IN CELEBRATION OF THE MAN

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With his forthcoming solo exhibition, the artist Emmanuel Isiuwe hopes to beam the spotlight on the male sex and his activities. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke writes

EXHIBITION

This is home…
Emmanuel Isiuwe didn’t exactly say that. He didn’t have to because his visitor already knew where he was coming to. This spartanly-furnished living room of the nondescript storey building’s ground-floor flat proclaims that loudly and clearly enough.

…And studio too.
Those stretched canvases stacked against the walls, the paintings adorning virtually every available space are the tell-tale signs that this is more than not just a home, but also his working space.
An exhibition looms.

This time, it isn’t going to be a joint show with his wife Angela. Back then, in July 2013, the duo courted the aficionados’ attention with an exhibition, titled Our World: Human and Equestrian Life, at Didi Museum in Victoria Island, Lagos. That outing was, for the couple, a joyful affirmation of a union that dated all the way back to their student years at Auchi Polytechnic and was eventually sealed with the tying of the nuptial knots. Rather, it will be a solo show, through which the artist wishes to beam the spotlight on his gender…Man.
His cursory memory scan tells him that female forms and landscapes dominate the Babel of visual recent artistic expressions.

Where is the man in all this? This became the refrain of the recent theme song of his studio practice. One that was picked up by his 18-year-old daughter, who would have noticed this oversight from a cursory glance at the paintings adorning their home.

The subtext: man deserves more attention than he gets currently in the art world. It shouldn’t be just about the woman and her awe-inspiring form. Nor should it be just about landscapes or abstract forms. In other words, this exhibition concerns itself more about man and his environment. This is without necessarily carping about the imbalance in gender-representation.

Yet, the artist seems convinced enough about this to invite his pied-piper retinue of devotees once more to Didi Museum from Friday, July 28. The exhibition, which runs for just five days, is simply titled Man.
Actually, the specious assumption on which the solo show pivots can easily be refuted by a quick flashback into history. If indeed the artist successfully skirted around the depiction of the male forms in his previous outings, dating as far back as to 1993, it would be presumptuous to generalise this trend.

Indeed, many among his colleagues in the contemporary Nigerian art scene have been known to have feasted on the male figure, albeit in stylised forms. So have to a certain extent such artists of the older generations as the late Uche Okeke, Yusuf Grillo, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Demas Nwoko and Obiora Udechukwu, among others.

More recently, even the overall prize-winning work of the 2011 edition of the annual Life in My City Art Festival (LIMCAF) was a sculptural piece of a male figure carrying a famished child in his arms. The work, titled “Save the Child and Save the Nation”, was produced by Eyo Emem Effiong.

Obviously, the decision to celebrate man and/or his figure was the fall-out of an artistic whim.
For not even Isiuwe can deny having albeit a handful of works depicting the male form in his many exhibitions held in Auchi, Lagos and the Beninese commercial capital, Cotonou. Surely, his very stained-glass works on the Twelve Apostles of Christ Jesus and the Transfiguration of Christ could not have been based on the female figures!
He attributes his “desire to celebrate man” to an observation made by a collector during his last outing in 2013. The latter had drawn his attention to the dominance of the female forms in that exhibition. That goaded him to correct the apparent imbalance.

Nonetheless, it’s been a while that any artist has made such an audacious assertion. And easily-grasped themes like Man lend themselves to multifaceted interpretations. Hence he could already extrapolate the theme’s inexhaustibility.

There is bound to be a sequel to this exhibition, he tells his visitor.
But the sequel would be have to be preceded by further road trips. Already before this coming show, he had had to travel by road to the south-western towns of Abeokuta and Ibadan as well as to the Delta State communities. The snap-shots he took along the road formed part of the creative raw materials he needed for his paintings.
Curiously, all the talk about celebrating male forms seems to have been shoved aside in one of the exhibits he titled “Thick and Thin”. In this work, a smudge of lush impasto suggests a cock fight, featuring a blur of red and black cockerels.

“It was inspired by [the] Black Lives Matter [Movement],” the artist explains. But the viewer fails to see how.
Flip over to another painting he titled “The Wedding List”. A reclining figure in a pensive mood holds a white sheet of paper in his hand. The paper contains the list of the things a man needs to buy for his wedding. He must make a decision and this has to be soon.

The next painting, “The Waiter” shows a fuzzy image of a man in white shirtsleeves and a black bow tie. The backdrop suggests that he is really a barman.

The other work, “Fulani Herdsmen”, looks rather too obvious. It depicts two cattle Fulani men holding their staffs, with not even a cow in sight. It is probably the only water colour painting in the lot.

Most of his other paintings, done in either oil or acrylic, seem to conceal forms beneath a lush impasto of colours. This gives the impression that they are either hurriedly done or even unfinished. But Isiuwe apparently only obeys a creative whim.

Perhaps, there is also an emotional impulse. For why otherwise would he demand that the male sex be acknowledged for his supportive role both as a family bread-winner and a loving husband, who stands by his wife during her pregnancy? Indeed, the exhibition’s theme drips with the potential to ignite a gender war.
Sponsored by Arian Capital Investment, the exhibition is an affirmation of the artist’s signature impressionist style.