Okechukwu Uwaezuoke
If the solo exhibition, titled Unfinished Business – just concluded at the National Museum in Onikan, Lagos on Tuesday, March 29 ¬– were just about drawing attention to the plight of the Nigerian girl-child, then it is an overkill. With this latest outing, the effervescent spirit behind it all, Chinze Ojobo, not only reinvents herself but also re-launches her career in the talent-glutted contemporary Nigerian art scene.

For here is one talented creative soul, who was weaned on the University of Nigeria, Nsukka “uli”-inspired aesthetic canons and, consequently, is well positioned to join the ranks of the artistic frontbenchers. But, strange to add, her retreat from the glare of publicity has not entirely wiped her efforts from collective memory. This is because vestiges of her past endeavours continue to proclaim her proficiency in a handful of Lagos-based galleries and private collections.

Hence, her Unfinished Business, whose opening on Tuesday, March 22 was graced by dignitaries that included the NIMASA (acronym for Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency) director general Dr Dakuku Peterside and renowned cognoscenti Cornel Agim, was also an allusion, albeit veiled, to her return to her first love: art.

Indeed, the experimental and conceptual hints in the works of the widely-travelled artist, who has held over 25 exhibitions in the US and in Europe, enjoy a respectable following among local aficionados. The curator of her first ever solo exhibition in Lagos Chief Frank Okonta, decades after, still relishes the fond memories of that event and, therefore, rates her very highly even among her peers.

The exhibition itself offers a delightful feast of colours, whose alluring hues engage the viewer right from the entrance into the National Museum’s exhibition halls. A closer look at the works reveal that they partly owe their enchanting colourfulness to shards of Plexiglas and Ankara fabrics. These colours are well complemented and, therefore enhanced, by the contrasting subdued earthiness of burlap or the artist’s deliberate choice of calming and darker colours.

Take the mixed-media relief work titled “Social Media”. The artist parodies the modern-day obsession with modern telecommunications gadgets. She depicts a young male and female couple sitting over bottles of soft drinks but prefer the company of their gadgets to each other’s and the allure of the social media to verbal communication.

The earthy colours of this work, which echoes the theme of the Lagos-based artist Rom Isichei’s solo exhibition held at the same venue last year, offer a visual reprieve from a colourful work like “Seed of Potential”. The latter is a mosaic of pieces of Plexiglas set against a backdrop of dyed indigo-coloured jute bags. A viewer only needs to step back to a little distance from the work to discern figurative forms, which evoke the belaboured Mother and Child theme. A smear of white weaves itself into the heart of the mainly yellow and red patches in the work.

If indeed there is a work in this exhibition, which evokes Chinze’s “uli” beginnings, it is the yellow-themed “Though I Walk through the Valley”. It depicts the bare back of a half-clad figure, who seems to be carrying bails of fabrics. The work is framed at the top and bottom by uli zigzag patterns.

But the exhibition’s piece de resistance is the installation work titled “The Girl Child”. In the work, a queenly figure stands distinguished in a frame in the midst of other 3-D figures. It is obvious: the artist celebrates the girl-child through the work. This fact an accompanying poem in the exhibition catalogue corroborates.

But these are just a few among the about a score of works displayed in the two adjoining exhibition halls. Chinze’s curious assemblage of her largely dissimilar offerings make the exhibition both eclectic and impersonal. Seen from another point of view, this show could be likened to a retrospective or a chronicle of her efforts so far. But then, the earliest work in the exhibition hall was produced in 2012. So, that makes Unfinished Business an exhibition of the artist’s recent works.

One thing, however, must be emphasised about the artist: she cherishes her individuality above all. Thanks to her artistic credo, she shuns the broad easy road to fame and acceptability. What she deems good enough, she produces for her public. Dr Peterside summed up her lustrous creative profile in these few words: “Chinze is amazing. She always thinks out of the box.”
If she deserves a laurel wreath for her celebration of the girl-child through this exhibition, it is because of her courageous battle against a long-ignored societal affliction. She thus becomes the spokesperson for her gender in a society that subjects the female sex to indignities from adolescence to adulthood.

Indeed, whoever pauses long enough before many of her works would tend to look beyond the obvious. They speak volumes of oppression and at the same time of resilience of the female sex in a hostile environment. Perhaps, the work that most challenges the notion of gender-inequality is “Life’s Journey”, which subtly reminds the viewers that every human being (male or female) has a calling. It extends the message of the work “Seed of Potential”, which alludes to the promise of a female-child’s future.
Hats off to Chinze for her spectacular creative evolution. This, the curator of this exhibition and of her first ever solo exhibition in Lagos 25 years ago, Cornel Agim, warmly commends her for. “Chinze, as the saying goes, ‘has paid her dues’ in the art scene,” he writes in the exhibition catalogue.