From February 15 to 17, 2019, Omenka Gallery will present Contemporary Realities: Shifting Identities, an exhibition of the work of 3 leading contemporary Nigerian artists Ebenezer Akinola, Ima Mfon and Williams Chechet. The exhibition draws its title from the individual experiences of each artist and the particular socio-political realities of Nigeria.
The 3 artists differ in their primary point of investigation.
Portraits and figure studies form a special part of Ebenezer Akinola’s oeuvre. He skilfully achieves a balance of realistic and abstract passages in his work, adding further depth with a combination of broad sweeping strokes in the background and smaller, finer details to accentuate areas of interest.
He explains his underlying philosophy, the role of recurrent themes like travel and migration in his work, “The empty background is for two reasons; one is technical. Sometimes it’s better to focus on the essence, the positive space; it gives better visual impact. Second and more importantly, the background shows the ‘unknowingness’, of the so-called journey and throws up several questions like; where are they going? Migration is constant. Man cannot remain, he must move.”
Akinola’s ideas around shifting identities, the politics of representation and cultural multiplicities play out in the background or space, as well as through the men, women and children that populate his canvases. Here, the real and the virtual intermingle, a metaphor for the breakdown of physical spaces and temporalities. In alluding to Akinola’s assertions, our experience of these spaces that are of no fixed geographic location, is dependent on the mobility and an ability to view multiple perspectives simultaneously.
Ima Mfon explores issues of social and cultural identity. “‘Nigerian Identity’ is a series of photographic portraits of my fellow Nigerians in which all people are presented in a uniform manner, even enhanced so that their skin tones are virtually identical. The idea behind this discipline stems from my experiences living in different cultural settings which have viewed identity differently. ‘Black’ is often used as a generic descriptive label. ‘The black guy’, ‘The new black sitcom’. I see myself as being more than just black. However, that is usually not how I am perceived outside of Nigeria. Regardless of my unique heritage, I am often generalized as being just black. The homogenisation of the skin tones in my project plays on this tendency to reduce people to just a colour. But it also serves to unify the people and further the artistic expression of their portraits. In these images, the skin tones are rich, deep and beautiful to celebrate our beautiful skin, for which we are often oppressed and marginalised.”
Willaims Chechet is often triggered by images inspired by the world around him. Drawing references from the likes of Andy Warhol and Jean Michel Basquiat, iconic figures of the pop art movement of the 1960s, his creative process is largely spontaneous. Isolating photographs on a coloured and flattened plane, they are taken out of context and overlapped with colourful accessories as exemplified by the well-received series ‘We are the North’ and ‘Royal Niger’.
Betraying his northern heritage, he explores the locals especially leaders, as well as iconic imagery that has shaped Nigeria’s political history while the latter series is reminiscent of the work of artist Roy Lichtenstein. Here, he develops facial features of past Nigerian presidents alongside cartoon text. Through his art, Chechet shares fresh perspectives of Africa, underscoring the need to learn more about one’s history.
Overall, though the exhibition engages the traditions of African art history, it has a strong contemporary outlook resulting in iconic imagery that captures intense and challenging moments.
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