With familiar imageries, Germany-based Jimmy Uche Nwanne’s solo exhibition in Lagos probes into the unheeded realms of thoughts. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports 

Jimmy Nwanne

This may be a reason why the solo exhibition, Residents, has such a revitalising effect on the sensibility of the viewer. Its theme, which stops short of acknowledging the realities beyond the physical, confronts him at the same time with the limitations of his earthly senses, which are neither equipped to grasp the meaning of eternity nor of infinity. But then, it is only through these bodily senses that he can experience the material environment in which he labours, under the weight of his dense physical body, to develop his will to its fullest strength.

Concerning the exhibition, which features the paintings and drawings by Germany-based Jimmy Nwanne at Sachs Gallery in Lekki, Lagos, its official opening reception on Saturday, June 18 was no less well attended than those of other recent exhibitions. Besides, it is not so often that an aficionado is regaled by such visual fares that clearly proclaim visible actions as the outward expressions of an inward process.

And the reflections on this inward process instantly remind the viewer of the increasingly tenuous link between man’s inner essence and his original home. With these thoughts, the average artist’s diminished ability to access higher inspiration also comes to mind. 

As for Nwanne, whom the exhibition’s curator Godson Ukaegbu says is “as thoughtful as they come,” his inner reflections—refined by a never-ending fusion of other similar thoughts—eventually express themselves in these cryptic, and yet engaging, drawings and paintings in the exhibition. Take the 100cm x 75cm, charcoal, cardboard, foam rubber, and glue on cardboard paper drawing, which he titled “Form”, for instance. Something about the countenance of the topless, innocent-looking boy, who curiously scrutinises the heap of a powdery substance in his hand, first arrests the viewer’s attention. But then, he wonders about the dove that seems to emerge from a coop embedded somewhere in the boy’s torso. 

Form, charcoal, cardboard, foam rubber, glue on cardboard paper, 100cm x 75cm 2021

Similarly, another drawing, done in charcoal, cardboard, sponge rubber, and glue on cardboard, depicting two boys locked in an embrace, which is titled “No Boundary”, also shows a coop housing six doves on the back of one of the boys, and interestingly adds two other apparently stray doves outside this inner enclosure.

Could that be a cryptic allusion to the inward process which always precedes every outward expression? Apparently, for the artist indeed affirms that “with the ability to operate from within, man can form his physical reality.” The endeavour to render the otherworldly inner activities into relatable, albeit cryptic, forms is, in any case, the theme song of this exhibition.

In yet another work he titled “The Journey of a Thousand Flights Begins with Belief” (done in charcoal, cardboard, and sponge rubber glue on cardboard paper), the inward process is depicted in the form of a door that seems to open into a balcony. And it gets even curiouser and curiouser, as the viewer wanders deeper into this thicket of a conceptual playground of forms. This is, of course, what the curator means when he asserts that the artist “shines a broad light on the inner architecture of the human thought structure.”

Nwanne’s fascination with the inner world, as this solo exhibition corroborates, expresses itself through a blend of the figurative and abstract. There is, however, a spectre of uncertainty lurking behind these expressions, which attempt to render the physically intangible world in forms understandable to the earthly senses. And this uncertainty is evident in the artist’s musings bordering on the origin and purpose of this earthly existence, which to most people represents “the real life.”

To the Test, oil on canvas, 160cm x 120cm

So, it is based on this premise that the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka graduate of painting describes life “as a characteristic that distinguishes physical entities [endowed with] biological processes—such as signalling, reproduction, and self-sustaining processes—from those that do not, either because they are dead or inanimate.” Thus, he not surprisingly elevates the after-effects of the much-pondered-over impelled motion, whose origin will forever remain a mystery to human comprehension, to a pedestal where they do not belong. Understandably, conjectures about the real purpose of man’s earthly existence would falter on such shaky grounds.

Also, the artist’s position on the existence of life beyond the perceptive capacity of the physical eyes would at best be speculative since he proceeds from what is known to his earthly senses to the unknown. Indeed, his views about “the non-physical experience of life” seem to be based on the physical activity of man, which eventually transmutes into thoughts. “We experience the world through our senses,” he postulates in the exhibition catalogue. “Through our senses, memory is built, and memory aids the formation of thoughts. Thought is the language of the mind. Thoughts are vibrations that we broadcast into the energy field. These thoughts resonate with elements that are in harmony with it.”

By assigning too much role to the minutest part of real existence, the artist limits his possibility of understanding man’s real essence and how far-reaching his activities in the material sphere are. Thoughts, which are emanations from the earthly brain, provide the channels or pathways upon which the more powerful forms of man’s real inner disposition can drift to specific goals.

Of course, shielding the fountainhead of those thoughts—or what the artist calls “the real estate” of the mind —from the incursions of unwanted “residents” is critical to man’s well-being in this creation.

There is an effort to visually re-enact the hubbub of these inner conversations in the oil, sponge rubber and glue on canvas paintings “Beyond but Not External”, “At Home”, “I Will Show You” and “Tuned In”, the oil on canvas paintings like “The View” and “Men Sleep Collectively, But Awake Individually”, as well as the oil, cardboard and glue on canvas works “Contact” and “Burn Again”. This comes with a note of caution on the potential of these conscious or unconscious activities that affect a man’s quality of life, as the artist alludes to another dimension of existence through the allegory of windows. “The use of a window or an opening on the chest of the figures reveals an access point to another dimension, a non-physical one within man; the awareness of the presence of a presence within,” he explains. 

Standing guard at the threshold of this non-physical reality, the artist, who has held exhibitions in Germany, Nigeria, Italy, and the USA, visually and literally waxes poetic in the solo exhibition, which ends on Tuesday, July 12.


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