Albert Chinualumogu Achebe
Author, Educator, Publisher, Activist
Born in Ogidi, South-East Nigeria
16 November 1930 - 21 March 2013
As I reflect on the life and work of a human being I respect and admire, Prof Chinua Achebe, and note the citations and articles honouring/critiquing him, I realise that another luminary and educator I just happen to be re-reading was born on 23 March, seventy-one years ago. These genuinely iconic figures might be saluting each other on the path of life and death, through the marking of their arrivals and departures from this world. What would they have made of each other in current times? I hadn’t read The Groundings with my Brothers for some years and thought it was time to revisit a remarkable teacher/activist, who was a mere 38 years old when his life was extinguished. On hearing that Baba Chinua Achebe had passed, my first reaction (as a form of salute) was to grab my copy of Things Fall Apart, but remembered that I had lent it to a young friend. It’s reassuring to know that these luminaries continue to live through their work and teaching and that my copy is being shared with the younger generation. Groundings will not be returning to my shelf, as it is destined for the eyes of another reader I have in mind.
Scholar, Educator, Political Activist
23 March 1942 - 13 June 1980
Fifth edition of The Grounding with my Brothers, published by Bogle L’ouverture Press.
The start of February saw a Pop Up Exhibition of West African Contemporary Art on Cork Street.
A group of artists, patrons and friends congregated with anticipation as they waited to graduate from ‘the superfluous’ to invited guests on this well-trodden pavement outside number 28. Those who had been processed via guest listing, already luxuriated in the warmth inside. The boundary that we residuals aimed to transcend was well and truly within sight - just a few risers above to the gallery floor. The art dialogue commenced at this threshold, flowed into the space and through the packed audience moving around the works, like a warm current of air.
The reward for this transcendence was a well-seasoned collection of canvases and sculptures. Was this a West African affair, or a display of some of Nigeria’s finest? Judging by the assembled arterati moving through their self-made hum and animated camaraderie, it appeared to be the latter. Artists critiqued artists. Guests admired. The musicality of the West African accent merged with the ambiance created by Peter Adjaye’s convivial African wall of musical sound.
General Ward, Courtesy Ben Osaghae
Child Abuse (detail) , Courtesy Ben Osaghae
Having found a temporary anchor for myself, I observed two artists through the viewing current: I was able to witness Ben Osaghae’s General Ward. He offered a briefing of this incendiary, sodium-yellow exposé – his stance on what he opined are the inadequacies and sub-standard conditions of hospitals in Nigeria. Osaghae communicates in a graphic, impressionistic language to speak social commentary. On this canvas, patients are scattered; spilling into and out of the frame - on a chaos of beds and scarcity of beds. Both edge of sight and placement created a diptych in the company of Child Abuse in purply-blues. Disturbing, turbulent and chaotic truths, Osaghae’s paintings are not about pleasure for the eyes, but a truthful, hard-hitting pain to the soul.
The Source, (half detail) Courtesy Fidelis Odogwu
Osaghae’s fellow-artist, Fidelis Odogwu directed my attention to his hanging sculpture; a grid of four decorative squares. To the unfocussed eye, deceptively soft and feathery - in actuality, a sunburst configuration of textured, powdery, rust-coated steel. The source of all matter.
Odogwu and Osaghae’s works, shout contradiction of materials and how they are perceived. The discomfort of humanity on distressed metal beds, meant for comfort and return to wellness and the beauty of erosive metal in sculptural form, depicting the constancy of the sun.
After the closure of the Journeys and Kinship project display at Museum of London, the related talk on art practice, influences and progression was a great way to end.
My thanks to all who attended/supported at the Flyover and to my project partners and participants who worked with me this year.
I missed the launch of Gérard Quenum’s Dolls Never Die Exhibition at the October Gallery last Wednesday evening, being double-booked in south London. However, I was set to attend the artist’s talk on Saturday 22. Having strategically slotted the event neatly into my London Open House itinerary, I arrived at the gallery at setting up time, allowing me the space to appreciate the Beninese artist’s current show. The sculptures reinforced his clearly distinctive imaginings with subject matters, featuring mainly cherub-like discarded dolls with wooden stelae - characters, within their various stage sets. Quenum’s work appears cloaked in a mantel of spirit forces. Why does he apply an innocuous toy to evoke such striking representations? Why this choice of materials to construct his visual language?
Gérard Quenum with The Good Shepherdess (photo. J Joseph)
To a question on his art practice direction, Quenum responded that for the time being, he would not be deviating from the use of dolls and objet trouvé. He could not relate to new objects as he coud to old, as recyclia has a previous life, an antiquity and a story. He spoke of his chance encounter with the main ingredient in his work. One day he came across the head of a doll in a puddle caked in mud and dirt and took it back to his studio. He did not incorporate the notion of the toy, or what that might represent into his sculptures for some time - nailing it to his studio wall. Strangely, my mind wandered to an image of the tar baby in the Uncle Remus stories - of Brer Fox, Brer Rabbit and the briar bush. After receiving various comments and reactions to this object on his studio wall, Quenum began to explore the artistic potential of the doll in his work. In my opinion, when I view his art, these devices are very effective, at times unsettling symbolic statements.
Quenum’s installation Death to the Dictator, Long Live Dictatorship!, reinforced the effect of an ‘island’ on the gallery floor. It became both land mass and boundary, within a sea of artist-to-audience discourse on his practice. The installation comprises, recycled kitchen mortars, (used to pound staples such as yams, throughout West Africa) placed sideways on a bed of sand. He explains that they were damaged from domestic use. I visualised their fluted and sculpted appearance to be formed by natural organisms, as they would in their original state on a forest floor. Some are mere tubes and others solid, revealing rings of wear and tear. The wood is arranged along the sand in a loose military tank manoeuvre. Topping this caravan of destruction and, to seal the symbolism, is the human element; rusty tin hats of war and the presence of a doll, it’s head above the parapet surveying the scene in autocratic stance. A recycling of dictators, so to speak. As he explained, dictators such as Saddam Hussein et al collapsed, the Arab Spring occurred; yet new dictators continue to emerge.
The artist mentioned the subject of vodun (which I expect might be topical in most conversations with an audience familiar with his work). This is not particularly the reference he draws upon in his sculptures, he says – although he believes that its source lay in Benin. However, he also believes that it is natural in Benin - in Africa, to sense or have a feeling for objects and everyday things.
One of the other pieces discussed was Nomad on the edge of the desert, a tribute to those living in the harsh environment of the desert, away from modern technology. However, they are experts in shepherding and herding, finding food, water and honey. Their natural way of life touches him, as he doesn’t believe he would survive in their place. The other was New Cosmonaut which assumes the appearance of a figure swathed in thickly padded attire, decorated in a raised cluster of patterns. Quenum relates that in Benin, there are women who display the designs of scarification on their bare upper bodies. Then there are those [assume men] in the city who insist on being fully clothed in jackets, despite it being very hot. He exclaims “They’re on another planet!”
Gerard Quenum’s ‘Dolls Never Die’ 20 September to 27 October 2012 at the October Gallery, 24 Old Gloucester Street, WC1N 3AL. Nearest tube: Holborn. www.octobergallery.co.uk
On my first excursion across Olympic London since the start of the 2012 games - and not without adventure, I arrived at Tate Britain in Pimlico. This was once I had navigated a triangle of barriers in aid of a cycle race and had been refreshed by one of the summer’s ‘rainy season’ precipitations. The rendezvous was with my esteemed friend, James Barnor, and a kindred spirit, visiting from Ghana, interior design consultant, Jennifer.
James is one of the artists showing in ‘Another London’, a photographic exhibition at Tate Britain and, a commentary of his work and viewing of co-exhibitors’ photographs, couldn’t be missed. We were able to contribute to conversations with him and other viewers - discussing the images through the perspective of his lens and a long distinguished documentry of life in Ghana and London.
“Mike Eghan at Piccadilly Circus, London’ c.1967, copyright James Barnor, Courtesy Autograph ABP
The photographers share iconography, histories and journeys through London’s environments and communities. James’ work contributes images of the great Muhammad Ali, the elegant ‘Eva’, a cosmopolitan Ghanaian woman. In another of his recognisable photographs is a scene with a dapper gentleman, blessed with a striking resemblance to a young Sidney Poitier, (which I remarked upon).
Leaping off the exhibition catalogue’s cover and postcard book is James’ image of ‘Mike Eghan at Piccadilly Circus, London’. One can see why this dynamic representation of London has been chosen to open the book. Photographed in the late 1960s, it captures a seemingly carefree moment on the steps of Eros, a landmark that has been a place of another rendezvous for Londoners and visitors alike. It is unusually clear of present-day human or vehicular activity that fills the city’s premier junction - allowing the subject to enjoy a moment to ‘spread his wings’.
The digital age enables vibrant flashes of imagery and branding on the famous boards of Piccadilly Circus. The photograph acts both as a time capsule of communication technology and, anchor in the art of brand advertising - as in the BOAC VC10 display. British Overseas Airways Corporation past, is a brand precursor of British Airways present.
The exhibition runs until 16 September 2012
Another London – International Photographers Capture City Life 1930-1980
Tate Britain Millbank London SW1P 4RG Call
+44 (0)20 7887 8888 Email email@example.com