Abuja comes alive with art as the La Nigritude solo exhibition by Numero Unoma, the artist also known as No1, arrived at the Thought Pyramid Gallery from the 28-30 November.. Taking inspiration from those of whom Wole Soyinka once said “a Tiger does not proclaim its tigritude”, the Nigerian-German visual artist’s body of work is a huge roar, of laughter and expression, protest and pain. Tigers come from Asia, whereas in Africa we have lions, which, unlike tigers, can roar.
The pieces are not shy of colour, or texture, or punch. Symbols and graphics are employed to convey messages that often seem vibrant and innocuous, whilst taking sniper shots at those things that invariably define our society and cultures. In this exhibition, money, marriage, status and power mirror their prominence in everyday Nigerian life. Philosophy, humour, and angst, as well as generosity and hospitality, also find their place in drawing parallels with the experiences of the ‘ordinary’ Nigerian. The prevalence of consumerism, the huge impact of technology and the desperation of migration, or even just immigration, all find expression in a satirical collection that takes the edge off introspection and self-critique.
The Thought Pyramid Centre, located in Libreville Crescent, in the Wuse II district of Abuja, has become the city’s highest profile exhibition space. Comprising an exhibition space and a restaurant, it has curated the work of Bruce Onobrakpeya, Diseye Tantua and other great Nigerian artists. Numero Unoma’s La Nigritude exhibition opened on the 28th of November with a centerpiece dedicated to Ken Saro Wiwa Jr (1968—2016) and his father, Ken Saro Wiwa (1941—1995). Ken Jr would have been 48 on the day of the opening.
Complementing and amplifying the paintings will be a series of intimate time-lapse photographs of popular locations, poetry and odes to Nigeria, by spoken word virtuosos, Jumoke Verissimo and Soonest Nathaniel Scholes. There will also be a celebration of the humble and ubiquitous bench. The wooden benches, on which our country and our continent are run, serve as central pieces, artworks on which to sit and rest whilst taking in the visual cornucopia of the exhibition.
Notes on some of the featured work
Many of us will recognise ourselves, and our experiences in this series of paintings, which employs brands as idioms, colloquialisms as mottos and symbols as metaphors. Texture, colour and geometry feature heavily in concealing the gravitas of sociopolitical critique, whilst at the same time celebrating the indomitable spirit, humour and optimism of the Nigerian people.
Despite the lack of infrastructure, opportunity and economic stability, an ‘ordinary’ Nigerian will never sit down to a meal without inviting one to join him or her, much unlike the corrupt power brokers, who actually do the big time ‘chopping’ with no regard for the next man, or the next generation. (“Join Me I & II”)
In a city like Lagos where life is crowded and lean, the ordinary man and woman still stand tall with pride, turn themselves out flamboyantly and subject themselves, amongst a milieu of yellow cabs, molues and danfos, to a hectic daily grind which promises the hope of improvement. (“Lagos Vida Loca”)
Nigeria is a country where it is normal to have multiple income streams, where payment for one’s service cannot be taken for granted, and where corruption is endemic at all levels of society. The question of where the money is, remains a perennial backdrop to the struggles and hustle of the average Nigerian. (“Paperwork I, II & III”)
Marriage and sex are also major social vectors, and therefore also feature significantly in the series (“Privatised”, and “Who Dash Monkey”).
“My work comes forth from that space between the spaces. The proverbial message in the bottle, corked lovingly, and cast out in the hope that it will be found, engaged with and understood in the context of a timely, emotive and relevant narrative. The perspective is personal, and the gaze is a very subjective angle on universal themes pertaining to identity, displacement and sometimes just simply pondering the imponderable. My work is born of the vast wealth of energy and inspiration gathered from a life of travel, work and relationships in various parts of the world.
“I am mother, wife, sister, lover, grandmother, creator, friend, guardian angel and nemesis all rolled into one.
“I approach each work respecting the process, layering on texture, vibrancy and color to give life to the subject matter I am treating. Inherently, my method is organic in its development, and I would like to think that this lends itself to the raw messages therein. The work is sometimes visually misunderstood, as being of shock value, and subtleties are at times missed, simply because of my no holds barred approach.
“The media I use mimic the technologies of my lifetime, the analog and the digital, employing paper, or a tactile canvas as comfortably as an intangible digitally manipulated projection with audio augmentation. These are the building blocks of the creative world in which I have developed: vinyl LP’s, cassettes, mini discs, mp3s, mp4s, 35mm film, 6×7 medium format silver halide, jpegs and pdf’s.
“I am that Nigerian – that mixed race Nigerian – who, having had the chance to hold German, British and American citizenship, have found my Nigerian passport, (more than a green card, it is a green book), the symbol of my belonging, to be more than enough to represent my identity. We Nigerians know that we cannot profess that deep and voluminous love we have for our country without the counterbalance of our pet hates and real resentments, those things that represent the other side of our relationship with our young troubled nation, indeed with our very identity. They are inextricable, and will remain so, along this trajectory of so-called development toward (again, so-called) civilization on which we presently find ourselves.”