As one of the most recent phenomenal exhibitions on the Lagos art scene, a joint exhibition featuring the works of the renowned printmaker Segun Adeku and his son will remain etched in its collective memory. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports
Only a few of the Lagos art scene’s many exhibitions in recent memory could have matched the swoon-worthiness of Ori L’ Afínjú. Indeed, this two-generational collaboration between a father and his son—dubbed “the most impressive art show of the year” by metal sculptor Dotun Popoola—also earns the diadem as its most inspirational and didactic so far. The father’s 2-D works, which are still remembered fondly by contemporaries as a largely self-taught neo-traditionalist great, found complements in the engaging 3-D works of his son, Gbenga, an effervescent 2015 Obafemi Awolowo University graduate.
Hats off, therefore, to the duo. To think that their joint exhibition, which officially opened to the public on Saturday, May 7 (after private viewings on Thursday, May 5 and Friday, May 6), could have been so generously extended beyond the official Saturday, May 26 closing date by the host gallery! Perhaps, that would be a good reason to affirm that it must have given the local aficionados so much to mull over. In his statement in the exhibition’s catalogue, Terra Kulture’s Yakubu Yahaya, who curated the exhibition, extolled it as “a show combining years of experience alongside exciting, innovative craftsmanship” and as “truly a labour of passion and artistic excellence.”
Talking about the exhibition, its title Ori L’ Afínjú – a derivation from two Yoruba words, “Ori” and “Afínjú” – positions the head or the mind (Ori) as a “cautious, fashionable, and environmentally proactive person” (Afínjú). Thus, the word concerns itself less with its literal meaning as the head and embraces its wider concepts such as man’s intuitive faculty and destiny. As the artists further explained in the exhibition catalogue, it can also be “the reflective spark of human consciousness embedded into the human essence, and therefore it is often personified as an Orisha (god) in its own right.”
The exhibition, buoyed by its easily understood themes, appropriates time-honoured traditional nuggets as vehicles for dispensing its message. Through the awakening of the concept of Afínjú, it kindles the enthusiasm in the viewer for aesthetics, fine taste, and the pursuit of excellence, among others. For instance, while the works of Segun Adeku proceed from the premise that the mindset is decisive for every outward expression, which either ennobles or debases the human being, his son’s works focus on the unsavoury effects of this inward process. “The body of works will further discuss what it means that the head (Orí) is metaphorically the god of beauty and the custodian of a healthy human environment,” the exhibition catalogue promises.
Besides the advocacy for the reawakening of the sense of beauty, Segun’s works also seethe with an infectious joie de vivre. For not only do the disarming smiles on the faces of his subjects proclaim their state of mind, but they also lift the veil on the elderly artist’s inner disposition. Indeed, the deep etched print works on watercolour paper, “Young Couple,” “Chicken for Dinner,” “Celebration,” and “Àkóyawó” (Transparency) evoke a yearning tenderness in the viewer, which stirs up a subconscious longing for those idyllic bygone years of innocence.
Perhaps, it is to reinforce this nostalgic message that the artist, for whom this exhibition also marks his 50th year of art practice, extends his lighthearted visual anecdotes in the oil on canvas paintings “The Power of Smile”, “Ìfé ní Ìbàdàn”, “Tokotaya” and “Ife Obi” (Parental Wish), among others.
The exhibition’s unique selling point could be said to be the narrative arc, which seamlessly shows the links between Segun’s impressive artistic odyssey and the promising career of his son. The latter, who first trained in his Olokun Art Gallery in Ile-Ife, has continued in his father’s footsteps, albeit with new mediums. Self-described as an “upcycle artist”, the 29-year-old enthuses about his passion for art. “I see plastic waste differently,” he writes in the exhibition catalogue. “I see thrashed PET bottles as Michelangelo sees marble. I see thrashed bottles as thrashed people, as abandoned relationships. Frustrated, they’ll protest at toll gates; block our waterways and take our homes if ignored.”
While growing up in the vicinity of his printmaker dad, he inevitably could think of being nothing else than an artist, which to him was like being an astronaut. “I thought what he was doing had to be important because he mostly had many foreign friends over at his gallery and studio,” he once told an interviewer. “He let me draw and, at times, play with his art materials. I enjoyed the freedom I felt even then.”
Not even the obvious father-son bond would stop Gbenga, who now runs an upcycling-focused art studio called XtetixUpcycle, from charting his own unique creative course. His anti-waste activism also finds expression in inculcating his environment-friendly endeavours into younger people.
Once finding himself feeling guilty for contributing to the toxification of the environment through the improper disposal of plastic bottles, he soon discovered more creative ways of giving them new life. Paying more attention to plastic waste led to his deeper understanding of the time-bomb on which the planet sits. “Of all the solid waste degrading our planet, in my opinion, plastic waste is the most violent, yet the most easily generated and hardest to properly dispose of. I want Nigerians to see their ‘discards’ become more. I want to share the truth of the living dirt. Paying attention to waste is the first step to gaining an environmental awareness.”
Eventually, the upcycled plastic waste re-emerges in a 3-D world of cheerful colours teeming with exotic fishes and ants as an apt counter-narrative to this depressing state of affairs. But even the entrancing colours cannot smother the jeremiad lurking in the messages of such works as “Ìrìnajò Wúra” (Golden Journey), “Ìfékúfè” (Lust), “Ìfé kún ìfé” (Abounding Love), “Èjìré” (Twins), “Ìrandíran” 2 and 3 (Generations 2 and 3), “Kòkòrò tín jèfó” (Vegetables Eating Ants), “Ìdìtè” (The Conspiracy), “Ibú” (The Deep), “Àjegbé kan o sí” (Repercussions) and “Ìje” (Fortune).
Talking about these works in the context of this phenomenal exhibition, their anti-waste precepts will remain etched in the Lagos art scene’s collective memory.