Confronting state of the nation with who will blink first?

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Jelili Atiku, Kill Not This Country (Maanifesito II), Catholic Mission Street/ Hospital Road / Broad Street, Lagos Island, Saturday November 31, 2015. Photo by Emmanuel Sanni

Capturing a state of the nation’s battle for survival, art, in its full strength was deplored in Lagos, with photography/film, poetry, performance, installation and mixed media painting. The space: a distinct art exhibition part of Lagos Book and Art Festival (LABAF 2016), held at Freedom Park, Lagos Island energises creative expression as relevant voice in nationhood narrative.

For the artists involved in the exhibition titled Who Will Blink First? – curated by Nkechi Nwosu-Igbo – it’s a familiar space. Photographer, Aderemi Adegbite; activist-performer, Jelili Atiku; installation artist, Nwosu-Igbo, painter, Bob-nosa Uwagboe and poet, Efe Paul Ajino whose works have been shown at the yearly space, severally, continue adding conceptual texture to the yearly event. Recall that at the last edition, the regular artists featured in the exhibition titled They Have Asked Us To Smile.

The 2016 exhibition, presented by Mild Red Studios, articulates The Terror of Knowledge, a central theme of LABAF 2016.

The theme of the exhibition suggests a combative gathering, perhaps, similar to common outrage, which frustrated Nigerian youths always released via social media. No, Who Will Blink First?, is a deviation that provides platform for Nigerians to apply education and knowledge as weapon in combating economic challenges such as recession.

From photographs of his foreign tours titled Summer Trips series, Adegbite shares how knowledge, in the context of the exhibition’s theme relates to his European travelogue. Some of the works include, rail lines in Europe shot from aerial view, couple in the wood and quite some postal stamps of iconic names of western descents, as well as, a book cover.

Adegbite explains that the Summer Trips series reflect movement “around within spaces with similar history to mine.”

From a 2014 project, which Atiku titled, Lord Lugard Sings Blah Blah Green Sheep (Maanifesito I) performed at Ejigbo, a Lagos suburb, the artist drags onto the LABAF 2016 exhibition space, a recent controversial demolition of Nigeria’s national monument. The edifice, known as Ilojo Bar, Tiubu Square, Lagos State, was said to have been built over 150 years ago, but went into rubbles under the bulldozers of an anonymous private developer. Adapted for the LABAF space, Atiku’s Hunhun-un-un (Maanifesito V series, he says, “question our sense of reasoning in sustaining collective histories and memories.”

President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government must have aligned itself with the thoughts of painter, Uwagboe, if the news report few days ago, about stripping people of small arms is anything to hold on to. Uwagboe’s body of work shown at the exhibition stresses the need to check proliferation of small and large arms, if peace must reign and generate good economic environment.

Some of the works include, The Herdsmen and The Gun….. acrylic on textured canvas…24” x 30; The Elite and His Gun Man (acrylic on canvas… 24” x 30” 2016); and The Unregister Gun (acrylic on canvas 24” x 30” 2016.)

From his three works titled I Go In Search Of Sorrow, Dream Seeker and Leaving Azino shares the value of words in narrating relationship. His spoken-words reads: ‘I go in Search of Sorrow Something dark I can swallow
A rain of tears to beat my garment, heavy, arching my shoulders
I pine for the grip of melancholia
To grab me by the mind and squeeze…”

In a state of recession, carrying emotional baggage of hate and intolerance would be mentally horrendous, so suggest Nwosu-Igbo’s installation. Mounted in broken bars that form contents for the construction, the red painted work depicts the complexity of intolerance. The installation, I Will Huff and Puff And Bllow Your House Down probes the Nigerian mentality of intolerance. “We have built this shaky establishment for the “us vs. them” mind-set…”

Again, the LABAF art exhibition provides a space for visual engagement on issues, filling the vacuum left by commercial-dominated Lagos art scene.

In her curatorial notes, Nwosu-Igbo writes: “There is a crucial need to create and improve new radical and well-founded tactics of fighting, surviving, and collective action to be able to exist in Nigeria of today,” Nwosu-Igbo explains in her curatorial statement.

“Who Will Blink First? suggests an arranged, time-based, three-dimensional village meeting where the exhibition hall will serve as a site for exchange of survival ideas.”

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