Seven Nigerian artists, whose works centre around the expressions, aesthetics and concepts of the human face and forms recently concluded their group exhibition which held between October 10 and 12, 2019 at the Exhibition Pavilion, Central Area, Herbert Macaulay Way, Abuja. In what many believe was yet another celebration of the beauty and expressiveness of the human form, the exhibition like its maiden edition which was held between May 16-18 2019 was very successful in terms of the quality of artists, works presented and the considerable attendance at the event’s opening. The timing of Faces and Forms II, five months after the 1st edition, was aimed at building on the momentum of the first show without taking away from the rich contents and aesthetics that constituted the centralizing vision of the exhibition project.
The Exhibition Pavilion is arguably the most suitable public art space in Nigeria’s capital city. On entering the venue, one was struck by the creative way the participating artists kept to the boundaries provided by the theme of the show. This helped the audience to have refreshing vistas to engage the works, as the depictions of human faces and forms were explored as arenas of communication, dialogue and creativity in a way that reminds us all about the centrality of man in the schemes of things in the universe.
According to Prince Timi Kakandar, the convener of the show and Director of Zenith Gallery of Contemporary art, “the human face and form as the center of expression, creativity, culture and reinvention is the inspiration behind the theme of the exhibition. This enabled us to seek and to explore ideas about the uniqueness of the image of the human face and form and the role of the artist in driving the creative process which recognizes that fact.” Kakandar and other participating artists have constantly been at the center of the dialogue about human Forms for many years. Many of them have had solo exhibitions and scores of joint and group exhibitions focusing on related themes.
The devotion to human form as a theme is not new among artists across generations and cultures as it has been drawn, painted, sculpted and researched widely across millennia. Much of the paintings about the human forms have been largely based on the cultural context of the age, such as we have seen in this exhibition. The variety of artworks offered by the individual styles of expression in this contemporary space and time have broadened the visual experience of the viewers about the perception of human faces and forms.
Out of the four participants in part one of Faces and Forms exhibition, namely Segun Aiyesan, Timi Kakandar, Obi Nwaegbe and Djakou Kassi Nathalie, only Timi Kakandar is being joined by the six “new” artists for the part 2 of the show. The artists are Adediran Adeyinka, Olajumoke Lateef, Chuks Okonkwo, Promise Onali, Godwin Arikpo, and Millicent Okocha. The artists’ creative use of various media especially oil and acrylic are explorative as there is an outstanding achievement of style and individuality among them. While Kakandar’s colours are abstract having gone through years of refinement, which has led to his works reaching a high level of simplicity as seen in his neatly painted coiffured human portraits, Adediran Adeyinka, Olajumoke Lateef, Promise Onali, Godwin Arikpo use earth colours such as yellow ochre, burnt sienna and others in ways that it not only relates to the theme but also establishes the eternal link between man and the earth.
The works of Adeyinka Adeniran are highly explorative. Deploying his mastery of light and shade, he paints human forms in different states of activity and repose. His forms are configured with bands and strips of cloths that remind one of Egyptian funerary bandages used wrapping of mummies. But Adeniran’s works do not suggest the static and lifelessness of death because his works are full of movement and animation. Like Adeniran, Lateef Olajumoke demonstrates his mastery of colours by creating paintings with interconnected lines and twisted bands of colours to create abstract figures which leave the viewer with a high visual impact. Millicent Okocha’s works are a mixture of chromatic and achromatic palettes. Her canvases are painstakingly done with ball-point pen drawings on canvas in some cases while she uses a combination of colours and jean fabrics on canvass in other cases. In her work one sees her mastery of motifs and pattern making based on the imageries from her cultural environment as her forms, comprising of portraits of young women, men and icons of culture such as the Eyo masquerade are often delicately decorated with both afro-centric and floral designs.
Chukz Okonkwo creates works from detritus through his rigorous studio experimentations. Like every other artist in this show, the human form is at the centre of his work. He also uses multiple media to create his work which has become very successful. For Godwin Arikpo and Promise Onali, these are two artists who have had many collaborative exhibitions and projects in the past. They are highly experimental in their approach, even though they use the human form as their point of departure. They both share a common love for introspection and experimentation through which they interrogate the happenings in their society. Arikpo’s deep renderings of his images may seem more readable references of the human forms, Onali’s paintings are abstract humanoid forms often framed by his signature egg shapes that advocate the beauty and chaos that is both part of creation or living.
Even with their individual styles, the leitmotif of the aesthetics of the artists in this exhibition is the exploration of the human forms in diverse style, media and technique. They have engaged us in the interpretation of the human forms and facial expressions through which they have made commentaries that awaken our emotions and sensibilities on the various socio-political issues in our world. Faces and Forms although not a new concept have been used to address contemporary issues. Kankandar notes that for Nigeria to find its cultural rhythm, “we must always tell our stories to reflect our faces (identity), unique experiences, the social environment of our communities and societies.”
Agwu Enekwachi, writes from Abuja.