14-Day Lockdown-inspired Art Challenge

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Yinka Olatunbosun reports on how a female visual artist in Nigeria, Clara Aden is keeping up with the 14-day Art Challenge, inspired to stoke the fire of creativity.

Covid-19 pandemic spells different taste for different professionals. While those in the medical profession are battling to save lives including theirs, artists are making wise use of the lockdown and social distancing to curate a body of works inspired by this rare global disaster. Following the announcement of a lockdown in three cities in Nigeria: Lagos, Ogun and Abuja by the President Muhammadu Buhari, a Lagos-based female artist, Omolara Adenugba otherwise known by her studio name, Clara Aden commenced a 14-day Art diary to document the effect of the outbreak of Covid-19. This masterful illustrator embarked on a daily series which involved a drawing per day. Ultimately, she hopes to finish 14 artworks in the 14 days of lockdown.

Using the social media platforms as her open gallery, she posts pictures of her finished work every day alongside a note to communicate the experience that is captured in each piece. While being mindful of the limited access to art materials as a result of the lockdown in Lagos, Clara Aden created small pieces that appeared larger than life online. Titled, “Staying at Home” series, Aden is optimistic that her passion for this project will energize other artists and motivate them to create works within the comfort of their homes. The mother of four paused during her intense work to call this reporter; sharing the joy of doing something essentially for humanity.

Her opening work titled, “Lockdown No be Lockup” is rendered in pidgin-English. Achieved with pencil charcoal on canvas, the piece is essentially a self-portraiture with overlapping images of an imaginary mind breeding a variety of thoughts.

“Staying at Home for the next 14 days is a hard bone to crack especially for artists who are always on the move. One needs to be focused and be positive as this time shall soon pass. Lockdown is not lock up. It all depends on how you effectively use the time,” she wrote as she posted the first work.

The next day, which is Day 2, she posted a new piece titled, “A Hungry woman is an angry woman.” During the telephone conversation, Aden told THISDAY that the work was drawn from the news material on the television where a woman was lamenting over the token offered by the Lagos State government as food relief. The work itself is a minimalist interpretation of the scenario of anguish that many poor households in Lagos are plunged into as a result of the restriction of movement and closure of non-essential businesses.

The work revealed two hands: one of the giver and the other belongs to the receiver. The back of the hand of the giver bears the image of a shouting man, perhaps to illustrate the way government officials make public declaration of palliative measures which are only measured out to the people in few cups of beans, as depicted in the work.

Next, Aden created another piece inspired by an encounter with a young man who kept complaining of boredom. Titled, “I am bored”, it documents the general disposition of a magnitude of people across the globe. Performing artists have repeatedly complained of boredom and many had shared videos and pictures of themselves engaging in household chores, indoor games and other bewildering activities. According to Aden, boredom often gives way to depression which in turn can lead to mental instability.

Aden peered into the non-discriminatory impact of Covid-19 on the patients to validate the reality that the disease has no respect for status, class, age, gender or nationality with her work on Day 4. From world leaders to the common man on the street, the Covid-19 disruption is phenomenal.

“The Covid-19 pandemic marks an unprecedented time in history that will require humanity to overcome. The Coronavirus has taken millions of lives and had spread to almost every country in the world. Many have donated to support the government in providing immediate and long-term relief and recovery to vulnerable communities,” she said. The work shows a side view of an x-rayed head along with the image of Covid-19 and what seemed like blood plasma.

For Day 6, the concern of Aden’s daughter about returning to school fuelled the untitled piece. She explained to her daughter that the school closure and indeed the lockdown was to reduce the rate of spread of the virus. She added that it is imperative for all to stay safe as a way of showing appreciation for the sacrifice made by health workers at the forefront of this battle.

On the seventh day of the Stay at Home series, Aden paraded an image that is emblematic to the Covid-19 crisis with the piece titled, “Stay Safe.” Unlike other pieces executed mostly with charcoal pencil, this was done with hand drawn letterings on canvas to project the idea of mask wearing. In many cities of the world, wearing masks has become a common sight as well as a universal means of protection. Aden revealed how this idea had morphed into a part of her body of works.

“Recently, I have been exploring the technique of hand drawn letterings as a form of expression. It is a very tough and agonizing technique,” she said. Aden is also known for experimenting with mixed media to make authentic statements along with her characteristic illustrations.

On the importance of this subject matter of survival, she wrote in an accompanying post to the piece.

“My mask protects you and your mask protects me,” she wrote in an Instagram post.

Aden looks forward to exhibiting these works when Nigeria and indeed the entire world is Covid-19 free and life returns to normal.