Engaging and a feast for the senses, Olu Amoda’s latest body of work featured at a exhibition in Lagos fascinates Ayodeji Rotinwa
Olu Amoda is optimistic.
In the sculptor’s engaging exhibition, Index Season ii, at Art 21 Gallery, this much is apparent.
As one walks into Art 21’s vault-like space, one first encounters the works that represent the central theme of the exhibition: six disc-shaped, large metal sculptures in army green, lime green, golden orange, and grey-brown. They are colours of foliage during the four weather seasons of Europe and North America. Amoda employs them here – both season and changing colours – as a metaphor for the different seasons in Nigeria’s electoral cycle, which happens every four years. Unofficially, this may be divided into parties selecting nominees, campaign season, elections, and then post-election tribunals and endless court cases contesting the accuracy of the elections. The last two seasons, in Nigeria’s history, are usually accompanied with violence.
Amoda wants us to pay attention to these turbulent seasons. Also to elsewhere in the world where there is a season of increasing extremity in political ideology and beliefs – the left and right; and how the centre can no longer hold. Trump ascended to presidency on the back of divisive rhetoric against immigrants, non-whites, women, the disabled. Marine Le Pen is vying for the office of the president of France with similar tactics. Citizens are being bombed in Syria, Iraq and the rest of world just looks on, not acting, irresponsible. Those who manage to escape are turned away at the border of countries, complicit (by inaction) in the murder of their fathers, mothers, children.
Yes, we are at a very messy, complicated period in history.
Yet, Amoda asks us in his artist statement not to look upon this time with despair but with hope that we can turn the tide This is also, in a sense reflected in the six disc-shaped metal sculptures made out of repurposed, discarded rusty nails, metal plates, bolts, pipes. These materials do not lend themselves to easy manipulation. They are by design (and especially when used together) complex, like today’s political goings-on. Yet, Amoda, a master at the peak of his artistic proficiency, fashions them into impeccable, faultless forms.
While the sculptures are inspired by complicated, elliptical events, the products of this inspiration – Amoda’s work – are finished, uncluttered, aspire to perfection and very nearly attain it.
While discussing the exhibition with a curator (not of the exhibition) who has followed Amoda’s work for years, there was a shared feeling of suspended satisfaction. Almost there but not quite. The majesty of the works were undeniable, yes. But for what they represented, and what the curator had come to know of his work, there was an absence of believability. The works were too perfect, not literally rough around the edges, incomplete, even, as is usually Amoda’s style.
“They look machine-cut, almost,” the curator said.
For the exhibition as a whole, though this is where the feeling of inconclusiveness ceases. The rest of the exhibition embodies the tension and urgency that the focal season pieces lacked. There are free-standing and hung sculptures depicting women in various forms of contemplation.
The walled sculptures, at once consuming eyefuls, invites the viewer to mimic what (s)he is looking at: to be drawn, to consider. Amoda, here uses an interesting and unusual material: lucobond, a rigid yet flexible façade material employed typically for architectural purposes. Across the face of the material, angry marks form tumbling hair, areolas, eyebrows, love handles, thighs. On boards, Amoda bends metal bars to construct similar anatomy. On plasma cuts, he burns and bends metal into feminine shapes. He explores other characters of nature too. One particular piece depicts a pollinating insect on a flower. With these, the meld of bolts, pipes, rods, metal plates have not been fashioned into perfect forms. They are exquisitely intricate still but are still do not have a cute finish, still somewhat clumsy-looking from an angle, and intensely more compelling as so.
Further in now, Amoda has one’s full attention and command of senses. The works are feeding themselves into my nose, eyes and the temptation to touch heightens. I give in eventually. Without the usual guilt of thinking my touch would somehow compromise the work.
Having moved through the perpendicular arrangement of the works in the gallery space, I finally arrive at the piece de resistance, a mixed media piece titled “Marion Jones”. It is a 12-foot sculpture of Amoda’s favoured materials in their raw, most obvious form: discarded car parts, pistons are immediately obviously in Jones’ towering frame. The sculpture took eight years for the artist to complete. It is immediately clear why. It is also immediately clear that Amoda is a master artist of immeasurable patience, discipline and commitment. I spend almost half an hour circling the work, peering, in awe.
As I exhale and exit Art 21, I feel a curious sadness. I remember that these works are on loan to the public eye and consumption, that eventually they will make their way back into Amoda’s studio or the private collections of individuals or corporate citizens, when the exhibition closes in June. We may not see them again. A kind of injustice. Yes, we want the artist to flourish and secure patrons. However, the larger public most definitely needs and would benefit from the sculptural language and legacy Amoda is building: as a reference to artistic excellence, a testament to steely patience, an institution of memory that immortalises this time in history, or simply as objects of irresistible, unconventional, evocative beauty.
His works should be in permanent public view.
In the likely case this does not happen, there’s consolation in the fact that the exhibition is showing still for the next six to seven weeks. Just like today’s changing seasons and Amoda’s works, forever is a complicated ask.