Beyond Borders

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Stories by Yinka Olatunbosun
The walls between Nigeria and Ghana have once again been collapsed and this is not about “the Jollof war”. In case you missed that, the “Jollof war’’ is an interesting argument between Nigerians and Ghanaians on the social media about who makes better Jollof rice.

Away from that, the latest exhibition at Temple Muse, Victoria Island, Lagos is centred on waking up to the artistic consciousness of our neighbours and that singular thought had led to this month-long showcase of seven leading and emerging contemporary artists from Ghana titled, “New Threads”. With 69 pieces selected from sculptures, paintings on canvas and jute as well as photographs, the show which opened on October 10 features Kofi Setordji, Nii Obodai, Nicholas Kowalski, Constance Swaniker, Nyomuwofia Agorsor and Nana Anoff.

The curator for this rare show, Sandra Mbanefo Obiago gave an insight into how the theme was decided. At a recent press preview of some of the works, she asked the handful of journalists who were present to talk about what they know about Ghanaian art. Of course, their responses typified what she’d heard about Ghanaian art: sparse information. Ablade Glover and El-Anatsui are ready names that people usually associate Ghanaian art forms with when they are not thinking about the Kente fabrics.

Since these kente fabrics are the most dominant cultural reference that Nigerians make in the case of Ghana, the curator drew upon this knowledge to craft the theme for this show.

Against the backdrop of this rich artistic ancestry, these artists present, in contemporary colours and expressions, works that address current global issues. Universal symbols were explored by the artists in their artistic perspectives of global concerns on migration, environment, emancipation of the girl-child, leadership and democracy.

In her opening remarks for this third exhibition at Temple Muse in 2016, the curator expressed her satisfaction at the gallery’s duration for the show.
“It is not fair to put so much work into a show and it is only exhibited for two weeks,” she said. “But we understand the commercial pressures that a lot of galleries are facing. So they try to run their exhibitions quickly. What we pride ourselves on is that we give the artistes four or sometimes eight weeks or 12 weeks to show case their works.

For this particular show, we have been working on it for about a year.’’
From encountering their works at art auctions and international exhibitions, Obiago tapped into the network of artists who possessed good quality art that speaks universal themes. In her findings, she discovered artists whose works have socio-political relevance, humorous satire and cultural narratives. One of them is Kofi Setordji, a celebrated sculptor and experimental artist who is also considered as the grand master of contemporary expression in Ghana.

His works largely document the history of modern Africa with its political battles over power and the tensions and gaps in our leadership. A case in point is his recent documentation of the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States. One of his works which this reporter found intriguing both in form and content is titled, “See No Evil, Hear No Evil and Speak No Evil.’’ The work seems to capture the culture of silence that is common when it comes to whistleblowing on corrupt public officers.

The curator also introduced to the journalists the creative couple, Kofi and Nyornuwofia Agorsor who are both visual artists and talented musicians. While Kofi’s inspiration is rooted in the traditional culture, rituals and beliefs of Ghana using dots and grids of colour, his wife’s hinges on education as a fundamental right.
Hence, her large canvases are sub-divided into plains of colours, inscribed with miniscule formulas and intricate childlike landscapes, as metaphorical formula of progress for Africa.

Obiago also highlighted Nicholas Kowalski’s fascination with the geometric paintings with the imagery of the Baobab, the African tree of life, which she described as “an important symbol of life, power, and resilience in a northern savannah landscape.’’ His works in their rich history of the Adinkra symbols draw on the universal proverbs and philosophy of African culture.

Also very fascinating are Nana Anoff’s works made from re-purposed, recycled metal objects and machine parts. His two dimensional metal sculptures portray scenes of migration on foot, on bike and the three wheeled scooters, a major sight in city transit. Her counterpart, Constance Swaniker’s metal sculptures, include the life size “Pretty wings’’, which shows an enfolding female form in the process of transforming into an “African avatar” with Ankara adorned wings, reflecting her views on feminism and emancipation, as offshoots of her social activism.

Nii Obodai’s Who Knows Tomorrow series is an introspective photographic essay of his travels across Ghana in search of a fresh understanding of independence and the legacy of Kwame Nkrumah.

“His wide open landscapes with blurred human forms cycling across or children running across a vast beach or caught playing in rivers alongside lush mangroves perfectly mirrored in coastal waters will give most West African art enthusiasts a strong sense of commonality feelings of ‘deja’vu’,” stated Obiago.

A painting titled, “Chairman” derides arrogant people who carry on imposing personalities in public while trampling on the sensitivity of others. The painting, in its ordinary descriptive sense simply communicates that such a condescending fellow is nothing but “a man with a chair”.
The exhibition, which runs until November 17, is sponsored by UBS, the Swiss Global Bank and Moet-Hennessey.