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Otobong Nkanga: The Dolphin Estate

Following on in our series on Nigerian artist, Otobong Nkanga, we take a look at one of her most celebrated works, the Dolphin Estate Exhibition.

In this critically acclaimed exhibition which toured The Netherlands, Brazil and Senegal, Nkanga documents the pre-fabricated housing units which sprang up in the city Lagos, Nigeria where she was living in the 1990s. These homes were regarded at the time as modern dream homes for the middle classes. The housing complexes were often given names which would not have looked out of place in the American suburbs. As time passed by, families began to outgrow their housing complexes, and facilities began to break down. Extensions and additional buildings were added onto the structures to accommodate growing families, changing the architecture of the area completely. In a series of photographs taken in 2008, Otobong Nkanga shows the decline and disrepair of an area that was once regarded as the height of opulence. Dolphin Estate today is a lost dream, its residents are living without basic amenities such as water and electricity and facing the threat of flooding whenever the rains come. Nkanga’s exhibition reflects on the labour required for everyday survival and the underlying structures of how everyday lives function.

The Dolphin Estates on Nigeria’s Lagos Island are a story of nature reclaiming land, the swish housing estates succumbing to the swampy terrain. Most of the houses on the estate are in very bad conditions with submerged ground floors and heavy cracking betraying serious structural defects. Incidences of building collapses of these structures are growing increasingly common. The chief reason for this is that the buildings were constructed largely on beach and swampland. Without structural stability, they are simply being reclaimed by the sea. The Lagos State Government recently handed out relocation letters and allowances to Dolphin Estate residents under its urban renewal scheme. The presentation was held at the Town Hall in Adeniji Adele, Lagos; acknowledging that the Phase 1 Extension area had become completely uninhabitable and a “death trap”, the Lagos State Government’s representative Tpl. B. Kehinde proposed that the area would be completely redeveloped over the course of five stages. It remains to be seen whether such action will prove a long term solution, or simply buy some more time before nature reclaims the area again.

A Look at Some of the Leading West African Contemporary Artists

Following on from the previous post, exciting new developments in West African contemporary art over the past few years have resulted in many people across the globe taking a greater interest in this topic; art aficionados like Tunde Folawiyo frequently discuss it on their blogs and social media accounts. Recently, Tunde mentioned Aabru Art, a gallery which represents a number of important West African contemporary artists; its mission is to ensure that their artwork is seen by as many international collectors and curators as possible. One of the ways in which it has achieved this is through the arrangement of ‘Transcending Boundaries’, a pop-up exhibition which has been running for three years now.

The 2015 show, which was held at the Lacey Contemporary Gallery, featured works by 35 artists, including a number of oil and mixed media paintings, as well as metal and wood sculptures. Two of the most notable artists involved in this exhibition were Abiodun Olaku and Toni Okujeni. Olaku has been involved in more than 120 group and joint exhibitions, and has had three successful solo shows. His work has been displayed and purchased by many international galleries and individual collections, not only within Africa, but also in Holland, France, the UK and the US. In addition to being the 1st Vice President and a founding member of the GFA (Guild of Professional Fine Artists of Nigeria), Olaku is also a trustee of Lagos’ Universal Studios of Art. In 2011, his lifelong devotion to his craft earned him the Master of Spatial Realism Award.

Okujeni’s track record is equally impressive; after studying at the Auchi School of Art and Design in the early seventies, he accepted a position as an illustrator at the African Guardian Magazine. However, his passion for art eventually led to him leaving this job to work full-time in his studio. Like Olaku, Okujeni has had a number of both group and solo shows around the world, including some in the US, Morocco and Nigeria. His early work was heavily influenced by Vincent Van Gogh; however, over the years, he has developed his own highly unique style, which often features impastos of crowded market places, painted in rich, vibrant hues.

The international acclaim received by the likes of Olaku and Okujeni has not only benefited them as individuals, but has also helped to bring the work of many other West African contemporary artists to the forefront of the global art industry. Hopefully, with the support of galleries such as Aabru Art, this trend will continue over the coming years, and many more talented artists will emerge from this part of the world.

Emerging African Artists: Otobong Nkanga

Tunde FolawiyoNigeria has been at the heart of a new and vibrant art scene in the past few decades. One of the most recent and most promising artists to arise from this expressive and experimental cultural movement is that of Otobong Nkanga. Working quietly away in the past few years, her work has turned many heads and has even caught the attention of the Tate Gallery which has showcased a number of her works.

Nkanga’s art crosses media boundaries, beautifully embracing the modern renaissance man approach to artistic expression. This has culminated in works depicted in sculpture, drawings, photography, performance, and even in the use of contemporary installations. This eclectic approach has kept each work alive and spontaneous, without her projects re-treading the same ground as can often be the case with artists operating through a single medium.

Embracing the environment around her, Otobong Nkanga uses her art to explore identity within the context of surroundings. Unlike some of her contemporaries, each project displays an understanding and exploration of architecture as well as the environment, resulting in works which can be displayed in a variety of settings. The different pieces of her work are often used and rearranged into new stunning installations or displays, once again returning to the theme of surroundings and their context.

Born in Kano, Nigeria, in 1974, Otobong has spent much of her recent time in Belgium. There, she has continued to explore surroundings, linking her pieces to not just the context of land, but the ecological resources attached to them. Furthermore, her recent work has ruminated on the value which cultures apply to the natural resources and land around them, illuminating the different historical approaches of peoples from all around the world. Despite being based now in Europe, her work continues to garner admirers from Africa, whether casual art fans, or more serious enthusiasts such as Tunde Folawiyo, who shares Otobong’s appreciation of environment, and who uses this appreciation to positively impact Africa’s current business climate, as discussed in this recent interview with Tunde Folawiyo.

Many of these installations have involved Nkanga using her own body and voice in an amalgamation of performance and art, incorporating a real personal touch and auteur narrative to the proceedings. Unlike some artists, however, this involvement is never allowed to overshadow the depth and meaning contained within each artistic flourish.

Otobong Nkanga continues her work from Antwerp in Belgium, with a long line of impressive displays in some the world’s most reputable and influential museum and exhibition spaces, proving once again that she is one of Nigeria’s finest contemporary artists.

The life of Sudanese artist Ibrahim Salahi

Born in Omdurman in 1930, Salahi attended the Gordon Memorial College’s School of Design in Khartoum; by the time he graduated, he had mastered both perspective techniques and figure drawing, and had learned a great deal about the history of art in the Western world. Following the completion of his degree, he moved to London, in order to study at the Slade School of Fine Art. It was here that he became familiar with Western modernism. At the age of 27, Salahi decided to return to Khartoum, in order to work as a teacher at his old art school.

In 1975, he became a political prisoner, and was incarcerated in Sudan for one year; whilst this was a devastating experience, Salahi has said that he learned a great deal from it. Shortly after his release, he left his homeland, and after a brief period in Qatar, ended up moving to the UK, where he has remained ever since.

Tunde FolawiyoNow in his eighties, he has continued to paint and exhibit his work. Art enthusiasts like Tunde Folawiyo might remember that his most notable exhibition in recent years was held at the Tate Modern; entitled ‘Ibrahim Salahi: A Visionary Modernist’, it was the first ever retrospective of an African Artist in this gallery. Exploring the idea of African Modernism, the display featured 100 of Salahi’s pieces, most of which were created during the last five decades. The exhibition offered visitors insight into his artistic evolution, showing them how he developed a style which so masterfully combines Western, Arab, African and Islamic art techniques.

Throughout his career, Salahi has had his work included in a number of major exhibitions, and many of his paintings are now on display in several public spaces, including the National Gallery of Victoria, Hampton University Museum, the Smithsonian Institution, the National Museum of African Art, and the Museum of Modern Art. Salahi has also been the recipient of honours such as the 2001 Prince Clause Award and the 1964 Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship.

Folawiyo has been a collector of art for some time now. Information about Tunde Folawiyo’s interest in art is available online.

A bio of the Nigerian artist Yusuf Grillo

Tunde FolawiyoYusuf Grillo is one of Nigeria’s most renowned painters; he is someone that most art lovers, including Tunde Folawiyo, will have heard of. He is famed for the inventiveness of his work, as well as his preference for the colour blue, which features heavily in almost all of his paintings. Grillo sources his inspiration from the actions and behaviour of humankind, but is particularly intrigued by Yoruba culture, and much of his artwork tends to merge western and Yoruba art techniques.

Raised in Lagos, Grillo received both a Fine Arts diploma, and a postgraduate education diploma from the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology. In 1966, he moved to England to attend Cambridge University, after which he spent several years travelling around the USA and Germany. He eventually returned home, after he was appointed as the Head of Yaba College’s Department of Art and Printing. He retained this role for over 25 years, during which time he continued to paint, exhibit, and serve as the president of the SNA (Society of Nigerian Artists).

Although he has never been the most prolific of painters, the quality of the work which he has produced over the course of his career has led to Grillo being named as one of the most important artists in Nigeria. Grillo himself has acknowledged that it can often take him several months, or in some cases, even several years, to complete a painting. With this being said, he has, over the past few decades, produced a few hundred pieces of art, including not only portraits, but also statues and monuments.

Those who are familiar with his work, such as Tunde Folawiyo, may know that Grillo has expressed an aversion to photo-realism; rather than aiming for lifelike creations, he instead prefers to elongate and stylise the figures. This technique, which produces graceful, elegant human-like forms, makes his work instantly recognisable. His choice of colour tones and his compositional decisions have been praised by many, including Kunle Filani, a well-known art critic. In an essay about this artist, Filani noted that whilst many have attempted to mimic Grillo’s style in their own work, none have managed to achieve the same skilful combination of complimentary hues and perfect spatial balance.

For those highly interested in the work of many other African artists, find out more at the Tunde Folawiyo African art blog.

Artists of Africa: Martin Kamuyu

Renowned artist Martin Kamuyu remains at the forefront of Africa’s thriving art scene, garnering worldwide admiration for his paintings depicting cultures of the continent. Throughout his career, the painter has exhibited tremendous talent, forging a lasting impact on the world of African art as a whole. His creative works have appeared in several popular galleries throughout the world. Tunde Folawiyo and million more with an appreciation for authentic African art may ever hold Kamuyu’s artistic achievements amongst the most significant in the history of the genre.

Born in the Kiambu district of central Kenya in 1972, Kamuyu began his schooling at the Nyoro Nursery School during 1978. In the years following, he began his primary education, later joining Ruiru’s high school to earn a secondary education. During this time, the artist’s dear mother suffered a stroke, which caused him to drop out of school to care for his younger siblings.

Tunde FolawiyoWhilst his days were spent on domestic work, Kamuyu came to recall his interest in art while attending primary school. With this, he began sketching – sketches which would later be decorate with a variety of objects such as leaves, charcoal, soil and egg yolks. Kamuyu’s father later visited another popular African artist, Shine Tani, Kamuyu’s cousin. Seeking financial assistance, Kamuyu’s father was astonished upon learning that Shine earned a living through his art. He then remembered his own son’s passion and talent for art, inviting Shine to visit in order to judge the creative works of his cousin. During August of 1992, Shine indeed visited his cousin, becoming impressed by his work and encouraging him to go forth with his dreams. He later took the young painter under his wing, providing him with shelter, painting materials and food.

Upon Kamuyu’s completion of a few pieces, Shine selected a total of six amongst them, taking them to a local gallery where Ruth Schaffner bought them all. Later, Kamuyu himself sold several more, living on his own with his earnings. He continues to conduct research on art. Seeking to portray the culture and daily lives of people throughout Africa, the artist attributes luck to his success. Later in his career, he became employed as a painter and designer in Product Design, which he quit later to pursue his own artwork. He was also once employed by Ramoma, a Gallery. He assisted in the coordinating of various projects, solidifying his place in the lucrative world of African art. Today, his paintings continue to inspire a new generation of art lovers, including Tunde Folawiyo and countless others.

Famed Artists of Africa: The Works of El Anatsui

Tunde FolawiyoOne of Nigeria’s most influential artists, El Anatsui and his famed works of art showcase the magnificence of Africa’s thriving art culture. Using a variety of unconventional media for his sculptures, the artist and his impact upon the art world remain amongst the most highly regarded to stem from the continent. With his creative works serving as a social commentary on a variety of issues ranging from colonialism to the environment, El Anatsui’s pieces may continue to inspire Tunde Folawiyo and millions more with an appreciation for the diversity of Africa’s art.

Born in the town of Anyako during 1944, Anatsui was trained at an art institution in Ghana before beginning a teaching career in Nigeria during 1975. He would travel back and forth between the two countries frequently during his career. The artist long held a preference for media such as wood and clay, using these to sculpt objects tied to traditional Ghanaian ideals and other fascinating subjects. Whilst Anatsui found success in sculpture, he later transitioned to modern installation art. It was in this genre that he would later encounter tremendous success.

Anatsui’s works are world renowned, better known for their large scale and the thousands of crumpled and folded metal pieces bound together to form art. These intricate pieces, many of which are massive, require meticulous construction, demonstrating his magnificent artistic talents. In keeping true to his aesthetic, the artist encourages his pieces to take on a variety of forms upon installation in museums across the world. Several of his most recognised pieces are so large that they encompass entire walls in galleries across the world.

Some of El Anatsui’s most famous exhibitions are housed within numerous art institutions throughout the United States and beyond, including those in the popular Brooklyn Museum and several others in states like New York, Iowa, California, Florida and Ohio. NYC’s Metropolitan Museum and its Museum of Modern Arts are among the most notable to showcase the art of El Anatsui, demonstrating his world-wide popularity and immense impact forged upon contemporary art and African art as a whole. International exhibits have also shown his work, including Venice Biennale and Paris Triennial. Tunde Folawiyo and millions of others with an appreciation for African art may regard El Anatsui’s pieces as some of the most significant to hail from the region. His contributions to the world of art will continue to inspire new generations of art enthusiasts and African citizens alike.