Deep down in his mind, Chika Idu knew he had to do something about what he saw every time he travelled by boat in Lagos. The multidisciplinary artist who once lived in Ikorodu recalled an experience that would change the thematic structure of his works at the preview of his new solo exhibition at O’DA Art Gallery, Victoria Island, Lagos.
Water travel in Lagos afforded him a rare opportunity to see the side of Lagos that often eludes other city dwellers caught up in traffic. For him to beat the snarling congestion on his way to Victoria Island, he would travel by ferry. His keen eyes settled on the communities along the coastline and how they lived.
“You’d see a young child and an adult defecating into the water,” he recounted. “Some are just sitting by the boats anchored to the shore, defecating into the water, while we were just passing by. Within the same perimeter or environment, a lady would come out with a bowl and scoop water from the same polluted water. They cooked with the water. When I saw this, it was very disturbing.”
From his findings, he discovered the real people living along the waterways: the Eguns, Ilajes, and Ijaws. These slum dwellers had been at loggerheads with the state because the latter had tried to dislodge them in a bid to reclaim the land. Without state policies protecting such settlers, they become vulnerable and ultimately forgotten.
Idu described the act of reclaiming the land itself as an environmental threat that can destroy the natural habitats along the coastline. The hydra-headed nature of this issue propelled the artist into painting the swimmers in this body of work titled “Into the Deep.’’
“Even with the environmental abuse, the swimmers are happy doing what they love,” the artist said. “The children did not see what I was seeing. I was seeing a disaster, an epidemic.”
With a 20-year studio practice, Idu is a master of his own craft, experimenting with light while making distinct marks with his hazy rendition technique of painting. Inspired by the reflection of light through harmattan haze, Idu’s artistic perception of his world is an interplay of light and darkness.
His exploration of the ‘Swimmer Series” is not exactly new, but this time, the works are layered with a palpable sense of optimism even as they allude to socio-political realities. The visual distortion is indeed a metaphor for the reality that exists in the socio-cultural context of the work.
By exposing the plight of the African child, the 1998 graduate of Auchi School of Art continues to depict an energetic flow between the suspended figures and the textured water as a means to connect the optimism of the people who live in these communities and the hope for the betterment of the spaces they inhabit. Featuring 22 works—four watercolours and 18 oil paintings—the show parades titles such as “The Big Race Towards 2023,” “Breath I, II, and III,” and “The Simple” I–IV.
The curator for the show and founder of O’DA Art Gallery, Obida Obioha, remarked that Idu’s augmented reality is an irony of sorts. “What Chika has found in his studies of these communities is a joyful people who are proud of their home in spite of its conditions. I would go further to say that Chika Idu’s augmented reality is the same for Nigeria. Outsiders expect Nigerians to be downtrodden, frustrated, and despondent but, upon meeting us, are always surprised by the energy, vibrancy, good humour, and warmth of the people. I believe we are like Chika Idu’s ‘Swimmers’. Co-existing in a strange, serene fictional reality where peace and hope reside. This is my respite through it all.”
The exhibition, which opened on May 13, runs till June 3.