With Ascendancy of Machines, It’s Two Sides of a Coin

Yinka Olatunbosun

In the duo show titled, ‘The Ascendancy of Machine,’ the legendary sculptor, Olu Amoda and master painter, Kelani Abass are exploring their shared currency in visual storytelling to make statements on the relationship between man and machine as well as modern technology. Hosted by O’DA Art Gallery, Victoria Island Lagos, this intriguing exhibition runs from October 29th till November 19th.

Abass’s interrogation of this history is traceable to the series ‘Man and Machine’ which seeks to understand the synergy between workmanship of man and the ease of the machine. The thematic focus of the body of works is even profound in today’s digital world where modern technology played a pivotal role in the world of work, the dissemination of information and social engagement. This subject is subtly reechoing the concerns with the industrial revolution where machines are replacing human effort.

On the contrary, Abass, through painting and mixed media showcases the interplay between the manual and mechanical, influenced by the processes of industrial printing which the artist learned from his parents printing press business during his formative years. At a recent press preview of the works, Abass revealed how the influence of his roots characterised some of his pieces, from miniature to large canvas paintings.

“We were operating letterpress machines. That’s where the work started from. I was observing the machines and other tools we use in the printing press and how the parts suppose one another. For me, that was really special,” he recounted.

His art education taught him to dig into this personal history to create a visual narrative of the stages of labour intensive duties, using a mixture of superimposed figurative elements and the elements of abstraction of applied objects and mixed media. 

Also, Abass expressed concern about the threat of technology to human effort and how automated systems are driving the need for less workers. In the piece titled ‘Chronological Remuneration, Valour and Heroism Triptychs,’ the physicality of workmanship is held together by the visibility of wheels, cogs and dials. Similarly, in ‘Chronological Remuneration XII,’ the gear is embedded in the centre of canvas’ foundation alluding to a need for mechanical elements beyond man’s capabilities. 

“The importance of machinery in aiding manpower in today’s fast growing technological advancement” is the only way to “take advantage of the resources in our arsenal,’’ he explained.

In this exhibition, both artists, although highly distinct in style and subject matter, share a common focus in which the evolution of modern and contemporary practices affect their interpretation of socio-political and environmental discourses in today’s Africa. 

Olu Amoda’s pieces, displayed in the open-air garden around the gallery, are indeed environmentalist’s statements. Made of repurposed objects, his metallic sculptures intersect past and present contexts as a means to measure cultural value and encourage appropriate structural reforms in Nigeria. For over a decade, Amoda has situated his works within socio-political and environmental frameworks.

Thus, he appropriates repurposed materials such as rusty nails, metal plates, bolts and pipes in his creations, as a visual commentary on the consumer culture. His installation ‘Rotation Against Masses (Rams), 2014’ critiques the lack of political reform in Nigeria and at the same time, questions the rationale for the coexistence of the Nigerian people. Each Ram is an indication of regional areas in Nigeria and the disparity that lends itself to faulty voting systems. 

In a sense, both artists call for a shift in ideals, focusing primarily on encouraging a more progressive and forward-thinking environment. While past articles of history may be important to Abass to preserve, Amoda also shares the sentiment that discarded objects possessing some degree of energy can be repurposed.

Creatively, using the welding process, Amoda’s works are reflective of a hope for new forms and possibilities.

“This process, driven by forensic and archaeological inquest, brings to the fore the sculptural discourse on the technological upgrade of an object and invites my audience on a collaborative journey in which process and product exist side by side.” 

His life-sized sculpture of ‘Expectation, 2015’ created from welded bronze cast from firewood, is an indication of the possibilities created from the intricate process of welding. 

The artist’s intention to recreate a familiar pose of an individual awaiting a bus is brought to life in a performative and life-like manner as the references, metaphors and symbols are embodied in physical works. While both artists engage different processes, styles and mediums, their work is linked by a powerful sense of vitality and a need for change to the complexities of the African and Nigerian experience. 

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