musuem.
Music Joins Mbang’s Repertoire
The dance ensemble of Dance Doc Ini Mbang recently expanded to include music after years of being synonymous with dance. This was revealed by the all-round entertainer who dropped his first video tagged “Juices in the Sky” last year. Directed by Squareball, it marked Mbang’s entry into the rock and roll genre. Already, it has earned him a new title in the South-Southern part of the country, and for Mbang, who has featured on notable dance shows as a judge, balancing dance and his rock and roll genre is a pleasing problem.
“I do rock n roll and I’m called the Prince of Rock n Roll,” the Akwa Ibom indigene said. “Dance plays a very major part in my stage performances. In most cases I dance as I sing.”
A school tour has also joined his present balancing act. Mbang who concluded a spelling competition named after his dad earlier this month said the Brandiny and Friends Akwa Ibom Tour is a career talk to encourage students to strive for their best in every area of life.
To make this a reality, he has visited schools in company of Eyo of MTN Project Fame, Bobby Friga, I-ma, Ovie of 2479ja.TV, Eketeret Umanah of the Akwa Ibom Ministry of Information and other notable individuals. Their words of encouragement are capped with free concerts.
“The school authorities were very receptive while the students want us to come back next term because they loved the whole experience,” he added.
These activities precede the full launch of his first album in October. Already, another single “You’ve Been Used and I’m Sorry” is in the offing while his “Juices in the Sky” video is in line for five different awards. The owner of B-Hive Entertainment said it was all by design as he aims to make his rock and roll brand popular among listeners.