Bringing African Narratives into Abstract Expressionism



Yinka Olatunbosun

SMO Contemporary Art recently received a group of art writers at the Temple Muse, a luxury house in Victoria Island, Lagos. This was where the works of Titi Omoighe had been carefully arranged for a press preview. A lecturer at the Yaba College of Technology (more often called Yabatech), Omoighe is more associated with the classroom than the exhibition halls in the city. That is why she is called one of Nigeria’s best kept art secrets.

Born in 1966, she had graduated from Yabatech with a higher national diploma in painting in 1989 and was awarded the Best Life Drawing Student Prize. Upon the completion of the mandatory National Youth Service in Kano, she joined the Nigerian Television Authority in Lagos and later, Abeokuta. Her job descriptions included created iconic set designs for news, adverts as well as beauty pageants on television and at the National Theatre stage.

In 1992, she received the first prize of the URTNA Nelson Mandela Trophy Design Award. In spite of being in possession of an impressive resume, she has quietly done her studio work away from public view until one of Nigeria’s finest curators, Sandra Mbanefo Obiago discovered the hidden treasures in her trove. Initially, she wanted to show just a few pieces but with the strong persuasion from Obiago, she is currently showing 34 paintings in the exhibition titled, “Modern Interpretations”.

Omoighe’s works in this show are mostly influenced by the African narratives in D.O. Fagunwa’s Yoruba literary classic, Forest of A Thousand Demons, which was translated to English by Professor Wole Soyinka. Her canvasses convey the story of a group of hunters and their adventure through an enchanted forest to save humanity. Her paintings, just as the literary inspiration for them, are rooted in Yoruba mythology and world view.

This collection provides the viewer with fresh perspective on African philosophy, using metaphors from indigenous sources. Some of her pieces also tap into the Benin Kingdom tradition, a reflection of her marital connections with the ancient city.
Apparent similarities between Omoighe’s works and those of Professor Yusuf Grillo, a pioneer member of the Zaria Art Society, could be explained by the fact thay she once trained under him.

In a brief analysis of her subjects, she explores the structure of hierarchy of elders, socio-economic topics such as the eco-system. Her fascination with nature is evident in her well-controlled drip paintings that exude maturity and a sense of order.
In her piece titled, “Homage’’, she depicts a very important aspect of African culture. In addition, she characterizes her subject with the same traits found in street urchins who pay homage to earn a living. She is enthralled by magical realism, African weave patterns and male figures.

She explained that many artists explore the female anatomy in their works and fail to see that the male forms can also be interesting subjects in paintings. One subject that was broached during a chat Omoighe is how she has been able to create her own identity even with the presence of her husband, himself a renowned painter in the art community.
Her exhibition, which is sponsored by Moet Hennessey, will run till August 20.