NOW, IT TAKES TWO TO EVOLVE?

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Featuring two acknowledged proficient contemporary Nigerian artists, belonging to two different generations, in a joint exhibition at The Wheatbaker in Ikoyi, Lagos excites Okechukwu Uwaezuoke

ART BEAT

A handshake across generations? The organisers didn’t say. Whatever their real intentions, any local aficionado would readily attest that their featuring an artistic titan like Raqib Abolore Bashorun alongside the much-younger Chika Idu hints at an attempt to bridge a generational gap.

It is unlikely to be a coincidence that the planned exhibition, titled Evolving Currents, is being curated by two of Lagos art scene’s most recognisable figures: Sandra Mbanefo Obiago and Oliver Enwonwu. It is billed to open at The Wheatbaker, along Onitolo (formerly Lawrence) Road in Ikoyi, Lagos from Monday, April 18 to Thursday, June 16.

Evolving Currents, as a title, should resonate with both artists. Constant evolution in their studio practice remains their common denominator.  Take Bashorun, for instance. A solo exhibition he held two years ago at Omenka Gallery, Ikoyi in May was titledEvolving through Waste. It was an exhibition that was meant to raise the public’s awareness as to what could be deemed waste. This was while highlighting the relevance of recycling.

Also last year, the artist commemorated his 60th birthday anniversary with another solo exhibition he titled Evolving in 360. The exhibition held from September 12 to 24 featured his recent works and was also a celebration of his over three-decade long career. The connoisseurs of his works looked out for his effortless blend of metal, wood and other found objects in his designs.

Indeed, reconstructing pre-existing materials, re-interpreting them and ultimately re-purposing them as recycled art is Bashorun’s stock-in-trade. It is for this reason that it would be a great disservice to the former Yaba College of Technology lecturer to classify him as a wood sculptor. Curiously, there are a handful of art writers and historians, who would gladly assert that he does with wood what his former Yaba College of Technology colleague Olu Amoda does with metal.

 Perhaps. Yet, one thing remains incontrovertible: Bashorun has etched himself deeply into the psyche of art connoisseurs as one of the greatest creative forces to be reckoned with in the contemporary local art scene. He could best be cast in the same mould as El Anatsui, even if he is not yet enjoying the same patronage as the latter.

What deserves to be celebrated about Bashorun is his adroitness is straddling functionality and aesthetics in his works. This makes him the local contemporary art scene’s indisputable “father of design”. Yes, design, the theme song of his studio practice, not only launched him into reckoning but also offers glimpses of his immense as-yet-untapped potentials.

Several remarkable exhibitions (held both in Nigeria and the US) have so far illumined the path of his lustrous career as milestones. The University of Missouri in Columbia (USA) MFA graduate in sculpture with a minor in drawing (in 2002) previously obtained an MEd in art education in 1984 from the same institution.

He had joined the School of Art, Design and Printing, Yaba College of Technology in 1995 as a Principal Lecturer and later became Chief Lecturer and, subsequently, Head of the Department of Graphics from 2005 to 2008.

His co-exhibitor, the 42-year-old Chika Idu is no doubt among what the forthcoming exhibition’s organisers deem ” Nigeria’s exciting emerging artists”. The 1998 Auchi Polytechnic graduate of painting is known for his resilience in the talent-glutted industry. Perhaps, that could have partly inspired his joining forces with a handful of colleagues to create the Defactori Studios, which is basically a collective of self-motivated new generation artists. Also to his credit is the formation of the pioneering Water Colour Society of Artists (SABLES).

Expectedly, Idu is not unknown in the Lagos exhibition circuit, having been regularly featured in numerous group and solo exhibitions. Aficionados acknowledge not only his energy but also his creative evolution. His heavy-textured paintings, which are rendered in a technique he calls “light against visual distortion”, somewhat evoke the works of Impressionist masters.

The Lycée Français Louis Pasteur, Lagos art teacher, who runs an art studio in Ikorodu, has for the past 16 years wormed his way into the consciousness of keen art devotees thanks to his commitment to sensitising the public on the plight of the African child through his paintings.

 His more recent campaign revolves around environmental issues. He is particularly interested in the risks faced by children living in coastal slums.

In a solo exhibition, titled Intro, held about two years ago at Quintessence Gallery in Lekki, Lagos, the artist marked his rites of passage from long romance with water colours to his adventures in acrylic.

For Idu, that exhibition was a way of being “more expressive”.  While still maintaining his links with his first love, water colour, the artist ventured into new techniques and  aesthetics with his new works.

By embracing acrylic, he did not necessarily abandon the use of water colours. He simply burst the fetters that confined him to one medium.  As he once said, each of his themes would demand the medium it would prefer to be expressed in.

The artist’s ever evolving creative whims dictate his themes, which two years ago suddenly shifted away from his hitherto altruistic focus. Apparently,  discouraged by the flak he drew from his activism, he asserted; “I now paint without any message in mind.”

In other words, Idu admitted to being cowed into opting for less irksome themes and perhaps painting for the sake of aesthetics. His exploration of new media thus became his dependable ally, as he hinted in his artist statement for that exhibition.

“I have been engaged in several experiments in search of avenues through which I can communicate without compromising my energy and message,” he wrote. Indeed, ever before venturing into that solo outing, he had experimented with the acrylic medium. “I see this technique and style diversity as opportunity to express myself in any way I choose,” he added. “For me, it’s like having the command of several languages. There are some expressions with stronger and more direct meaning in some language than in others. This truth can be related to my ability to express myself in various styles.”

The constant evolution of the exhibiting duo makes the forthcoming exhibition a promising one and a must-see for not only the acknowledged collectors but also for the new ones.