Six Nigerian artists – in joyful affirmation of their German influences – explore the concept of inner and outward movement in an exhibition opening tomorrow (July 10) in Lagos. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports

A joy in madness that only a madman knows… Trust Dilomprizulike, a. k. a. the Junkman of Afrika! His perspective on the subject simply hoists the listener unto a transcendental plane. For him, it’s all about an inner seeking. An endless spiritual quest, on which each one stamps his or her own individuality. And which, of course, no one can do for another.
The subject?

Wanderlust…a thought-inducing title for a six-artist group exhibition, which opens to the public tomorrow at The Wheatbaker in Ikoyi, Lagos. This opening, in turn, follows on the heels of a somewhat more private version held yesterday at the same venue.

Four Germany-based top-notch male artists – Dilomprizulike, Chidi Kwubiri, Emeka Udemba and Jimmy Nwanne – team up with their two female colleagues based in Nigeria – Numero Unoma, and Yetunde Ayeni-Babaeko – to make up a sextet for the purpose of this exhibition. Their obvious common denominator: their German connection.

The exhibition, itself, is a fall-out of a neat weaving of fate. Flash-back to in 2015. Chidi Kwubiri was participating in a collateral project of the Venice Biennale. Somewhere along the line, Emeka Udemba appeared on the scene. Then… also the Junkman. “In the coming days we saw the Biennale together, hung out and enjoyed the great ‘art’-mosphere of Venice,” he recalls. “As diasporic artists, we discussed deeply about our desire to contribute to the vibrant art scene in our home country Nigeria.”

Apparently, this desire had seamlessly transmuted into the plan for an exhibition. And for this, a good curator was needed. This was besides the task of finding a suitable venue. Thus, one name suggested itself to Kwubiri: that of his collector and good friend… Sandra Mbanefo Obiago.

Flip over to December 2016. He eventually shared these thoughts with Mrs Obiago and her acceptance of the idea was almost instantaneous. “And in few days of juggling with the concept, the title ‘Wanderlust’ was born.”

That was a title that not only embodied the artists’ initial idea, but also on their our actual situation as “travellers between two worlds”. Indeed, as Kwubiri puts it, “[It] touches on the ever evolving life of us all, both as migrants and as artists – always moving, always seeking, always trying to climb greater heights – like engaging in a race, where the farther you go, the farther away the finish line gets. On one hand, you never reach the finish line, but still cannot say you didn’t get anywhere…”

The concept of movement, thus, dogs the word “Wanderlust”. And this movement could be spiritual, emotional or physical.
“Wanderlust is a term, which I believe, comes closest to the essence of why we migrate,” Obiago chips in. “Be it for rest and recreation, spiritual upliftment, the excitement of discovering new cultures, or whether it is in the quest for education, economic prosperity, conquest, or an escape from poverty, war and terrorism, human beings have for centuries been in a constant state of migration.”

It is also a term that was cobbled together from two German words, “wandern”, to hike, and “Lust”, desire. And implied in it is the notion of enjoyment or leisure.

The word “wandern”, for the Lagos-based curator, stirs up dregs of fond memories of a children’s home in the tiny Swiss village of Aeshi, which was about 1000 metres above the picturesque Lake of Thun. With her brother, she had as a child hiked through the Swiss mountains. As refugees fleeing the Biafran war, they had spent a few months in the children’s home in the Bernese Oberland. Here, they had waited for their German-speaking Swiss mother to join then while their father was mired in the war efforts back home. “At barely four years old, I depended on my older brother to interpret the world around us, holding tightly to his hand as we were part of thousands escaping and seeking refuge around the world.”

This experience would accompany her later in her adult life, as she journeyed on through life as a photo-journalist and filmmaker, in the quest for new stories and, more recently, scouring the art scene for uncommon artistic talents.
“Throughout the journey of this exhibition, I continue to be deeply impressed by the sensitivity, wisdom, and clarity with which our six artists, Chidi Kwubiri, Emeka Udemba, Junkman from Afrika, Numero Unoma, Jimmy Nwanne and Yetunde Ayeni-Babaeko, have shed light on the complex concept of Wanderlust,” she enthuses.

Close up on the exhibition itself. Kwubiri’s 200 x 300 cm acrylic on canvas painting “Transition” asserts itself from its allotted space. It depicts an earth-coloured human form, sitting in a lotus pose with arms stretched out sideways and embedded in a mottled haze of a blue-themed backdrop. Thus, it visually makes a strong case for the need for a reconnection with a Higher Guidance.
This mottled vision of the world, which is reprised in most of his paintings, reinforce both the notion of an outward exploration and an inner quest. It is a technique that lends itself to further interpolations, which not surprisingly birthed a mixed media patterned variant in “Traces”, in which a repurposed trouser joins forces with a painting to make up an installation.

Curiously, Kwubiri’s patented technique find their thematic resonance in Ayeni-Babaeko’s stylised offerings, which offer dual fold possibilities in the inner experiencing of a human condition. Somewhat evoking the mythical Phoenix rising from an ashen heap, her stylised photograph, “Reconstruction” depicts the surreal image a fragmented female form, which at the same time seems to be regenerating herself. Thus, the perception of a condition depends on one’s perception of the world.

This transition from one state to another transports the human spirit to new emotional and physical landscapes, away from its comfort zone. This notion is further extended in the work “The Holy Grail”, which is her take on a largely misunderstood ancient lore. In this work, a scantily-clad woman in a feathered headdress wends her way through a darkened landscape with the aid of two hurricane lamps in an obvious quest for an ideal.

The recurring emphasis on regeneration also extends to Udemba’s collage paintings, whose narrative slant zooms into the world of the hapless vagrants. The tiny cuttings from newspapers, essential components in the depictions of these human forms, allude to the diverse experiences of each of them.

Taking it up from here, the Junkman’s expresses these “transitional realities” in colourful indistinct forms that blur into each other through his central character “Matilda”, the “city lady”.

Nwanne’s haunting visual narratives offer compact summaries of receding memories of poignant past experiences and the confrontation with current crises. In his “Seismic Shift”, for instance, a sinking vessel in a blood-textured sea haunts the memories of a youth.
Finally, Unoma’s pop-art offerings teases the viewer in their paradoxically light-hearted earnestness. In one of these works, she highlights the letters “E” and “U” against a backdrop of stars – in an obvious nod to the European Union flag – and humorously inserts the words “go betta for” between them to read in Pidgin English: “E go betta for U”, a way of saying that things will get better. This really sums up the optimistic mindset of the many refugees who embark on the dangerous treks across the Sahara Desert and the precarious voyages across the choppy Mediterranean Sea.

The exhibition, which continues until Friday, September 15, is supported by Deutsche Bank, Still Earth Holding, the German Consulate in Lagos, ELALAN and Louis Guntrum Wines.