Professor Jerry Buhari
Memories are the key not to the past, but to the future-Cornelia Ten Boom
Professor Jerry Buhari, a renowned contemporary artist, is not new in the Nigerian art scene, as attested by the impressive number of solo and group exhibitions dotting his over 3 decades of professional studio practice. Buhari has constantly engaged topical issues in Nigeria’s socio-political and cultural milieu. In the words of Frank Ugiomoh, an art historian, “the works in the exhibition and the narrative they tell are engaging metaphors in the sense that they encapsulate knowledge.” This knowledge, embedded in the shells of time and memories is boundless when viewed through Buhari’s oeuvre, which he, characteristically, devoid of saccharine pretensions, has referenced the taunting afflictions of our unpleasant (hi)story; a story, most Nigerians are not unfamiliar with.
Unlike his previous shows, with artworks based on selected themes, he instead, has explored the seeming boundlessness of different time frames in his career trajectory, and their concatenating conceptual significance which is germane to our present-day conditions and collective realities. The works in the show were all relatively small, this made the viewer, come closer as if being beckoned, for a conversation in whispers. “Art does not have to be a slave to fads,” says Buhari. “Large sized works sell, but I am coming to Abuja for the first time, I thought, that in addition to other reasons, I needed to have an intimate encounter with my art audience, so that they would come close to the wall to appreciate the works.”
Formally, the works show linear, spatial and colour economy that is in affinity with Buhari’s modest personality. The austerity of the works is rich statements on the socioeconomic conditions that forced him to start creating miniature works. “I had started a studio in 1985 at Samaru village, near Zaria, by 1993 it had become difficult to light up my studio or fuel my car. Worse still, buying colours and other materials became harder, that led me to make the kind of small paintings you see here.”
Conceptually, most of the artworks were inspired by Zaria city, as a microcosm of the society, that has provided the muse for the artist’s interrogation of broader national issues. Buhari reveals, “I have been in Zaria since 1977 as a young man. I think in a sense, Zaria has soaked into my system.” Among other issues the veil- a covering for women especially Muslims inspired some of the paintings. Three hijab-inspired artworks are part of the three suites (Drawing, Watercolour and Mixed Media) that make up the exhibits. They are titled Women of Hijab.2016-2017.Mixed Media, Woman in Blue Hijab.2016-2017.Mixed Media. and The hijab and the gaze.2016. Sand, Coffee and Pen, Buhari appropriates the symbolism of the veil to address the tensions that have become part of apparel in a social and religious context, especially in the light of rising revivalist tendencies in northern Nigeria. While alluding to it as a costume that embodies the sanctity and grace of women in the popular culture in the north today, he notes that “in the year 1977, as a student in Zaria city, wearing of hijab in the region was rare or non-existent. But right through the eighties, there was a religious revival in the north and women began to wear it. This became among the many things that divided northern Nigeria. Now you could make a clear distinction between a Muslim or non-Muslim northern woman.”
Other issues raised by the artist include environmental concerns, the failings of leadership and the attendant discomforts. Titles like The Dark Melting Planet. 2016-2017, The era of Anarchy and Pain.1993. Watercolour, Faces of 1993/1994. Watercolour, and Weep not Country.2016-2017.Mixed Media, jolt us into a new level of awareness. They awaken our senses to the ever-present murky social situations. Other titles such as Dry leave in Green. 1999. Watercolour, Conversation on the cities Street. 1999. Watercolour, Landscapes. 2007, Garden with Red Roses. 2016-2017. Mixed Media, seem to point the way out of the dire to the subtler nuances of our common existential realities. Buhari’s works are like milestones of history and reminders of our past and present realities.
Another category in the body of work was made as statements on beneficiaries in the game of political patronage in Nigeria.The Embryo of a Prince.2016-2017, Mixed Media, Princess’ world.2016-2017. Mixed Media, Dreams of Queen and Princess in a Garden, draw our attention to the symptomatic conditions that are reminders of leadership failure- whereby the propagation of family and tribal hegemonies to inherit the commonwealth of the people abound. Buhari captures the leisurely splendour of the princes and princesses with rich bright colours contrasted by suggestive misty hues.
Agwu Enekwachi is an Artist and Culture Writer, He lives in Abuja.
This article was first published in NewTelegraph Newspaper, February 8, 2017.