A group exhibition at Terra Kulture in Victoria Island, Lagos unites 18 artists working in different media under a common theme that evokes their defiance in these creativity-stifling times. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke writes

More than ever before, these ravaging COVID-19 times have highlighted the creative industry’s vulnerability. And this could be one good reason why a coterie of artists’ proclamation of their tenacity from the rooftops evokes a chest-thumping act. Thus, it makes sense that a group exhibition, which opened yesterday (Saturday, February 27) at the Victoria Island-based Terra Kulture, holds this word aloft like a banner.

If the initial expectations swirling around this exhibition are high, it is because it features such industry favourites as Lekan Onabanjo, Fidelis Odogwu, Damola Adepoju, Chika Idu, Tayo Olayode and Bolaji Ogunwo among the coterie of 18 artists.

Meanwhile, its curator, Yakubu Yahaya – also among the exhibiting artists – decries the effects of the lockdowns, event postponements and cancellations on his colleagues. “Nonetheless, through inspiration, innovative thinking, collaborations, and sheer persistence, the Nigerian creative industry has not only survived but thrived during these difficult times,” he adds.

Not quite. While some compulsive collectors may indeed have kept the faith, it is doubtful that the art market has, in recent times, witnessed any remarkable growth. This is all the more reason why the exhibition, which ends on Monday, March 8, could not have been held at a more auspicious time.

From beneath its title Tenacity, words like focus, courage, resilience, determination and diligence float to the surface. The curator alludes to “insurmountable odds” while in the same breath, he crows about what he describes as “a thought-provoking collection of art in various media, on a plethora of subject matters aimed at holding a mirror to modern-day society in all its chaotic beauty and flawed perfection.”

Tenacity is, therefore, really an affirmation that, even in these dire times, the artists are not about to give up any time soon. This fact is corroborated by Yakubu’s assertion: “Through our art, you can see our struggles, our persistence, our victories. Our can-do spirit. The inherent conviction to never give up. The Nigerian Tenacity.”

As a rallying cry, the exhibition’s title wrings coherence out of what could have been a Babel of eclectic and impersonal offerings. Even so, the fact that most of the works groan under the numbing predictability of the traditional media adds to the burden of expectations that already weighs on the artists.

Take Lekan Onabanjo, for instance. The fact that he is known to have over 25 post-qualification studio practice and had his early formal tertiary art education at the renowned Auchi Polytechnic puts him in the spotlight of the exhibition circuit’s habitués. Even when he is acclaimed for his mastery of the watercolour medium, some of his keen devotees remain starry-eyed about his paintings in oil and acrylic. Focusing on the Nigerian society’s fringe-dwellers as well as on topical issues bordering on rural-urban matters have been the theme song of his studio practice. The Guild of Fine Artists of Nigeria (GFAN) member, who also belongs to the Watercolour Society of Nigeria (WSN) and the Institute of Contemporary Art, London (ICA), is also renowned for his deft use of light and reflections, which are dramatic elements in his compositions. As an alumnus of the Lagos Business School and Pan Atlantic University, his skills on the business side of his practice are well-honed.

Not less reputable are the records of two of his co-exhibiting artists Suraj Adekola and Ajayi Porter, who preen themselves on their international exposure. Adekola, for instance, whose five works sold at the Bonhams African art auction in London in 2015, was also listed among the Top 50 Nigerian artists by turnover at African art auctions in 2017. Between 2017 and 2019, the works of the 2007 Auchi Polytechnic graduate made it to other auctions in the French capital, Paris and the Swiss town, Geneva. Meanwhile, Porter, who graduated from the Yaba College of Technology in 1997, had participated in such international events as the 23rd Pan African Films and Arts Festival in Los Angeles, USA and the 27th Wurzburg African Festival in Germany. “As an abstract expressionist artist, my approach to painting is not to interpret philosophy alone but to answer questions with a better interpretation using bold brushes and palette knives,” he says. “My mixed media approach continues with the use of collage… on the surface of the canvas.”

Another Yaba College of Technology graduate, Bede Ifeanyichukwu Umeh, is reportedly ranked, albeit by unacknowledged sources, among the art world’s Top 1,000,000 globally and the Top 1,000 locally.
Perhaps, the artist, who takes the prize as the exhibition’s oddball, is Alex Peter, whose interesting approach to pyrography leaves a pleasant aftertaste in the viewers’ palate. His works, which reference African contemporary realities, are produced through the use of fire, razorblade and sandpaper. “Working on wood makes me collaborate creatively with nature and [offers me] a sense of connection with life in all wonderful adversity, which adds meaning to my art,” he declares.

Also engaging are the works of the other artists like Raji Mohammed, Yakubu Yahaya, Ifeoluwa Olukoya, Olamilekan Abatan, Robert Oniha, James Amuta, Taiwo George-Taylor and Gabriel Jideonwo,
Indeed, Tenacity, as a battle cry for artists in these times of distress, is a must-see exhibition for the Lagos art community.