A Quartet’s Visions of an Inner World 

Through the lenses of their cultural differences, four artists boldly addressed various aspects of their inner lives, allowing their individual stories to entwine with society’s larger fabric in a recent exhibition held in Lagos. Yinka Olatunbosun writes

Things Left Unsaid, as a recently-concluded group exhibition at the Affinity Art Gallery, Victoria Island, Lagos, was titled, made bold statements whose reverberations linger in the viewers’ minds. The exhibition, which featured 20 works by Dianna Offor, Emmanuel Unaji, Joseph Aina, and Stephen Langa, was one of the major highlights of the Nigerian visual arts scene in July.

The exhibition, as its curator, Moni Oloke, said, immerses the viewer since it delves into the inherent human longing to be truly seen, understood, and acknowledged. “It serves as a profound reflection on the consequences of our failure to engage in introspection and ask vital questions of ourselves and society,” she told a coterie of visitors to the exhibition while on a tour around the gallery space. “Within the exhibition’s realm, ignorance is stripped of its illusory comfort, exposing the weight of unresolved issues that linger.”

The dynamic interaction between the artists and their works, with two embracing figurative art and the other two delving into the world of abstraction, was the main thrust of the exhibition. Each artist boldly addresses various aspects of their inner lives, allowing their individual stories to entwine with society’s larger fabric. Viewers are urged to engage in a transforming journey of observation, contemplation, and departure through the varied works, leaving them with a profound and meaningful experience.

Through the prism of their diverse cultural backgrounds, each artist asserted their own unique creative perspective on the theme. For instance, Stephen Langa, a South African artist who specialises in different mediums such as charcoal drawing, watercolour, and oil paintings, revealed the magic within the mundane lives of Africans, unfolding their stories through intricate details. Exploring dark hues, Langa brought nightlife to the gallery with the pieces “A Day for A Glass of Wine” and “There’s so Many Ways to Fall in Love Again.” The graduate of art and design at Tshwane North College in Pretoria captures the essence of introspection and outward observation, prompting reflection on the past and present in this body of work.

Then there was Emmanuel Unaji, a British-born Nigerian multidisciplinary artist and co-founder of award-winning design company Unaji & Co., who is a fashion design graduate of Kingston University (2021) in London. The artist has a mix of bold and unconventional styles aimed at deconstructing icons and unconscious bias applied to portraiture. Largely influenced by popular culture as well as masters such as Michelangelo and Virgil Abloh, Emmanuel contemplates the Western canon and questions his place within it. His signature portraits are a combination of collage, drawing, and painting. His works have been featured at Le Carreau du Temple Paris, The Royal Exchange, Tate Britain, the Adidas Flagship Store, London Fashion Week, and The Freemasons Hall. He has participated in several international group exhibitions and fairs.

Another Nigerian-British artist, Joseph Aina, who lives in London, also works in Nigeria and Berlin. He received a degree in law and psychology from the University of Kent (2018) and later completed a graduate diploma at the Royal College of Art (RCA), where he graduated with an MA in Painting in 2022. Through his series titled “Poetic Fundamentals,” Aina seeks liberation from Western and European ideals, including his artistic process. Returning to simplicity, he believes we discover our true selves and purpose. He has taken part in group exhibitions such as Buffer, Guts Gallery, London (2022), Patterns of Identity, Prior Art Space, Barcelona (2022), and The Life of Us, Prior Art Space, Berlin (2022), among others.

Dianna-Maria Somtochukwu Offor-Ugoji is an abstract artist and expressionist painter who almost never became an artist. Art was not popular with her parents, and so she had a tough time convincing them that she could be successful as a full-time studio artist. Eventually, she studied fine arts at the University of Lagos, graduating with a BA in creative arts (textile design) in 2021. Described as ‘God’s Artist,’ her works are steeped in Christian abstract imagery and her strong belief in God. Indeed, the pandemic period provided her with ample time to hone her craft. In her pieces, she is preoccupied with the use of the scarlet colour, which has its own core biblical significance. Her titles that allude to bible stories include ‘3 o’clock,’ ‘So I can be Saved,’ amongst others. She has taken part in group exhibitions including Femme Fatale at Lagoon Gallery (2018), Purple Place at Olori Gallery (2022), and Grow Up at the Art Hotel (2022).

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