Race against time with Abbas’ print painting canvas


Period, events and technological changes in visual communication, coalesces into artist, Kelani Abbas’ new body of sculptural collage and print-painting technique.

For an unprecedented five-month long, Abbas showed the works as If I Could Save Time, at the Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA), Lagos. Basically inspired by his upbringing in a family of printing press profession, the body of work pushes Abbas further into the realm of non-regular or traditional form of visual expressionism.

Formerly scheduled to end few weeks ago after its opening last November, but an extension afforded me an opportunity to see the artist in his radical conceptual of portraiture themes. But Abbas, from the entry point of his career, has established a profound signature in realism painting.

On a mid-day visit, the quietness of the gallery – except for the presence of the artist and two of his colleagues – radiates an aura that connects with the periodic contents of the exhibits. An aged-colour paper, that inscribes Abbas’ statement; old letterpress box containing pieces of metals that depict the extinct printing process; and a large size monochrome painting produced through stamping technique, all on the right side of the CCA gallery assert Art as a fulcrum on which science and technology are lifted.

And in what looks like an object from a museum comes the letterpress box, which brings a reflection onto that forgotten world of printing. To reflect on the fact that hundreds or millions of words, in a given publication always went through the tedious manual arrangement of letters as the box displays in this exhibition, is amazing.

For the artist, it’s a family business, in which he grew up to become who he is today. “From age 4-6, my dad always taught us the mastery of placing letters and numbers,” in the letterpress process, Abbas recalls.

In bringing the past to impact on contemporary creation of art, Abbas’ application of the old and manual numbering tool generates a mural-like portraiture. In fact, the group portrait gives semblance of a re-produced, old monochrome photograph enlarged to mural size. But the work is a painting produced by the artist in the displayed size. “It was produced by stamping the numbering machine to create the images,” he discloses.

Compartmented in plexiglass, the huge portraits – two of them, each at extreme ends of the gallery- tell two basic stories about social textures of the past and an artist’s introspection in contemporaneity.

The two portraits are reproduced by the artist, painterly, from old black and white group pictures that reflect communal characters of the past, in professional field, in this case, among printing workers. For those who know Abbas’ antecedence in traditional process of creating art, there is no argument that he has established a realism behaviour at the point of entry into his career late part of last decade. Introspectively, his skill in realism, which comes as a vital medium for the stamping technique confirms the common argument about ‘knowing the rules before breaking it.’ In If I Could Save Time, Abbas’ techiques and forms collapse the barriers and as well as blur the lines between modern and contemporary art divides. Specifically, he brings ‘Time’ as a vital slippery subject that differentiates development between two centuries, spanning over 50 years when art and science complement the other.

This much oozes as one moves further, viewing other works on display, particularly the wall hanging of letterpress boxes. Sculptural, they are, but “have been preserved.” The compartmented boxes, which houses small cut-outs of portraits and sometimes provide depth, also create what looks like triptych form. Again, Time resonates with art and technology as the pictures, were scanned copies of printed materials retrieved from decades-old archives.

Among such abstracts of Time that perhaps, could not be saved or rescued is the fact that art and science, via photography, coalesced in such a rapid pace from black and white to sepia, then full colour, as well as chemicalised/mechanised to digital/electronic in image processing.

In her curatorial note, Bisi Silva, director at CCA Lagos writes that “As time unfolds, repeating itself in a continuous swirl, Abass uses technology- the printing press as metaphor to negotiate and even to bypass obsolescence, bringing it into existence in new ways.”

In this article:
CCA LagosKelani Abbas


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