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Generation Y: Art Shaping Discuss & Future Of Contemporary African Art

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It is tagged the Expo Generation Y, the art exhibition of the millennials in the African continent, who, in their quest to interpret their cultures, their influences on their societies overtime, employ different media, technology to express it, and in the course of that expression, discover similarity of subjects as they contract and grow smaller.

This paraphrased synopsis of the Generation Y, by the two-year-old art platform, Retro Africa with the collaboration of Institut Francais, raised much hope of the opportunity to see and experience a much more diverse media and artistic expression as one is used to seeing in the FCT, and to also see the unconscious connections in the works of 25 African millennial artists. And in most cases, the exhibition was successful in the areas of socio-political statements, uniqueness of media, use of technology to further artistic design, project human emotional condition.

LEADERSHIP Books & Arts, reviews Generation Y, rounding off the best of the art works that embody genuineness of subject discussion, unique medium, and use of technology to heighten the experience of art for Nigerian audience.

Starting off on a lighter tone, is the photographic works of Abayomi Akande of the traditional Hausa wrestling, Dambe. Regardless of the fetish and brutality of the game, Akande captures in monochromatic images, the raw, rural and unfettered setting of Dambe that sets it apart from the in-door trappings of the modern western wrestling. He captures the camaraderie amongst the sportsmen after and before the games as they frolicked in sprayed water and the image of their fabric protected arms and fists. In other ways, Akande raises the question, ‘How do we maintain, protect this beautiful game to avoid its being robbed of its simple beauty and pleasure by our capitalist society?’

The pleasure in Chinedu Ogheneroh’s pieces lies in their illustrative form. In this work, which crosses us over to the use and influence of technology in the portrayal of culture, we see the artist deploying his ‘Kpuri’ style, which highlights specific features of Africa in its quest to celebrate the African woman in her natural glory. Employing varying shades of yellow background, symbolic markings, colour harmony and ranging to highlight the African woman’s feature, which is often considered too disproportionate to fit the western notion of beauty, to celebrate them. Besides the familiar, masklike features, protruding lips and busts of his subjects, in Untitled, he takes the time show a side view of those noses, which defies the generalisation in art of the African woman as having flat and flaring nostrils. Featuring her in various forms of fashion, he shows the African woman as talented, beautiful, modern, cosmopolitan and comfortable in her own skin as in Untitled II.

In these three more functional than art pieces by Tom Robbins, made of metals, meshed nets and bamboo encased powered lightbulbs, the focus is on recycling the everyday materials in our environment. Although the simplicity of lines in these lamps could be cleaner, the artist’s assignation of characters, mood and personality to these otherwise daily, functional objects, not to mention their uncanny resemblance to humans with elongated caps and in different poses, lend an artistic air to the pieces.

Another artwork indicating technology’s ability to influence art, and the way it is viewed, is Lagos-based multi-media artist, Ayo Akinwande’s Third Force This. The sculptural installation piece is a political commentary on the existing two-party system of government in Nigeria and Africa, and the oftentimes-unintelligible electorates caught in the middle. Mounting human shaped metal frames filled with woods with the forms at the two ends carrying an umbrella with the symbolic colours of the PDP party and the other holding up a broom, significant of the APC party, sound installation replaying recorded voices of the masses and their views of the present leadership shows that oftentimes the peoples parliament -that is, voices in the streets, while flawed and ignorant, also forebode the present conditions of governance in Nigeria. The installation also depicts rather that true political discuss, which can coalesce into effective action, is subdued by our society’s obstinate focus on ethnicity to the detriment of shared democratic interests.

The celluaic, embryonic and abstract Cosmos Series of Khenye Gager paintings, enhanced by a video installation of the works, sucks the viewer into the endless possibilities of the universe and the many human and non-human interactions that make up the ordered system of the earth.

Exploring socio-economic trends in the continent, are artists Habeeb Andu, Ken Nwadigbo and Kenyan artist, Nicholas Odhiambo. Gripping, violent, best describes these contemporary abstract and multi-media paintings. They address the topics of sex, booze and poverty. In Juvenile Currency, a collage of branded alcohol and food, Andu explores both as a sort of escapism from the harsh realities they live in. In another canvas, Arrival Destination, he explores the subject of sex trade in Africa. In this canvas, ropes and chains shackle a silhouette female form. Red stripes of paint, crossed over by black stripes form a cell wherein the cell is imprisoned. Sharing that cell, are hazy female silhouettes hung by their legs to a wall, cut and dried for sale. On the third canvas, Untitled Mistress, a collage piece, the artist addresses the changing perceptions and trends of sex in contemporary African society; where teenagers are sexually exposed, ‘runs girls’ and ‘slay queens’ are not too averse to swapping sex for materialism to keep fly, and where fathers sexually abuse their daughters. In yet another painting, the artist shows what may be interpreted as a biased view of the female, as the sole materialistic one of both genders; grotesquely masking the cut-out female forms as fashion trendsetters, complex and spiritual beings driven by fashion for different purposes in 21st Century Ladies.

Taking up where Andu stopped, this time reading below the superficiality of socio-economic and political affairs in our society, the futuristic and menacing power of Kenyan artist, Nicholas Nicomambo Odhiambo’s graphite drawings, reveals humans as beings programmed and manipulated to think exactly the way the invisible controllers intend. So, in the drawings, science manipulates humans; the politician with his left hand raised in sincerity of service while the left fingers are crossed behind his back, rules out those electoral promises. The pieces give the audience the rude awakening that the world is more than it looks and to take in everything with a pinch of salt.

Meantime, Ken Nwadigbo’s ‘figurative hyper realism’ art, focused on ‘creating a very realistic image and deploying elements that create an impression or illusion of form and space, and usually to create emphasis in the narrative it portrays,” embodies the idea of conflict and its debilitating emotional effects. Nwadigbo explores in his The Black Mentality series, that the plights of child soldiers, exposed to the ravages of war too early, erodes their identity and innocence. The beauty of the artist’s medium, lies in his technique to deploy materials and paintings to create a polythene effect, a technique that best projects the suffocated, trapped in limbo state of his subjects, as they gradually lose their voices, to disappear unheard and unaided in their misery.

Exploring intrapersonal and interpersonal relations amongst humans, multi-media artist, Adeyinka Akingbade and thread sculptor, Dare Adenuga, explore the bonds between couples that can either sustain their relationship irrespective of age, time (Akingbade’s sensuous piece The Essence of Love, and Affinity) or destroy it – when one partner is unfulfilled. Employing two-dimensional sculpture on canvas, Adenuga explores the individual’s intra struggles and loss to a system against their principles (Dilemma II), and harsh reality of accepting the negatives and positives that come with interaction and friendship amongst humans as seen in his mixed media piece, Ini Mini Mani Mo.

In all, Generation Y exhibition did feature shared issues of discuss, and cultures, the influence of technology on art – in the way it is viewed, while providing local artists the opportunity to see and be inspired by the works of their counterparts in continent and beyond. It could do more in the presentation of non-installed pieces, in particular, the arrangement of the Akande’s Dambe Series, and the framing, which cut off a part of the subject’s air. There are the typographical errors in the artist’s statement and curatorial notes on artworks at the exhibition, which task the patience of the viewer to linger on before each artwork, beyond the opening day and in the absence of the artist. However, it did deliver on rich content for discuss, unique style and sophisticated simplicity that is the dynamic contemporary African art.

As the curator of the exhibition and co-founder of Retro Africa, Dolly Kola Balogun said, hosting non-African artists, five in Generation Y, was difficult but necessary to ensure, “Nigerian artists see and become inspired by other societies to tell the African stories from our unique background.” it will be interesting to observe the momentum of the platform after this.



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