I Love Syria by Ceramist, Ato Arinze
Functionality of applied art or design, most often, blurs the conceptual and aesthetics contents. For a Lagos-based ceramist, Ato Arinze and his Cameroonian counterpart, Djakou K. Nathalie, the perception or reality that has been moulded around appropriation of ceramic art must be put in proper perspective.
Jointly, the two artists found a common space in Beyond Functions, an exhibition, which just held at Moorehouse, Ikoyi, Lagos. Each artist took different thematic approach: Arinze stuck to pottery, stylised to create diverse imageries, while Nathalie expressed her thoughts in mostly domestic dish forms and few figural.
Nathalie weaves her Nigerian experience into most of her themes, particularly when she shares the experience of gun violence witnessed in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. Such works include, ‘Chaos’ and quite a number of Untitled pieces, which also capture states of political and economic instability around the world. For example, ‘Chaos’, a dish form, but patterned in many pieces, glued together, explains the fear in which the artist’s host community in Nigeria’s volatile Niger Delta constantly lives with.
However, the aesthetics of most of her works are so loud that the inspiration behind the creation – negatives such as gun violence – is blurred. Among such works that stress the artist’s creative ebullience within design contents are; Erosion, Labyrinth, Ecosystem, Twins and Anxious.
When she came to PH from Yaounde to create works for the exhibition, whatever theme she had in mind changed. “Seeing the violence and living in fear in Port Harcourt, I changed the theme that I wanted to create,” Nathalie tells her guest during a visit to the exhibition.
Her co-exhibitor and host, Arinze is one of Nigeria’s most consistent ceramists whose art practice, in general, often gives space to activism. Arinze, for example, with a group known as Art Zero, has been in the fore of alternative or additional perspective to art appreciation outside Nigeria’s hub of Lagos and Victoria Islands.
Also, quite a lot if his themes question social, political regimentation.
For Beyond Functions, the artist questions perception, noting that there is more to ceramics and pottery than functionality. Again, the relativity and sometimes complexity of shaping how people behave towards ceramic is perhaps as slippery as a glazed surface of sculpture across genre. Vases, for example, that have motif and patterns pretend to be non-functional. But in reality, “you can’t prevent people from using such ceramic work for functional purpose,” Arinze argues.
Remember the tragic Syrian family washed away on Greece waters whilst trying an escape to safety? Yes, the drowned boy – from the tragic journey – found on the beach gets a tribute in one of Arinze’s body of work for Beyond Functions. Using the treading words ‘I Love Syria,’ for the title of a pottery piece, Arinze places the lifeless body of a boy, delicately on top of the pottery piece. Interestingly, there is a swap here: turned upside down, the bottom serves as top, also suggesting peak of hill or globe. Similarly, another pottery turned upside down Immigrants, captures the artist’s thought on the rising refugee crisis from the Syrian civil war.
In clear sculptural forms, Arinze shows the dynamics of his skill with series Tree of Life and Two Trees, in sureal-like depictions of human figures and plants.
Excerpts from the artists’ bio. Arinze: ‘With over 20 years of studio practice as a Ceramics Sculptor, his love for the clay medium and his perfection in handling the material has endured him in the minds of Art Patrons. He has organised and facilitated many Seminars and workshops on Creativity, Art business, Pottery and Sculpture.
Nathalie: In 2014 Nathalie featured in the television show “CAREERS” channel 2, with members of her association. In 2015, she co-executed Mosaics for the renovation of the Central Post Office of Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon. she participated in several group exhibitions and created several ceramic work for banks, schools, companies and private customers. Many videos films were produced on her works, including that of the Swiss TSR, TV5 Afrique and several publications in newspapers and magazines.