Here & There, an exhibition celebrating the artistic journey of Polly Alakija, a seasoned painter, muralist, illustrator and designer, opens at the Wheatbaker Hotel, Lagos, on Sunday, October 6.
The exhibition would comprise 62 works that span 24 years of Alakija’s artistic practice.
“She presents a variety of pieces including large and small format oil on canvas works, etchings, pencil sketches, chalk and charcoal drawings, as well as limited edition prints,” says Sandra Obiago, the exhibition’s curator.
“Her canvases include a series of dance inspired paintings which the artist created during frequent visits to a dance studio in Cape Town.”
Alakija was born in Malvern, England, and studied art at the Oxford Polytechnic.
After completing a teaching diploma in the Montessori Method, she moved to Nigeria in 1990 where she married and began a family.
Since 2005, Alakija has worked in Nigeria, South Africa, and England and has exhibited both internationally and locally.
“Alakija’s portraits are strong representations of life in rural and urban settings ranging from children to the aged, including a recurring theme of mother and child images,” Mrs. Obiago continues.
“During her many years residing in Ibadan, and travelling across Nigeria, we see works inspired in rural Oyo and Kaduna, as well as market and buka scenes juxtaposed against equestrian works that show a sensitive depiction of polo training and typical scenes around horse stables,” she adds.
Barbara Lindhop, known South African curator, notes that a “timeless serenity” seeps from Alakija’s paintings.
“Polly is particularly interested in the human form and its portrayal,” says Ms. Lindhop, who has for years documented the work of Gerard Sekoto, South African master painter and a contemporary of Nigerian painter, Ben Enwonwu.
“The painterly canvases depicting gentle giants of nature, their energy conserved in a permanent lethargy, contrast with the rich colour and dynamic brush strokes creating texture and energetic line,” she adds.
One of the highlights of the exhibition would be iconic objects such as umbrellas and vehicles of mass transport which Alakija had painted and set against minuscule writings of favourite poems.
For Sunday’s exhibition, she had painted canoes, fishing boats, one of Nigeria’s quintessential Keke NAPEP tricycles, and a popular VW beetle – a fitting symbol of the German “Volks-Wagen” translated as “Car of the Masses”, which is recognized across the African continent, as the most popular mode of family transport in the 1960s and 1970s.
“By painting portraits and family clusters on these vehicles, we see how Alakija uses pedestrian objects as an artistic platform on which she carefully chronicles poetic stories that possibly reflect the lives of passengers who once may have used them,” says Mrs. Obiago.
“Her floating Orphelias, almost submerged with water lilies and leaves, looking out soulfully from their water soaked dreams, are painted on two wooden canoes that float through a sea of text, telling their sad story of unfulfilled love,” she adds.
The painted Keke NAPEP tricycle has been placed as an art installation in front of the Wheatbaker delicatessen restaurant, a thought provoking piece of art marking the beginning of Nigeria’s centenary.
In the hotel lobby, guests are greeted by an installation using three large umbrellas on which Alakija had painted a Poussins inspired agrarian landscape, depicting wheatfields.
“This installation is a link to the history of the Wheatbaker hotel, which was originally built by Amos Schakleford, a Jamaican businessman who started the first commercial bakery in Nigeria,” says Alakija, 47.
“I have painted a wheat field in rural Nigeria on three market umbrellas typically used by bread sellers all over Nigeria,” she adds.
The exhibition is sponsored by Renaissance Capital, the Wheatbaker, Global Energy Group and Arra Vineyards, who have bottled a special limited edition of SHIRAZ and VIOGNIER wine in Stellenbosch with a wine label designed by Alakija.
The exhibition is open to the public from October 6 to December 15.