Nigeria’s self-discovery… The heart and soul of Ijalobomo’s art

Humphrey Bekaren

Humphrey Bekaren

There appears to be no better time than now when Nigeria turns 56 years, a grand father’s age, to introspect upon a country that totters yet with teething problems, unable to interrogate and answer Hamlet’s ominous question of: “To be or not to be.”

Ijalobomo, the masked master artist, appears to have reached deep to the heart of the matter most especially since Nigeria’s peers across the globe have gone ahead to mature with age, growth, development and fullness of life while she lags behind in the backwaters of life.

Well, it is no longer news that many people still gloss over art as the ephemeral engagement of ‘art-for-art’s-sake’. This is perhaps why Ijalobomo’s monumental exhibition of 2015 and its attendant crucial message passed them by.

For social commentators in Nigeria, a country that has been plagued by a plethora of problems, or rather challenges, it is not always usual for an artist, especially one like Ijalobomo, who is self-effacing and publicity-shy, to dump commercial considerations, that is the cash his paintings can instantly fetch him, to deviate and instead elevate national issues into telling art-forms.

And this elevation goes beyond national boundaries to attract the keen eyes and workmanship of an international journal such as African Research Review. Not many art lovers (including even the advertised aficionados) have made attempts to relate the issues painted in that collection of works as exhibited at the Red Door Gallery on November 20, 2015, to the quiet wind of change, a revolution of sorts as some rank it, by President Muhammadu Buhari.

The theme of the exhibition, PHCN – PLEASE HELP CLEAN NIGERIA, in itself, speaks compendium on its vision and mission without the use of a megaphone. The collectivity of the exhibition, theme and works, shout directly to the mountain top, insisting that unless the national dirt defacing and choking the body, heart and soul of the country is cleaned away, the inevitable brink may just be inches away, except redemption is invented and quickly too.

By way of national restoration, therefore, the re-launch of the national orientation programme in addition to President Buhari’s avowed wake-up call are in tandem with Ijalobomo’s evangelism in strokes and colours with Nigeria’s quest for a self-discovery.

The sundry narrations elicited by the various works concentrate and concern subjects that are not far-fetched – corruption, unemployment, poverty, lack of patriotism, dearth of social utilities, peace and security, et al. For so long and too long the troubles in and with Nigeria have led to the sense of illusion of governance in the polity.

Of all the issues, the one found to be a common denominator to each and every Nigerian, rich and poor, powerful and powerless, beautiful and ugly and so on is drinking water. Water it is that late Fela Anikulakpo Kuti, the legend of Afro Beat, once celebrated as having ‘no enemy.’

The disappearance of street pumps supplying free and potable water from the gigantic water towers and large overhead water tanks built in urban and semi-urban settlements before and after the transition of 1960 is an evidence of decay and dis-service to the people of Nigeria.

It is a hard metaphor that as independence grew older so did the supply of public water decline until even the trickle trailed away leaving the people in dire need. Today, people now resort to private water supply from their personal boreholes and wells or go back to the heydays of fetching unreliable water from polluted streams and even puddles.

The issue of public supply of water and the place of water in our everyday life are encapsulated in vintage works such as Year 1970 BC (Before Corruption), showing drinking water straight from the tap against drinking from plastic bottle in Year 2010 AD.

Recalling every piece of this unusual but classical exhibition provides a kaleidoscopic narrative of our national life and experiences. The art works remain evergreen and forever relevant. All these we would have missed or even forgotten but for the intervention of the African Research Review Journal’s documentation and apparent reportage of Nigeria before the international public court by way of Ijalobomo. Ijalobomo painstakingly went the extra mile to unearth, in images and colours, his exploration of the mundane and the extraordinary.

Perhaps it will do a world of good if some of the pictures could be discussed in order to feel the undercurrent of Ijalobomo’s connotative and denotative brush strokes on canvass, board and on paper which when translated could end up in a compendium. Suffice, therefore, to just dwell on some samplers.

In this article:
IjalobomoRed Door Gallery
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