By Prisca Sam-Duru
Walking into Temple Muse, Lagos, venue of “STASIS” exhibition which opened on Monday, September 2, 2019, one is confronted by 47 works of three artists occupying distinctive spaces, and from different parts of West Africa. This immediately, raises curiosity on how the artists’ works connect.
Well, juxtaposing artists who are dissimilar in their space, yet, connected by a single element or artistic language in a group exhibition, has remained a specialty of SMO Contemporary Art.
“STASIS” features recent paintings, drawings and ceramic works by Djakou Kassi Nathalie, Olawunmi Banjo, and Kelechi Nwaneri, three contemporary artists from Nigeria and Cameroon who are exploring the meaning of balance and belonging, in surreal physical and emotional landscapes. Each of the artists has a critical viewpoint about life and as viewers will observe, the real need for balance is the unifying element in their works. Their exhibits examine how to achieve balance despite societal pressures, mental health challenges, and the effects of climate change on our well-being.
The trio, one classically trained and two self-taught, having an age difference spanning almost twenty years, invite the public into a complex dialogue from three radically different viewpoints. Through detailed paintings, layered and complex drawings, and experimental ceramic works, each artist explores the tension between the conscious and subconscious mind.
Emerging artist, Kelechi Nwaneri’s works in the exhibition are all connected in the sense that they trace his journey of recovery from an event that brought him severe pain. In trying to draw a distinction between his conscious and subconscious mind, his works appear in colour palette with black figures representing the inner man. His charcoal and acrylic drawings on paper and canvas are a complex creative counter-point to the works by the two older, female artists. Nwaneri is in his early twenties and is a graduate of Agriculture from the University of Nigeria Nsukka. His multi-layered, charged landscapes populated by masked mythical figures covered with uli, nsibidi, adinkra and adire symbols, portray an emotional depth beyond his years. He is inspired by pencil realism and is heavily influenced by West African iconography and allegory. Through a world rich in allegory and mythological expressions, he tackles issues surrounding mental health. His muscled, male forms in combat, touch on the emotional and psychological wrestling people engage in, to achieve balance and self-awareness.
One of Nwaeneri’s works that has generated a lot of conversation is “Can’t Let Go”. It features male and female figures and two cats with socks as heads. While the male form represents an individual attempting to escape, the female figure which keeps dragging him back, symbolizes a bad memory that has refused to let go. The two cats stand for people who are oblivious of the pain or dilemma the individual is going through. “Can’t Let Go” is also, beautifully designed with a supporting serene landscape.
Djakou Kassi Nathalie, a well respected mid-career ceramic artist and the most senior of the three, studied at the ‘Institut Samba Superieur’ in Yaounde, Cameroon, on a full scholarship and has taken part in numerous exhibitions in Europe and the United States. She won the first Africa Prize at the International Fair of Ouagadougou (SIAO) in 2012 and eventually moved to Nigeria in 2015, where she has become an active member of the Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA).
Nathalie’s works are earth centered, “Reflecting a fascination with the grandeur of nature in relation to humanity’s miniscule scale, yet hugely destructive impact on the planet. The laterite earth of her childhood in Cameroon is reflected in her rugged earthen vessels, wall hangings, and sculptures which are covered with symbols and masks, inspired by shared African communal values, and a quintessential tension between modernity and tradition.” She also shows a painting titled, “Standing Alone” inspired by late literary icon, Prof. Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart.”
“I’ve read the book over and over and the character and strength of the protagonist, Okonkwo, fascinates me a lot”, she said.
In contrast, the self-taught painter, Olawunmi Banjo “Showcases her latest series of portraits of lone figures, rendered in twisted, intertwined, and tightly woven wires and ropes. Banjo’s hyper-realistic elegant style embraces a primarily blue color palette and displays a deep sense of symmetry by creating a pathway to a deepened sense of self awareness and identity through her acrobatic figures.”
“STASIS” which runs till October 18, 2019 according to the exhibition curator and Founder of SMO Contemporary Art, Sandra Mbanefo Obiago, “Provides a creative platform for three artists with very different styles and philosophies, to examine the concept of equilibrium and counter-balance” She added that “Kassi’s voluminous sculptural ceramics provide a fantastic counter-point to Banjo’s finely painted self-portraits and Nwaneri’s mythological, surreal landscapes.”
“The diversity of media and artistic viewpoints are a refreshing start to our fall season,” commented Avinash Wadhwani, Director of Temple Muse.
Wadhwani disclosed that “STASIS touches on important global issues and we are delighted to provide a platform for artists to tell their stories from a contemporary African point of view.”