A nation’s changing times on canvas of Oshinowo

One of Kolade Osinowo’s paintings, Youth Wing

One of Kolade Osinowo’s paintings, Youth Wing

When strange events occur, artists’ accounts via visual interpretation or impression always serve as medium of resources, including anthropological and other evidences from which historians and researchers either derive content to support their findings or get leads to unravel facts. For artist, Kolade Oshinowo, the future would have been denied great artistic representation of odd, but real life events that happened in Nigeria, in the last one decade.

To stress his passion in the area of representational form, particularly when it comes to documenting events, Oshinowo sacrifices his growing interest in fabric-collage on canvas for what he considers, one of the most crucial periods in Nigeria’s nationhood challenges. The body of work generated from his observatory canvas, which he titles Changing Times, is heading for a one-week solo exhibition from September 17, 2016 at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos.

Recall that in 2012, Oshinowo, perhaps, for the first time, showed works that were mostly populated with canvas of collage fabrics in his solo show titled Silhouette at Nike Gallery, Lekki, Lagos. Synonymous with figural and fashion themes, the fabric collage appeared inappropriate for the artist’s choice of thematic focus three years after. With so many odd things happening in Nigeria, some of which “could melt even stone of heart,” it was important, “to change my theme,” Oshinowo says to select preview guests at Terra Kulture.

From the activities of the terror group, Boko Haram, to the unprecedented feverish build-up towards general elections of 2015, as well as, resurgence of Niger Delta militants and brazenness of kidnappers, Oshinowo’s canvas takes a visual narrative of Nigeria’s challenges within the context of a country being violated from all fronts. “All these,” he discloses, “distracted me from the fashion themes in fabric collage.”

While visualisation of Sambisa forest – a vast land mass that spreads across six states – which hosts the world’s most-valued captives could be imagined in diverse picturisation by as many as millions of people who have expressed empathy, but a simple, perhaps, common kind as depicted by Oshinowo still sends a chill through one ‘s vein. Titled Cries From Sambisa, in acrylic and oil, the high headroom composition above the cluster of girls placed almost at the bottom of the canvas generates a strong effect of deep isolation. Adding to the isolation-effect is a deep green of huge trees. But the scene is not without a hope: rays of light from the distance slightly beams onto the spot where the girls are held.

Still on the tragic effect of the Boko Haram oddity, Oshinowo’s brushing travels through the plight of IDPs. Such works include; Internally Displaced People II, a mixed of victims across age groups and Internally Displaced Children, a three figure portrait of children. The children portrait, perhaps, represents the fact that the IDPs are also outside the northeast, even coming down south to as far as Lagos.

For an artist who cherishes basic of art such as drawing, the works are not without few of such. Among the drawings, monochrome in coffee colour, is a spiritual solution to the Chibok girls crisis. Titled Prayer For Chibok Girls, the work that depicts a girl in praying action also stresses the beauty of good draughtsmanship in artistic expression.

Despite Nigeria’s challenges, the country, according to Oshinowo’s observation, has been held together by “divine interventions.” This much he explains in an acrylic piece Divine Encounter, citing for example, the 2015 general elections as a product of divinity. But the artist recalls that, consciously, “I started painting divine intervention series since 1980s,” when he perhaps began to notice a gradual sliding of his country down the ladder of failure. Over two decades after, and with the coming of Boko Haram, kidnapping, resurgence of militancy in Niger Delta, all piercing through the fabric of Nigeria’s nationhood, Oshinowo asks: “is this Nigeria?”
However, as the central theme of the body of work turns out a good distraction in favour of visual documentation of the subsisting oddity of a nation, the importance of “socialising” still creeps into the tragic parts of the narratives. The artist brings few pieces from his fabric collage in works such as Weddin Day, At The Festival, Aso Ebi, Celebrity, among others.

If there is any artist who has remained defiant against critique of ‘repetitive’ themes, Oshinowo is that thorn in the flesh of such critics. One recalls that all of a sudden, promoters of ‘contemporaneity,’ few years ago, started bashing a section of Nigerian artists for ‘still’ painting common themes such as, market scenes, streetscapes and other daily environmental depictions. But defiant and vintage Oshinowo – in Changing Times – is boldly expressed in crowded market scenes such as Return to Oyingbo, Omo Oloja, The Arena and The Assembly, among others.

Indeed, it takes a keen observatory perspective into common activities and sceneries in an ever theatrical Lagos environment to generate great artistic composition and contents. Again, Oshinowo proves that incendiary of ‘repetitive’ themes can hardly be exhausted as he captures eleja (fish sellers) in a very uncommon scenery. From Youth Wing, Neighbourhood Fish Hawkers, to They Come From Makoko series, Oshinowo’s brushing exhales freshness into Lagos streetscape on canvas. In fact, the artist’s capture of women fish hawkers in They Come From Makoko series is more interesting in the drove movement of the women.

Oshinowo’s studio is a neigbhour to Makoko, the famous riverine community in Lagos. Constantly, he notices how the women move in convoy, “and always at a particular period of the day.”

In 2012, when Oshinowo showed the fabric textured paintings as a Silhoutte, he named the technique as ‘recover and reuse (R&R).’ Four years after, he continues with the collage in quite a number of pieces that adds relief to the constant sad stories coming from north east of Nigeria and Niger Delta.

In his artist statement, Oshinowo describes his journey through the art as an investment of great deal of energy and passion, especially focusing “streams of responses to various stimuli within our socio/economic, political, cultural and environmental space.” Oshinowo, who boasts of many “decades of uninterrupted studio practice, searching, researching, exploring and discovering” notes that with such a consistent journey, only he can “outdo myself.”

Excerpts from his artist statement: “I try to subject reality to a preferential process of selection and choosing only what is in concert or harmony with my own disposition. I allow my paintings to talk to me in a meditative engagement process in the course of my work. This dialogue has enabled me to give life to a large body of work.

“The deep sincerity of overpowering passion I have for my studio practice has always made me to be professionally protective and unflappable with the rights I have over my work. This has often times been misconstrued as professional arrogance.

“These are indeed troubling times. My current output includes; works that attempt to reflect our dark side and the consequences of several wrong choices we have made as a nation. Negative reports have invariably overshadowed what we always assumed to be our ‘normal’ life. Our state of wickedness and penchant for ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ has continued to assault our collective psyche, robbing us of our genuine desire for progress.”

In this article:
Kolade Oshinowo
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