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Class of 2018 reflects the urban and the mystical

Class of 2018 reflects the urban and the mystical

April 04
08:41 2018

When Karo Akpokiere, one of Nigeria’s best-known illustrators, was about to start art school, he wrote a letter to Tommy Hilfiger, the US fashion designer.

Akpokiere was consumed by the 1990s hip-hop culture that Hilfiger had distilled in his clothes. He loved the stripes in the shirts and sweatshirts. He pored over Nike trainers and Fila patterns in magazine catalogues. Before deciding to study graphic design at Yaba College of Technology in Lagos, he planned to design shoes and other clothing for a living.

In his letter, the budding designer asked for advice on his chosen career path. A year later, on a portrait photo of himself, Hilfiger replied: “Hello Karo, I wish you the best. Good luck.”

“It was the confidence boost I needed and a sign to follow through on the decision to become an artist,” says Akpo­kiere, now aged 36 and a member of a talented class of young Nigerian visual artists.

Its emergence has coincided with a pulsating period for the country’s art, with works commanding record prices at auction and enjoying a global collector base. Last year, the 57th Venice Biennale art exhibition had a Nigeria pavilion for the first time.

The group includes Modupeola Fadugba, a multimedia artist based in Abuja; Taiye Idahor, based in Lagos, who uses collage, drawing and sculpture; and photographer Logor (full name: Logor Oluwamuyiwa).

Akpokiere’s early work was influenced by the environment where he was born and raised: the cauldron that is Lagos. It featured in his drawings alongside influences from western popular culture. It was “a unique set of observations and experiences to draw from”, says Akpokiere. Often, the observations were political.

In “Lagos Drawings”, a series rich in text and brash colour, Akpokiere riffs on the city’s mix of religiosity, commerce and deprivation. In the images, Lagosians are encouraged to bring their profits to the Lord’s house in exchange for prayers, deliverance and promises of prosperity. It is an allegorical style typical of Akpokiere’s work, as he strives for a visual representation of the “intangible spirit” of the city.

Logor, 27, also seeks to create a visual language of Lagos, using fine art photography. In his monochrome works, the things that might inspire socio-political critique are also things of beauty. “The question I ask myself is: when I strip away the colour, can I discover a new way to see the city, different from what I’ve known before?” he says.


Revolutions and Eureka moments, 2015, Monochrome Lagos


Online, 2015, Monochrome Lagos

Logor’s residence is in Yaba, the congested heart of the city. Here, human bodies jostle in a hundred different directions, mosques and churches compete for whose call to prayer can be louder, and markets spill over into streets and even on to railway lines — disappearing when an approaching train is heard in the distance.

The photographer sees all of this in rich shapes, lines, forms and patterns. “I am looking at my space for beauty as opposed to narrative. My pieces are still narrative or documentary photography but there are beautiful textures here too,” he says.

Inspired by artists such as US photographer Diane Arbus and British-Nigerian Akinbode Akinbiyi, Logor started out as a documentary photographer, recording daily life in Lagos. But he no longer feels a responsibility to explore political themes or to depict problems.

Not far away from Logor’s studio, another visual artist, fine arts graduate and mixed media artist Taiye Idahor, 34, is setting up. While Akpokiere and Logor’s work is trained on big city life, Idahor’s looks to her family’s hometown, Benin City, in southern Nigeria, going back in history and dealing with one subject: women.

“I wanted to do projects that connect with home, because even though I’m from Benin, growing up I barely used to go there,” Idahor says in an interview at her new Lagos studio. The freshly decorated space has buckets of paint in place of furniture, and boxes of lightbulbs, photo frames and hangers lie around. A decorator works on the balcony.

“I have made a conscious decision that I wanted to keep exploring ideas from home, in my way of making up for the disconnect I had with my parents’ history,” she says.

This atonement manifests itself in collage. Her most recent work, “Òkhùo”, showing at London’s Tyburn Gallery, explores the tradition of the “Iyoba”, the mother of the king in Benin Kingdom. This role was first created in the 16th century by the then king Oba Esigie in order to honour his mother, Queen Idia, for her strength and support. She has her own palace, chiefs and is usually adorned in coral beads to signify power and authority.

© Tyburn Gallery

Taiye Idahor

Imaria, 2017, photo paper collage, pen drawing and colour pencil on paper

© Tyburn Gallery

Taiye Idahor

Okunsogie, 2017, photo paper collage, pen drawing and colour pencil on paper

In her work, Idahor questions the voids created by the absence of women in positions of power and whether it is possible for a woman to have authority over her own identity. The title of her exhibition directly translates as “woman”, which Idahor believes is a title deserving of respect and command.

Togo-born Modupeola Fadugba, 32, shares the same sentiments. Using 24-carat gold leaf, acrylic and pen on burnt paper in her work, she puts black women in situations previously thought unlikely — on objects such as money, or in a white-dominated sport, swimming. She considers the disruption of social hierarchies and how black women consider their value or worth.

Fadugba’s latest solo exhibition, “Heads Up, Keep Swimming” includes a series “Head or Tails”. Here the artist, an Ivy League graduate of economics, engineering and education, places on coins the heads of women — with elegantly braided hair, full lips, long eyelashes and wide eyes. As well as challenging under-representation, the work nods to the idea of the coin toss, the role of chance in our lives.

© Temple Muse/Leklizphotos

Modupeola Fadugba

At Face Value VIII, 13 inches Diameter, Acrylic, Ink and Pencil on Burned Paper, 2017

© Temple Muse/Leklizphotos

Modupeola Fadugba

At Face Value I, 13 inches Diameter, Acrylic, Ink and Pencil on Burned Paper, 2017

Her work includes a true-scale portrait coin of the late Dr Stella Adadevoh, the Nigerian doctor who gave her life fighting the Ebola virus in 2014. Of Nigeria’s paper notes, only one features a female historical figure: potter Ladi Kwali.

Fadugba is enjoying a swelling interest in her work that has seen her shuttling between the UK and the US discussing gallery representation. She also showed at March’s Art Dubai fair.

Her burnt paper technique is drawn from childhood experiences growing up as a diplomat’s daughter when her father was posted to Rwanda, shortly after the civil war.

Driving around the capital, with her father searching for schools to enrol her in, Fadugba saw brightly coloured government buildings in pinks and yellows bombed out, riddled with bullet holes. Like Rwanda’s more recent transformation, she believes in an oft-cited religious reference that beauty can come from ashes; hence the depiction of power and purpose on burnt paper.

Decorated Nigerian artist Peju Alatise once said that “the test of any work is if it can persist in history, whether it is not for just this moment in time, whether no matter how much time goes by, it would be remembered”.

Nigeria’s new generation of artists strive to that end.

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