For Mydrim Gallery’s chosen nine exhibiting artists, the “future masters” tag should only be a spur to greater artistic accomplishments, writes Okechukwu Uwaezuoke

Could Mydrim Gallery be consciously courting controversy with its nine “future masters’? Maybe not. Yet, there is something undeniably contentious about cherry-picking artists for the exhibition, titled: Generations – Future Masters Series, which enters its second edition this year. This, in turn, follows closely on the heels of its recent celebration of 12 older generation artists in an exhibition, titled: The Masters, held earlier in the month as part of the gallery’s 25th anniversary celebrations.

Indeed, the Lagos-based gallery hinges the premise of this exhibition, which opens June 30 in Ikoyi, on the principle of “reviving sound art practice based on firm foundational principles of observation, creativity, skill and draughtsmanship.”

A cursory glance at the artists – Emeka Nwagbara, Chinedu Uzoma, Damilola Opedun, Ezekiel Osifeso, Olajide Salako, Olufemi Oyewole, Oluwafunke Oladimeji, Segun Fagorusi and Raji Mohammed – reveals one thing they share in common: their Universal Studios of Art background. That implies the influences of the leading lights of the studio, which is located in the premises of the National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos.

Among these leading lights is the renowned Nigerian painter Abiodun Olaku, who not only selected the artists but also mentored them. Olaku, a solitary rock of dissent in the surging sea of conceptualism, is renowned for his delightful and evocative landscape paintings. It is indeed not surprising that his works find an echo in the works of one of the exhibiting artists.

No doubt, the artists deserve commendation for their heroic adherence to photorealism. And this is at a period when the gropings of Western artists have become accepted as straightforward aesthetic canons. As one of the few dissenting voices in this creative maelstrom, Mydrim Gallery’s director, Sinmidele Adesanya, not only throws her weight behind their cause, but also questions any trend “that does not place any particular emphasis on the foundational principles of art”.

“These forms of artworks have received publicity through [the] social media and other aggressive promotion platforms,” she observes. “Although this form may gather momentum and become established over time, it will be a disservice to place more value, economic and otherwise, on this than the work of deeply talented artists. The danger in allowing this to happen will be an eventual lowering of standards. We therefore organised the annual exhibition titled Generations – Future Masters Series to celebrate and promote artists who have resolved to maintain these true and well-tested foundational principles of sound art practice against all odds.”

Against all odds aptly describes the creative resilience of these chosen artists. At the risk of being scoffed at by those who would rather have them adhere to current trends, they have remained anachronisms in a fast evolving art scene. Thus, they have done a great job of asserting their relevance in the industry’s consciousness. This, Dr Frank Ugiomoh, the University of Port Harcourt’s Professor of History of art and theory, acknowledges in his article published in the exhibition catalogue. “The nine artists on show in this exposition by preference stand on the side of the art of presence or representation in their career,” Ugiomoh writes. “That they side with representationalism identifies them standing against an alternate possible – the simulacrum. Both options of cultural production stand with humanity in the cultural value of art, which is to create symbols out of what is familiar.”

Even so, a few creative interpolations still manage to inveigle their way into a couple of the works by one of the artists, Emeka Nwagbara. In their depiction of silhouetted forms, the works, titled “Lobby Conversation” (Lobby Series II) and “Playing Shadows”, proclaim their uniqueness among his other works like “Rosy”, “Street Market I and II”, “Ideas” “Owambe” (Series I) and “Gele” (Series III).

Nwagbara, who previously worked in oil and gas, banking as well as in the information technology sectors, is a self-taught artist. After his graduation with a BSc in Accounting from Ogun State University in 1997, he benefited from the tutelage of such artists as Edosa Oguigo, Abiodun Olaku and Wallace Ejoh, among other Nigerian artists.

If there appears to be a blur of sameness in the exhibition’s offerings, it is because the artists draw from the same armoury of inspirations. Thus, whatever their individual shortfalls may be, they are amply compensated for by their faithful adherence to the good old canons of aesthetics. Conforming to the familiar indeed help the artists’ credentials and offer them a podium to make themselves heard in a talent-glutted art scene.

If there is one artist among the nonet, who takes the cake for echoing Olaku’s style, it is Oluwafunke Oladimeji. Oladimeji, the only female artist among the lot, displays an increasingly uncommon proficiency in works like “The Alley”, “Takwa Bay Sunset”, “Consultation” and “Echoes of Time”, which can easily be mistaken for Olaku’s works. The 30-year-old Ekiti State University graduate had, after her graduation in 2013, enrolled for a mentorship programme at Universal Studios of Art, where she is still undergoing training and supervision as an intern with Olaku. Indeed, she nurses an ambitious mission: to master some of the techniques, style and philosophy of her mentor.

Also mentored by Olaku, her co-exhibitor Chinedu Uzoma distinguishes himself as one of the most delightful devotees of photorealism with the works, “The Maiden Twist”, “Dusk Ride”, “Game” and “Mentoring”. The 2014 Lagos State Polytechnic graduate was also influenced by another artist Adekusibe Odunfa and has even in his student years asserted his presence in the exhibition circuit.

Then, there is Damilola Moses Opedun, who despite acknowledging several influences, goes the extra mile to assert his individuality through his romance with impressionism. Even among his works at the exhibition, two works (“Transition” and “Let There Be Light”) sparkle in their uniqueness. For the Auchi Polytechnic graduate, his works are only outlets for his philosophical musings.

The remaining artists – Ezekiel Osifeso, Olajide Salako, Olufemi Oyewole, ‘Segun Fagorusi and Raji Mohammed – are no less proficient in photorealistic expressions. They also seem intent on using the platform offered by this Mydrim Gallery exhibition, which ends on Saturday, July 14, to make strong statements and proclaim their aesthetic credo.

Whatever their individual dispositions may be, the artists are all united in their quest to document their environment in coherent decipherable forms. While it is not impossible that “future masters” could indeed emerge from their ranks, their participation in the forthcoming exhibition should rather be seen as a spur to greater artistic accomplishments. For it is clear that getting entangled too early into the politics of “masterhood” could hurt their career.