‘Akalaka’ (Lines of Destiny), an exhibition of watercolours by Tayo Adenaike and sculptures by Obiora Anidi, will open to the public on April 20th at The Wheatbaker in Lagos.
The exhibition, which would showcase 20 impressive works by each of the artists, marks an important home-coming for the duo who had not had a major showing in Nigeria for 20 years.
“We are delighted to share this impressive body of work with Nigeria and the world,” says Sandra Mbanefo-Obiago, the show’s curator.
“It is important that we celebrate the works of artists who have had a major influence on Nigerian art, and don’t enjoy the same local exposure as Lagos or Abuja based artists.
“Akalaka presents two master artists, amongst the best of contemporary Nigerian art, to a new generation of local art enthusiasts and collectors.”
Adenaike and Anidi are part of the Uli art movement which originated at the famous Nsukka Art School of the 1970’s and 1980’s, spearheaded by internationally acclaimed Professor Uche Okeke of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
In ‘Akalaka,’ which literally means “the lines on the palm of your hand” connoting destiny in Igbo, they present sculptures and watercolors which draw inspiration from “a repertoire of Uli motifs found largely in Igbo land, which is a dying art form; it was solely the preserve of women, who either used it for body adornment or wall decorations of sacred shrines,” Adenaike says.
Adenaike, who was born in Idanre, Ogun State in 1954, runs a successful advertising agency in Enugu, and only paints during “sleepless nights and on weekends”.
“I am a graphic designer during daytime, five days in a week. I am a painter at night-time and during most weekends. My daytime job feeds me. My night and weekend painting activity, I hope will someday give me some recognition,”he says.
Adenaike arrived Eastern Nigeria in the early 1970’s on a government scholarship and graduated with a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where he developed a mastery of the difficult watercolour technique under the tutelage of Professors Uche Okeke and Obiora Udechukwu.
His unique compositions exude the very essence of raw human emotion with a few deft lines and a masterly application of color.
In ‘Akalaka,’ Adenaike’s intricate works reflects his dual ethnic heritage; he has taken part in over 62 exhibitions, mostly in the United States and Germany, and his works are in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of African Art as well as in the “Museum der Weltkulturen” in Frankfurt Germany.
“I am not a superstitious person. I don’t believe in astrology either. But in Igbo tradition, I have come to learn and understand that every living being has a ‘Chi,'” Adenaike says.
“In Greek philosophy, you come across the word ‘Muse’ as it relates to art and creativity. Overtime, I have come to believe that I have a Chi and that my Muse is not of Greek descent but most likely of Igbo origin.”
On the other hand, master sculptor Obiora Anidi, born in Enugu in 1957, has dedicated his years to teaching and research in academia, and is currently Chief Lecturer at the Art Department, Enugu State College of Education.
He graduated from the Institute of Management & Technology (IMT) in 1982, one of Nigeria’s leading art schools, before pursuing graduate and post-graduate degrees in Educational Technology, at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and Enugu State University of Technology, respectively.
Anidi’s works within Nigerian and African art are always linked to Uli and Nsibidi traditions, a feature he attributes to his attempt to create and recreate knowledge from his immediate environment.
“Uli and Nsibidi traditions are Igbo material and artistic traditions for writing (mainly as body and wall decorations) bequeathed to man by our ancestors,” Anidi says.
“They are revived and adapted in modern art by Uche Okeke and others in the Nsukka Art School. These traditions are continually being reconstructed and adapted in my works.
“The design elements of Uli and Nsibidi have the enormous powers of symbolism, simplicity and economy of the use of space and forms. These are my attractions to them. Again, it is Igbo: Ours to the world.”
Besides taking part in numerous exhibitions in the United States, as well as in Jamaica, Germany, and Italy, Anidi co-founded the famous AKA Circle of Exhibiting Artists, along with Adenaike and other great artists from the Nsukka Art movement; AKA was a leading and influential art group in former Anambra State which organized annual exhibitions in the 1980’s and 1990’s, at a time when the Nigerian contemporary art landscape was just burgeoning.
“Experts have asserted that AKA at their peak stirred and indeed dictated the trends in contemporary Nigerian and African art,” says Anidi.
“In 1995, at AKA’s tenth anniversary exhibition, it was the general opinion that the event had become the most highly anticipated and enthusiastically discussed in modern Nigerian art, perhaps throughout the African continent.”
Anidi creates his unique black and white sculptures out of a mix of cement and marble, which he deftly intertwines with thin strips of metal creating unusual and powerful sculptures reminiscent of the ancient Egyptian renaissance, while clearly drawing on important Uli and Nsibidi traditions.
Both Anidi and Adenaike, who last held a joint show at the Italian Cultural Center over 30 years ago, have created an unforgettable, powerful visual language that though expressed in different media, share a deep congruity, according to Mrs. Mbanefo-Obiago.
“Whether you marvel at the profound simplicity of Anidi’s three legged sculpture Ekwu Ito – trinity of the extended family – which clearly shows a strong external family structure harbouring deft internal politics and alignments, or you admire the poetry and symbolic significance of Adenaike’s layered visual echoes in Our Hope Lies in the Begotten Son, we see an incredible, beautiful interplay of thoughts and expressions across starkly different media,” Mrs. Mbanefo-Obiago says.
“Adenaike’s layered human forms with their intense expressions remind one of the complex tension between emotion and the spirit, which can be seen in perfect alignment with Anidi’s concave spaces and solid marble planes representing symbiotic relationships, beautifully intertwined with metal accents; both artists echo the interplay between existential perceptions vis-a-vis physical form and energy, and the traditions as well as the restrictions of culture and society.”
The exhibition runs until mid-July at The Wheatbaker hotel, and is co sponsored by Global Energy Company Ltd and Ruinart.