‘Shifting Identities’ to showcase at Cape Town art fair

Sharon Kavhu

Windhoek - Nigerian renowned Omenka Gallery is set to exhibit its contemporary realities dubbed ‘Shifting Identities’ at the acclaimed Investec Cape Town Art Fair (ICTAF) that will be running from February 15 to 17 at the Cape Town International Convention Centre.

‘Shifting Identities’ constitutes an exhibition of three arguably crème de la crème of Nigerian artists - Ebenezer Akinola, Ima Mfon and Williams Chechet.

Information from the Omenka Gallery shows that the exhibition draws its title from the individual experiences of each artist and the particular socio-political realities in Nigeria.

The gallery’s director, Oliver Enwonwu told The Southern Times that Akinola specialises in portraits and figures for his oeuvre while Mfon explores issues of social and cultural identity, and Chechet’s artwork is inspired by images of the world around him.

“Akinola’s work achieves a balance of realistic and abstract passages. It also adds further depth with a combination of broad, sweeping strokes in the background and smaller, finer details to accentuate areas of interest,” Enwonwu said.

Akinola shows themes such as travel and migration and loves art painting without a background. In a statement to this paper, the artist describes his underlying philosophy:

“The empty background is for two reasons; one is technical. Sometimes it’s better to focus on the essence, the positive space; it gives a better visual impact. The second and more important is that the background shows the ‘unknowingness’, of the so-called journey and throws up several questions like 'where are they going?' Migration is constant. Man cannot remain [stationary], he must move.”

He said the experience of spaces that are of no fixed geographic location in a painting is dependent on the one’s mobility and ability to view multiple perspectives simultaneously.

In the same statement, Mfon says his work is a series of photographic portraits of his country’s people that explore issues of social and cultural identity.

“My artwork ‑ ‘Nigerian Identity’ ‑ is a series of photographic portraits of my fellow Nigerians in which all people are presented in a uniform manner, even enhanced so that their skin tones are virtually identical.

He said his works are inspired by his experiences living in different cultural settings, which viewed identity differently. He said ‘black’ was often used as a generic descriptive label.

“‘The black guy’, ‘the new black sitcom’. I see myself as being more than just black. However, that is usually not how I am perceived outside of Nigeria. Regardless of my unique heritage, I am often generalised as being just black.”

Mfon said the homogenisation of the skin tones in his project plays on this tendency to reduce people to just a colour. “It also serves to unify the people and further an artistic expression of their portraits. In these images, the skin tones are rich, deep and beautiful to celebrate our beautiful skin, for which we are often oppressed and marginalised.”

Chechet draws his references from the likes of Andy Warhol and Jean Michel Basquiat, iconic figures of the pop art movement of the 1960s, his creative process is largely spontaneous. Isolating photographs on a coloured and flattened plane, they are taken out of context and overlapped with colourful accessories as exemplified by the well-received series ‘We are the North’ and ‘Royal Niger’.

Betraying his northern heritage, he explores the locals, especially leaders, as well as iconic imagery that has shaped Nigeria’s political history while the latter series is reminiscent of the work of artist Roy Lichtenstein.

“My work intends to share fresh perspectives of Africa, underscoring the need to learn more about one’s history.  This is why my artwork develops facial features of past Nigerian presidents alongside cartoon text,” Chechet.

Other exhibitors at the ICTAF include Galerie Cécile Fakhoury, Circle Art Agency and Lia Rumma.

According to ICTAF profiles, Galerie Cécile Fakhoury is located in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.  It was opened in September 2012 to promote contemporary art on the African continent by developing a locally based dynamic structure.

The Circle Art Agency, established in 2012 in Nairobi, Kenya, provides professional arts advisory service to individual and corporate collectors and art institutions in East Africa.

Lia Rumma has two galleries in Italy. One in Naples and one in Milan and has been in existence for over 40 years.

 

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