The art exhibition, Equal Rights: Unule Unuile Ozese, featuring multi-media works on paper and canvas, by Mike Omoighe, will open to the public on January 25th at the Wheatbaker, Ikoyi, Lagos.
The collection of 33 works would feature pieces like ‘Eki Philosophy,’ ‘Merciless Rider,’ ‘Igbabonelimi on the threshold,’ ‘Ilo Masquerade,’ and ‘Imon Obhio: I am blessed,’ among others.
Omoigho says he depicted traditional performance art found in the masquerade culture.
“I have used the symbol of the masquerade to shed light on its role in traditional dispute settlement,” says Omoigho, 58, a lecturer at the Yaba College of Technology.
“It is my way of commenting on how our political history of greed, power and corruption can be checked by tapping into our rich traditional philosophy of equal rights.”
Born to a sculptor father, Omoigho’s early days were spent around an uncle who was a photographer and another who worked as as architect.
However, his artistic journey began at St. Gregory’s College where he was taught by Bruce Onobrakpeya as well as at Yaba College of Technology under the tutelage of Yusuf Grillo.
Onobrakpeya and Grillo, both master artists, started the renowned ‘Zaria Rebel’ art movement in the 60’s while they were students at the Ahmadu Bello University, alongside the likes of Demas Nwoko and the late Uche Okeke.
“But it is not only master artists who influenced me,” he says.
“My students are also great influences. I have come to realize that when you make up your mind to teach what you think you know, it is a great pleasure because as you are teaching the students, they also influence you with their thoughts and their viewpoints.
“I have also been influenced by my family, and by the environment in which I grew up. Nigeria as a country and the changing landscapes are a great influence; over the years I am reminded of them in narratives, talks and engagements. So I would say the whole of life has influenced me,” he said.
In line with this deep knowledge of Nigerian culture and a career of producing abstract modernist works, Omoigho’s solo art exhibition explores the delicate balance of love and power by highlighting traditional forms of conflict resolution, vis á vis an exploration of Nigeria’s political history, according to the organizers.
The artist presents two viewpoints from his sketches and notebook; first is the implication of military rule on a country struggling towards democracy, and second is the cultural object of Ukpo-Esan art in the Igbabonelimi masquerader’s costumes.
“These narratives give his work subtle and profound complexity,” says Sandra Mbanefo-Obiago, the exhibition’s Curator.
“He is a master of form, space, and minimalist understatement. His works oscillate from heavily painted canvases that are full of colour, patterns, sweeping movements and loads of energy, to works which are playfully void of ‘too much talk.'”
John Ogene, as associate professor, describes Omoigho as an “activist of sorts” who demands that resources be made available to all and sundry since everyone in the society cannot compete equally on a tilted playground.
“Unule Unuile Ozese foregrounds that one should eat and let others eat too,” says Ogene, the acting Head of the Department of Fine and Applied Arts, University of Benin.
Omoigho’s previous exhibitions include a 2005 outing ‘Survival Romance,’ followed by ‘Portrait of Nigerian Nation’ seven years later.
According to Mbanefo-Obiago, Omoigho had not yet been given his rightful place in Nigeria’s contemporary art scene.
“My hope is that this exhibition re-introduces his amazing talent to a growing generation of art enthusiasts at the helm of social media, by shedding light on an art teacher who has greatly influenced the growth and character of contemporary art in Nigeria,” says Mbanefo-Obiago.
The Equal Rights exhibition is sponsored by the Wheatbaker and Veuve Clicquot, and will be on display until March 20th.