From their diverse perspectives, six artists – featured in the recently-launched Jadé Online Gallery’s exhibition – are engaging their environment, using art as a tool for social commentary. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke writes
Through a deft weaving of fate – often misconstrued by the uninitiated as happenstance – six artists have been, so to speak, corralled into an online gallery’s ongoing exhibition. Corralled, because the sextet – Abasiekong Udobang, Sam Ebohon, Gerry Nnubia, Tolu Mustapha, Lasisi Babatunde and Chinyere Akachukwu – should ordinarily be deemed strange bedfellows. Thus, providing a through line for their diverse perspectives attests to the organiser’s curatorial acumen.
This, indeed, is what makes her deft resolution of their generational diversity and idiosyncrasies – in the exhibition that opened on Monday, November 1 and ends on Saturday, January 15 – an art unto itself. For one undeniable pièce de résistance of group exhibitions remains their adroit offering of the diverse perspectives of one theme in one platform.
Hence, as the recently launched Jadé Online Gallery’s opening salvo, the exhibition hopes to stimulate discussions – and, possibly, debate – bordering not only on environmental issues but also other on their possible spin-offs, which impact on human emotions. For Aderonke Akinyele-Bolanle, who is both the gallery’s initiator and the exhibition’s curator, this is one way to meld the celebration of creative excellence with the networking of African people beyond the confines of their continent and its diaspora communities. “In [the] future, we hope to invite aspiring and emerging curators to create online contents that will abide by our mission and build an understanding of the role of arts in society,” she discloses in her curatorial statement.
The Bath Spa University, UK MA holder in arts management doubles as an art advisor, who helps private clients to collect investment art pieces, as well as a curator working with artists through curated projects. It was indeed to this end that she had founded Jadé Art Consulting as an art-consulting firm in 2015. Two years later, she wormed herself into the art circles and was soon deemed significant enough to be included among the women shaping the Nigerian visual arts.
Ultimately, she owes it all to her seven-year experience in the Lagos art scene, during which she spent four years working the Victoria Island-based Terra Kulture’s art gallery and the ancillary auction house TKMG. This was shortly after the completion of an MA in media and creative enterprise at Birmingham City University, UK. Talking about her academic antecedents, she also holds a BA in visual arts from the University of Lagos, a curating contemporary art certificate from the School of Curatorial Studies in Venice and a museum studies certificate at the British Council.
“Having taken a career break from the art management world for a year working as a research assistant with a heritage organisation,” she narrates, “I was beginning to get itchy feet to put a structure to my curatorial practice hence the birth of Jade Online Gallery. I am intrigued by many different types and styles of artwork. I look for striking, visually stimulating works that catch my attention and speak to me. Of course, I also assess the overall technical ability and originality in these paintings. It is part of our mission statement at Jadé to show artists personal experience reflected on created pieces – works documenting the history and current events, or contributing to their current practice in arts and cultural heritage.”
It should therefore be an intriguingly worthwhile experience to savour her curatorial tastes while engaging the featured artists in her online gallery. It is also worthwhile to see what the younger artists like Tolu Mustapha, Lasisi Babatunde and Chinyere Akachukwu have brought to the table in a scheme that involves more established names like Sam Ebohon and Gerry Nnubia. As for Abasiekong Udobang, the lone photographer among the sextet, his inclusion adds zest to the exhibition. Already, his verifiable track record – even while he was still an employee of the telecommunications company MTN – positions him as one of the industry’s credible voices. And his over 15 years of work in the field of social development, which saw him visit several remote communities across Nigeria, greatly enriched his photography portfolio.
Featured in the ongoing exhibition his “Street Kings” series, which is based on his prior photographic project on stray horses in Lagos, draws a parallel between these equines’ fall from grace and the human condition. Through Udobang’s lens, the viewer is forced to empathise with these majestic animals which, once put to good use, now roam the streets of Lagos. Likewise, once prominent people are constantly being swept aside by the constant tides of modernisation as useless jetsam and flotsam of the society.
Then, there is Sam Ebohon, whose patented peculiar colourful thick brushstrokes conceal actual words, phrases or even sentences. Yet, underneath the tangled mesh of these letters lurk whatever figurative expressions that caught his fancy.
Through this technique, he urges his viewers to observe life less superficially and scour beneath the cyphers of the much-glossed-over objects in his material environment for deeper meanings. Life, to this 1990 graduate of the Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, reveals its secrets to those who trouble themselves to unearth them.
Talking about techniques, Gerry Nnubia preens himself on his restless and experimental disposition. The 55-year-old visual arts graduate of the Enugu-based Institute of Management and Technology (IMT) is constantly seeking new ways to express his advocacy for peace while he deplores the dense, dark clouds of rancour darkening the ethereal environment.
Among the younger artists, Chinyere Akachukwu’s expressionistic style of painting bears the hallmarks of the globalist trends. Even while eliciting subjective interpretations from their viewers, her works also seek to incite them to independently and conscientiously engage their contemporary environment.
Meanwhile, Tolu Mustapha – known for her lush impastos – is a constantly evolving artist, whose works boldly engage societal issues. Then, there is Lasisi Babatunde, who, with childlike images, documents mankind’s visual experiences in his Sojourner’s Diary series. Through the series, he shares visual anecdotes about immigrants and travellers. The works, which seethe with his joie de vivre, urges a positive acceptance of life’s experiences.
These artists’ use of art as a tool for social commentary to address their environment’s many issues is a common thread that runs through their works. “Every artwork in this online collection launch, we will address and focus on showing the importance and value of art whilst strengthening the art ecosystem,” adds the curatorial statement.