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31 Jan Written by  Ladi Opaluwa

One Night as an Art Enthusiast

I am at the art exhibition organised by Achara Fusion Theatre, looking up at frames on the wall in the way I see people do on television-- arms folded, head cocked, observing with a calm intensity the works on display.

I am looking but I barely see, at least not as clearly, I presume, as do the other visitors who are ambling about the room, drink in hand, moving from wall to wall with a thorough appreciation of the works.

Art connoisseur, culture vulture, art broker, whatever sexy name applies-- I am none of these, just a wannabe. I have the urge to watch my back. I feel like an impostor, standing so in adulation of a work of art. But for a night I can pretend to be an art aficionado. I am a lady of culture.

Before me is an image of a man paddling a canoe on a river that is clean in parts and in other parts splashed with colours. That for me is the end of the story. But there must be aspects of the work invisible to the untrained eyes, hidden messages, connotations, themes, the essence of the work. I feel obliged to linger and contemplate the work.

I gaze at it, waiting for revelation. The artist is talking but understanding eludes me. He is explaining himself to me, trying to engage me in a conversation. How do I understand a language to which I have had little exposure? The room, though quiet, is filled with voices, the artists’ and their audience.

Boredom urges me on to another painting, a portrait of a woman and a toddler. Mother and child are smiling. The narrative is simple: it depicts the joy of motherhood. But it could be the focus is on infancy, not motherhood. How would I know? With my simplistic interpretation, I move on, happy with my version of the story, happy to have imposed my thought on the artist.

A monochrome photograph catches my attention, a candid shot of a lady and a horse in a desert. The horse is ahead and the lady, dressed in pants and long-sleeves shirt and a veil, is inches behind. She holds what looks like a plank. I cannot anticipate her intention. Poke the horse from behind? Not likely. The vagueness of the situation makes it even more interesting.

And then there is a statuette of lovers conjoined at the loins. This is readily open to diverse interpretations.

It is easier at the fabric section. Here I can feel the materials without fear of ruining them. I recognise the fabrics. Yards of aso-oke, tie-dye, and other local, handmade clothes. The textile artist is on standby for further education.

I have gone round and returned to the beginning and to the canoeist.

‘The medium is oil on canvas,’ says one of the curators, Godwin Tom, now standing beside me. This particular piece happens to be his work, so he explains at length the significance of every shade of colour applied. Summarily, it is about the effect of oil spillage in the Niger-delta. Finally, the truth is revealed.

We go on tour again. With his guidance, every work is illuminated, tricks are uncovered, intentions are laid bare. I learn to identify an artist’s work. That should be Adeshina’s work because it is rendered in a mixed medium, I say for instance, or because it is an impressionist painting. I learn more art jargon.

The Canadian Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Perry Calderwood, and Ken Saro Wiwa Jr are here. They are unanimous in their praise for Tom’s work. The water pollution painting, they say to me at different times, is the star piece of the night. I relate their opinion to the artist who must have been disappointed at my lack of recognition of his talent. Now he is elated.

From the strategic positioning of his work at the fore I should have known it was special. At subsequent exhibitions, it would be safe to assume that the work at the entrance is not kitsch. More, this popularly praised work is, at N80, 000, one of the most expensive on display. Henceforth, cost would be an indication of worth, except there is an admonition to not judge a painting by its price.

Dog