An octet of emerging and established artists engages a sombre theme alluding to the imminence of a new era from their diverse perspectives in an exhibition by Lagos-based SOTO Gallery. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports

Surely, Crack, the SOTO Gallery’s inaugural exhibition, did, as a curatorial strategy, convey the right messages! And hopefully, these were not lost on the aficionados that flocked to its opening that Saturday, September 24th evening. For, besides an obvious effort to get its thematic track to segue through the divergent offerings of eight artists, the ominous resonance of its title seems to sound an apocalyptic note. 

That its curator, Arinola Olowoporoku, does not lack for appropriate imagery to – albeit, unintentionally – heighten the title’s subtle premonitory tenor is evidenced in her allusion to a new era, indeed by her explanatory phrases “the first light of the day, the crack of dawn” in the exhibition’s catalogue. “It signifies the end of a time that leads to the start of a new period, the in-between and the journey to dawn,” she adds as further clarification on the import of the title.

Indeed, very hard to ignore is this lurking sense of an impending collapse of the current systems, which trails the buildup of woes, calamities, natural disasters, upheavals, and economic misery, as well as the perplexity and helplessness resulting from the back-to-back occurrences of these events. And as for these afflictions, they are supposed to awaken slumbering humanity to introspection when properly understood. 

An aficionado at the exhibition

Naturally, viewers are expected to see the eight featured artists’ visual journeys—Victor Ekwu, Mary Funmilola Onidare, Bertha Onyekachi, Muraina Oyelami, Sor Sen, Laju Sholola, Johnson Uwadimma, and Uche Uzorka—as the parameters within which they can gain a deeper insight into the subject. With the exception of Muraina Oyelami, an octogenarian artist from the Osogbo Art School tradition, the artist express their impressions in more condensed ways through sub-themes, which act as channels. 

Despite their best efforts and zeal, their groping around the subject in the absence of higher knowledge—which can only be described as a conjectural exercise—remains, nonetheless, within the restrictive confines of their physical experiences. 

Thus, in an attempt, for instance, to make the process of conception intelligible to his audience, the artist, Victor Ekwu, conjures a dreamy murmuration of occurrences against the backdrop of his life’s vicissitudes. But already this effort falters with the wrong premise that something could be made out of nothing. As a result, rather than being intuitively driven, the inspiration for the acrylic paintings “Hopelessness” and “Confusion” appears to have come from his brain working in concert with his feelings as fantasies.

Of course, expecting anything virtuosic from these emerging artists, who are subject to the whims of the zeitgeist, would be unrealistic, if not unfair. After all, authentic artistic expressions, which should be appropriate interpretations of creation’s so-called “mysteries”, have, just like the spirit which produces them, been long banished to the realm of legends. In this contemporary era, it is therefore all about stimulating the viewers’ minds and sensations as much as possible.

A section of the exhibition hall featuring Sor Sen’s triptych

This is one of the reasons why a viewer is drawn to the mostly oil and acrylic-based paintings by Mary Onidare, titled Finding Whole, as well as the collection of works by Laju Sholola, titled “Can We Start Over?”. Both female artists, who are admittedly excellent at manipulating colours, appear to mirror post-impressionistic traits in their paintings. True, they are not quite the Matisse and Gaugin of the modern era—nor do they seem to aspire to such ambitions—but still, their efforts glisten with the promise of a lustrous future career.

Besides, their works reveal attributes that proclaim their sensitivity from the rooftops. While Onidare’s “Expectation” and “Devotion” tug at the viewer’s heartstrings, Sholola’s “We All Try”, “Sinner”, “Can We Start Over?” and the “Monologue” series seem to direct his gaze to the light at the end of the tunnel. 

Meanwhile, if the figurative acrylic paintings on canvas by Bertha Onyekachi, grouped under the title Trapped, are somewhat reminiscent of Sholola’s reflections on the challenging process of transition, it is because they essentially reflect her thoughts on her battles with self-realisation. With the following, seething with a restless longing for freedom, her spirit seems to cry out: “Fears of cluelessness, trapped in the maze of my abilities, the imagined possibilities, self-imposed limitations, ashamed of my vulnerability, convinced I have not the tools to break forth. I have become a fixed puzzle, finding answers, finding response, finding ways, trapped in the maze of myself (that is myself).”

Similarly, Sor Sen’s mixed-media triptych “Samsara” and Johnson Uwadimma’s collection of works, Journey Through Time, appear to be based on a fascination with the concept of time as it relates to the human experience. While Sen’s measuring of time from cradle to grave is his “wake-up call to everyone to do things that make them come alive, as… as the clock ticks,” Uwadimma, with his patterned play with colours, uses the human body “as a marker of identity and experiences, a reservoir of memory, and the inexhaustible ways that gestural pose could reflect times.”

Moving on, Uche Uzorka’s abstract representations of his sub-theme E Go Better… seethe with the same cheery message of hope as Sholola’s, albeit subtly emphasising the ever-changing kaleidoscope of human existence. This is while Muraina Oyelami’s signature neo-traditionalist portraits and landscapes stand out in their wistful views of a bygone era of innocence.

It should also not be overlooked that the exhibition’s cross-generational focus on both young and renowned artists aligns with SOTO Gallery’s concept of “between the new and the known” bridge-building. Additionally, the various artistic techniques used by the artists bring up novel viewpoints on this subject. 

Soto Gallery’s proprietress Tola Akerele with the curator Arinola Olowoporoku

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