By Dapo Adeniyi
What makes a piece of art distinctive? Or, shall we say, distinguishes the work of an artist in the midst of a collective? Having been to, and through, so many visual arts studios and encountered an assortment of artists in a land endowed with so many talented ones, I can say that, you can’t ever tell in advance except artists who have been in circulation for so long and have registered their peculiarity over time. Linda Adeniyi is one of many young and dashing visual artists bursting out into the boiling pool of contemporary visual arts in Nigeria.
She is definitely one of those on a risky but inescapable journey of self-discovery through experimentation. It is a journey without a compass, whose destination is unpredictable, which is why it is all the more desirable. Those who have braced that distance can look on those setting out and wish them, “Bon Voyage!”
Adeniyi’s application extends over a large spectrum of practice. She has tried her hands on many portraitures from way back as a student of Imo State University, Owerri, where smart pieces of local portraiture provided brisk income to supplement the lean supply of student “pocket money”. She has a thing also with self-portraiting, but just one, howbeit an enchanting one, survives.
Then she delved into the cultural fount of her native Imo State.
Sketching and drawing landscapes, then turning on the local, everyday people; the women’s folk especially, through shared affinities by means of up-growing experiences: drawers of water with upheld water pots, dancers and drummers, you know, the usual visual bric-a-brac that the majority of artists set out with before veering off into even more compelling compositions. That is the point at which that well-contrived style of execution is developed.
She confesses that she has a mixed kind of feeling about acrylic:
“It dries really fast.”
And she is also somewhat afraid of it for the same reason:
“You have to think fast, make up your mind. It doesn’t leave you enough time to apply your idea and change your mind if it doesn’t work out fine as you want it”.
She also says that, oil is more malleable and you can choose your direction easily, miss it and link up somewhere again.
“It’s a bit irritating that it takes forever for oil to dry. That is why I end up many times with mixed media.”
In her contribution to the first “Firebrand” art exhibition of younger but upwardly mobile artists last year, she took what she confesses to be her first big step towards self-actualization. She began to incorporate textile pieces with her paintings. Large parts of human forms were covered with textile materials, which help to simulate the patterns she had begun to make with her oils and acrylic. And that for good reason. The textile as far as she is concerned, makes the feminine inscription a lot more convincing. Her figures are mostly women and females.
This writer is always intrigued by the fact that women artists retain a high level of fascination with female images. The world in the art produced by women seem always to be populated only by women. Is that some kind of protest? Another form of male gender annihilation?
Even so, many male artists are engrossed with feminine figures. Figures as against images. One is reflective and positive, the other exploits the feminine form in order to dwell on it.
Adeniyi had also begun to have an actual foray into the world of fashion.
She’s learned to stitch and to sew, perfecting the art of dress making.
Instead of seeing fashion design as an invading or distracting, opposite practice, she is trying to come to terms with the two: painting and fashion. Many associates have issued warnings that the two don’t go together and that fashion would eventually snuff out the art, but she doesn’t think so. Her artistic sense would somehow find expression in both.
The depressing thing about dress making is that it is not determined by inspiration but, if you like, by perspiration. Things are determined by the flow of customers and what they want. To that extent, it is an inferior art.
With visual art, the producer enjoys greater freedom and far less interference from the viewer. She is usually able to capture her own mood by using the sketchpad and pencil when she felt unable to immediately hit the canvas or the easel. Her latest trend of experimentation which has begun to draw a lot of enthusiastic reaction began on the sketch board.
She had been ruminating, thinking in the lines of rendering icons, self-spun icons by which she could tell her stories. Some of her potential icons were triggered by rotund forms on West African wax materials. Then she started to devise her own kind of private alphabets. Some sort of codification which appear culturally current, which evoke feelings of local African colour. They render design patterns which are evocative of womanhood and are laced with cultural motifs
Linda Adeniyi’s new, evolving technique is a kind of visual communication that employs multiple icons, speaking to the viewers in a language they hopefully can understand, if they take the time to listen or observe intently.
Some of the paintings she has in process don’t have a title as yet. She feels that they will mostly whistle out their own titles eventually.
In Linda Adeniyi’s art, the traditional borders which separate between open spaces, human faces and dresses with which they are draped, are never demarcated, even though they exist and the viewer/reader is expected to make out those demarcations in their own minds.
At this juncture in that voyage, experimentation has began to fuse to make concrete meaning.
The meaning of art is not always in its visual or vocal resonance alone. The design speaks. Ears sometimes can hear what is throbbing within the design.
The design speaks, sings, even drums. A magical world of enchantment, beauty and mystery.
• Adeniyi, the editor of Position International Arts Review, writes from Lagos