Another Look at Humanity Through Sor Sen’s Botanical Imagery 

Sor Sen’s latest Abuja exhibition embodies his one-of-a-kind aesthetic canons while proclaiming his brilliant artistry and profound philosophy. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports 

First, it should be noted that Sor Sen’s choice of the cosy Nordic Hotel in Abuja’s low-density, leafy Mabushi neighbourhood as the venue for his sixth solo exhibition, Earthlings & Others—a choice that resonates deeply with the very essence of his work—deserves commendation. Indeed, this subtle nod to nature, as well as the unexpected pairing of creativity and hospitality, offers aficionados a one-of-a-kind ambience for an immersive experience in a realm where art blends with the everyday. It also breathes life into the figures lurking beneath the deliberate monochromatic painterly lacerations on his canvases.

It is against this backdrop—amid this fascinating mix of impressions—that Sen, on Thursday, February 22, evening—just before the exhibition’s official opening the following day—hosted a coterie of the federal capital city’s aficionados for the VIP preview of his latest cryptic musings on canvas. These, though based on relatable everyday themes, weave a narrative that stretches the imagination to undreamt-of limits. This, of course, is in addition to lifting a corner of the veil on Sen’s unique technique—one that always promises to inspire and excite audiences from diverse backgrounds. “Over time, I have looked at man and the totality of his environment as a trigger for artistic explorations, [as well as] delving into the physical and psychological components of existence,” the 38-year-old explains further in his artist statement. “Nature intrigues me just like many others; I am a subset of the universe, a chip off the block, Mother Nature.”

Recall that the vagaries of the human condition have always been the theme song of this Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria double alumnus’s creative odyssey. Take the solo exhibition titled Dreams, Disruptions, and Actualities, which he held two years ago in Lagos, for instance. Through it, he not only proclaimed his credo in evocative visuals but also reiterated his fixation on what he termed “the ambiguities of the human experience.” Is it therefore surprising that most, if not all, of his paintings are based on themes that seem to wax motivational, even when they are incapable of providing answers to questions bordering on the real purpose of human existence?

Sen’s fascination with both humans and trees spurs his exploration of intricate connections that serve as metaphors for human experiences. This is evident in the in the oil on canvas paintings, “Lifecycle,” “Entwined” and “Bloom.” For the Benue State native, those tangled branches of a tree, with their intricate dance of interconnectedness, mirror the complex and unpredictable nature of human experience. Indeed, just as trees experience seasonal changes, humans too undergo periods of growth and challenges. An observation of the shared processes of birth, growth, and mutual dependence between these earthlings highlights how the lifecycle replicates itself in various forms. From the initial sprouting of a seed from beneath the soil to its evolution into a mature tree with a majestic canopy, for instance, the parallels to human development from conception to adulthood are striking. Both display a marvel of interconnected systems, encapsulating the harmony and unity within the diversity of life’s expressions. Of course, there is also the fact that the structural networks of trees mirror the synchronised functioning of human anatomy, from roots to leaves.

Through this artist’s patented creative approach that intentionally prioritises emotive expression rather than literal representation, the works displayed in the exhibition seem to coax viewers into a realm of introspection that favours a deeper connection with their visible material environment. Thus, the artist hopes to sufficiently equip them to reinterpret existence with a heightened sense of empathy while offering solace through his oil on canvas paintings like “Hope in this Theatre of the Absurd,” “Stormy Sea but Steady Sailing,” and “I Will Be Your Shield through this Storm,”  as well as the oil and acrylic on canvas work “Soaking It In All.”

Still on the artist’s creative approach, his unwavering commitment to expressing his unique creative essence—a circumstance that explains the fact that he pays little heed to conventional artistic conventions—makes attempts at labelling his artistic leanings or sources of inspiration a futile task. With the sharp edge of his palette knife, he delicately etches the canvas, adding layers and texture. Then, using the knife, he deftly lifts colours from his palette, defying the norm by applying them to the canvas with a blend of precise and spontaneous strokes. The result is a captivating mix of colours and shapes that enchants the viewer.

As for the concept behind this exhibition, it draws from the reservoir of his childhood reminiscences of those idyllic holiday periods spent in the rustic village, in his grandfather’s retirement oasis, which, akin to a miniature woodland, fostered a deep connection with nature. Reflecting on those days, he muses in his artist statement on his refraining, despite his juvenile curiosity, from probing the motivation behind his grandfather’s choice of such an intricate and thoughtful layout. The memories, of course, remain vivid—especially of those hours spent deliberating and implementing landscape modifications that endlessly changed: an errant tree branch here, a plant shifting there. Of all these moments, the most profound was witnessing his grandfather’s reverence for trees, treating them as though they were esteemed individuals deserving of utmost care and attention—almost as though they possessed a unique human essence.

The exhibition, which meanwhile runs until Wednesday, March 6, is an eloquent testimonial of the virtuosity and brilliance of the accomplished, multi-award-winning artist. His unique aesthetic canons exude a magnetic charm that sets him apart in the vibrant Abuja art scene, inviting viewers on an exhilarating ride through a realm where beauty and innovation intertwine seamlessly.

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