At first glance, the title of the exhibition Insanity connotes depictions of several individuals suffering from the mental condition of being insane; aptly described as a “derangement of the mind”. Insanity has also been described as “repeating the same actions over and over again and expecting different results”. Perhaps, it is this latter definition that best inspires this exhibition of works in graphite, charcoal, pastel and burnt wood by 10 gifted artists; Seyi Alabi, Raji Abdul-Gaffar Bamidele, Ifeyinwa Joy Chiamonwu, Adefemi David, Ayo Filade, Kenechukwu Nwadiogbu, Alex Peter, Arinze Stanley, Isimi Taiwo and Oscar Ukonu. The artists' choice of the theme is apt, each new work by an artist, an improvement on the last as they inch towards the perfection of their craft – a state that arises from consistent and repeated action – when spirit, mind and hand are in unison and complete harmony. Though completed in diverse media, their works are bound together by the fact that all the artists save one were not trained in any formal art institution, the majority of them undertaking courses ranging from medicine to engineering and architecture.
As an offshoot of photorealism, hyperrealism is a relatively new school of painting that creates the illusion of looking directly at a photograph. Aided by technological advances in camera and digital equipment, artists have succeeded in achieving a higher degree of precision and accuracy. Hyperrealism in Nigeria is an even more recent development in the last ten years – this exhibition is arguably one of the earliest in promotion of this genre of expression, previous exhibitions include Jefferson Enoyore Jonahan’s State of Inertia (2011) held at the Omenka Gallery in Lagos and an Art Clip Africa-organized solo by Babajide Olatunji – Book of Proverbs (November 2015). Other developments in this direction include Mydrim Gallery’s solo exhibition for Olumide Oresegun in September 2016 and leading auctioneers Arthouse Contemporary’s online sale of his work, also this year.
However, Insanity is a more concerted effort in promoting hyperrealism in Nigeria with an ensemble of 10 artists. Instructive in this trajectory is the fact that these artists have heightened their instincts to imitate nature, being not stylistically influenced by academic tutors. The compounding evidence is in the artists’ incorporation of photographic limitations like depth of field, perspective and focus –a false sort of reality that demands a high level of competency and skill.
Seyi Alabi (b. 1985), better known as Sheyi Pencilz as his alias suggests, works predominantly with graphite pencils and panels on chipboard. He holds a diploma in computer engineering from APTECH (2013). Art for Alabi began at an early age. As a young boy, he found his most natural expression through his innate artistic abilities, exploring drawing and painting with a precocious determination and curiosity. Alabi presents everyday imagery, often of children playing or reading, and has recently started an important series on the negative effects of domestic violence on children. His work fuses a calm realism with deft manipulation of ambient light to produce paintings of great luminosity. His mastery of his medium is evident in the blurred contours and delicate modelling of his subjects.
Raji Abdul-Gaffar Bamidele (b. 1994) a.k.a. Radelart is presently studying actuarial science at the University of Lagos. He was also the overall best (Lagos Entry), earning the Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos Prize at the Life in My City Festival (LIMCAF). Bamidele’s focus is on the resilience of the human spirit, a “duology” he explains through the Yoruba words inira and igbala translated as hardship and salvation, respectively. His self-styled “Puzzled Realism” technique involves creating individual pieces of canvas, each depicting a portion of his picture plane, and when assembled realising the full expression, his chosen medium of charred coal serving to imbue his canvas with mood and richly varied textures.
Ifeyinwa Joy Chiamonwu (b. 1995) is currently studying English education at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka. Better known as Chiamonwu I.J. Creations, she is a rising female voice in a landscape mostly predominated by male artists. Her works are easily distinguishable by her attention to detail, their appeal lies in her technical execution and subtle rendering of form. Against rapid industrialisation and advancements in technology, Christianity and Western education – all attendant effects of globalisation, Chiamonwu in her series themed ‘Native Flavours’, aims to preserve indigenous traditions and customs.
Adefemi David (b.1993) is presently studying medicine and surgery at the University of Lagos. Expressing himself under the alias Foladavid, he is exceptional in his handling of diverse media including graphite, charcoal, coloured pencil, watercolour and acrylic. His mastery as a craftsman is clearly evident in his delicate lines and subtle modelling of form. Working at a frenzied pace and blindfolded, David completes his paintings with the support upside down and spinning.
A graduate of architecture from the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom (2012), Ayo Filade (b. 1990), known better as Ayo Draws, was first encouraged to draw and paint by his artist father. He is largely concerned with contrasts in lighting and texture, as well as with details. Titling his art “Desperate Realism”, Filade’s preoccupation with surrealism manifests in his interrogation of the consequences of conflict, separation and break, and how we deal with their rising tensions individually, as depicted in his series ‘Ipinya’. The artist explains “I rip myself apart. The damage seeps through. Oh the dire consequences, I am terrified beyond words. Oh God help me! Is my desperate cry for help I know I have good in me, I am bad, I am two sides of the same entity, one coin that is me. I am my own self-check, my own self-control, my own lust. I am my decision”.
Kenechukwu Nwadiogbu (b. 1994) is currently enrolled as a civic engineering student at the University of Lagos. He works in graphite pencils on paper and has recently added collage to his resumé. He built his considerable skill by studying the hyperrealist works of several internationally renowned artists. Nwadiogbu christens his art “ Dimensional Realism’’. In his series coined ‘Ókótó gbam’, meaning “all and none”, symbolic of human emotion, strength of character, ingenuity and survival, as well as a trilogy consisting of war, vengeance and war, we are all characters and play the role of soldiers. We peer through large tears shaped as okodee mmowere (the talons of an eagle), an Adinkra symbol from Ghana, in sheets of crumpled paper.
Both tear and crumpled paper, at once metaphors for the unfamiliar, the struggles, as well as the obstacles we face in our daily existence.
Alex Peter (b. 1992), better known as Xtinealexpen, discovered his talent for drawing at a very young age and honed his skills making portraits while he was in secondary school. Still, a student of accounting at Kogi State University, Peter works mainly in pen, pastels, pencil and wood burning. However, it is the latter technique he self-styles as “Pyrography”, involving the use of razors, sandpaper and a burner that has won him much recognition. He recently won the ‘’Award of Excellence” in the Benue Youth Choice Awards. His art celebrates the dignity of labour, bringing to the fore, the worker who tills behind the scene, from the director of a blockbuster to the makeup artist. In Strength in Distress, he describes the “masked joy of a hard-working painter concealed only by a feeling of fulfilment and satisfaction in the things he does”.
Arinze Stanley (b. 1993) studied agricultural engineering at Imo State University. He discovered an affinity for drawing when he was about 6 years old but only began to draw professionally in 2012 after an encounter with similarly gifted artists who encouraged him to take his art more seriously. Assuming the alias Harrinzeart, he spends over 200 hours on each of his drawings. Stanley’s technical proficiency is largely hinged on his ability to reproduce nature with exactitude, often contorting facial features to heighten the sense of drama. Fine examples of which are featured here in his ‘Disturbia’ series.
Better known as Isimisim, Taiwo Isimi (b.1982) earned a BA degree in Creative Arts from the University of Lagos in 2009. An accomplished portraitist, Isimi has executed in several media including watercolour, acrylic, ink, and charcoal, important commissioned portraits of; Babatunde Raji Fashola, former Governor of Lagos State; Dr Dayo Mobereola, former MD/CEO of LAMATA; Chief Molade Okoya-Thomas, former Chairman of CFAO motors; and Lamido Sanusi, former Central Bank Governor, and now Emir of Kano. Alongside portraiture, Isimi keeps an active practice as a graphics artist with a portfolio ranging from book illustrations, logos, album and magazine covers, to 3-D animations for several important clients. Significant examples of his series ‘Interactions with the Joker’ are presented here. It draws comparisons between the multifunctions of the joker in card games, – which assumes any role intended by the player, and water – at once an important element that sustains life on earth and a naturally occurring disaster in the form of tsunami.
Oscar Ukonu (b.1993) is studying architecture at the Federal Polytechnic, Nekede. He started drawing as a hobby when he was nine years old while dabbling in sculpture, photography, painting and craftwork.
However, in the last two years, he has devoted himself almost entirely to his art. Working solely with a ball pen, Ukonu, better known as Oscarukonuart is preoccupied with capturing moods and deep, hidden emotions, a process he terms “Emotive Surrealism’’. He explains that he studies every detail on his subject’s face for days or weeks, before putting pen to paper, to establish a connection while creating the energy to imbue his piece.
Individually, the works are strong and offer a glimpse, as well as a deeper understanding of the artists’ techniques and working methods. More importantly, they are a window into their minds, revealing extremities of patience, endurance and perseverance. Collectively, the works have an even greater impact as an important phase in the rich trajectory of contemporary art in Nigeria.
—Oliver Enwonwu, Director, Omenka Gallery, November 2016
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