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Trash-ing Lagos, the city of visual artists…

By McPhilips Nwachukwu
Some years ego, former arts editor of  Vanguard  Newspapers, Obi Nwakanma wrote a very defining literary essay published in the Sunday arts pages , which he titled; Lagos and the Poets. In that seminal article, Nwakanma, who in his own right, is an admirable poet assessed how the  metropolitan city of Lagos in all its  arresting contradictions helps to shape and influence the life and creativity of the city’s based poets.

Many years after the publication of that brilliant article, the dynamic city of Lagos has continued to define the tenor of lives and creativity of not only poets, but also, politicians, bureaucrats, the clergy, academics and visual artists.

Interestingly, the products of this enigmatic city like Nwakanma’s poets of Lagos are daily trying to document their experiences of this vibrant and destructive city through whatever tool their trades offer for expression.

CASUALITIES: An installation work by Kainebi.
CASUALITIES: An installation work by Kainebi.

One of such products of the confluence of good, bad and ugly of the city of Lagos is  Yaba College of Technology and Auchi Polytechnic trained visual artist, Osahenye Kainebi.

Kainebi,  professional studio artist, who runs his studio practice both at Maryland area of Lagos and Auchi town of Edo State is one Nigerian  visual artist, whose art has transformed the engaging and paradoxical Lagos into an art medium, far removed from being a mere material  for artistic expression.

Artist, Kainebi, who practices in the different media of visual compositions ranging from painting, mixed media and installation art has succeeded in reducing the bristling city of Lagos and its dynamic soul to a four dimensional art piece, which brings together both the city, the artists and viewers as one holistic part of the art itself and its creative process.

In Kainebi’s art, one encounters the city’s industrial waste, population explosion and infra structural break down turned into artistic forms; and each form transformed to a voice of debate and engagement  for this artist interventionist.

Moving away from the traditional figural expressive  style that defines the works of many of his contemporaries, Kainebi’s own visual imagination tilts towards the conceptual, an approach, whereby  waste, ordinary materials as well as found objects are brought into one harmonious whole to creating fantastic visual works that excite human sentiments and sensibilities.

According to him,” In the waste and ordinary and found objects, I  see the  capacity to expressing my ideas.” It is this kind of thinking, deriving from the uncontrolled waste and littering found objects that dot the entire nook and cranny of Lagos coupled with  political decay and unchecked fundamental human rights abuse that informed  Kainebi’s solo  outing at Did Museum , Lagos in 2006 titled Erasures.

The exhibition , Erasures, which showed works painted in gauche kind of style, attempted to examine the life of the under privileged in society, whose voices are drowned in the consuming hands of  society’s well to do and political intimidators.

Reminiscing about that exhibition, which three years ego launched the shift of his visual art commitment, dark  skinned Kainebi, speaking softly in measured tones that  rhymed with that Saturday’s early morning drizzling says that ” The theme was Erasures.

It held at Didi Museum, Lagos. It bothered on ordinary people that didn’t have  face in society. Their presence so to say, is erased. And by the nature of the technique that I used, I created  images that  I placed in rows and single files and dominated them on canvas before I painted them out. I used white segment to veil them, and covered them as if they never existed. I wanted to invoke through such exhibits, the same kind of feeling and attitudinal behavior with which common people are seen in society.”

After that successful outing, the Agbo, Delta State born artist looked inward again, to see what fast paced Lagos can yet again offer him, something with which to tell its story. Here again, he began to think critically like Victorian novelist, Charles Dickens, who tried  well to capture the industrial era of England in his great novel, Hard Times and  and Nigeria’s own  urban literary chronicler, late Cyprian Ekwensi, whose, People of the City permanently immortalized the consuming nature of red light zones of Lagos city.

From this second  examination, he came to the conclusion that Lagos is in a serious urban chaos. That the city suffers from serious infra structural break down; lacking in basic infra structural needs: no  electricity, no water, even where there are water reservoirs, they are not functional. Lagos for Kainebi becomes a microcosmic sample with which to describe Nigeria, to use present expression; as a failed state.

Unfortunately and sadly; these ugly developments play out in a country that prides itself as the giant of Africa.. A country that is well endowed with abundant natural and human resources and ironically, a country steeped in perpetual hunger and poverty.

What can an artist say or do to save the situation, Kainebi asked himself?” I must  excite a debate.” He said to himself.” Art is my own tool and all these waste and found objects shall be  my voice.” He became very convinced about this platform that his conviction rang out like Odia Ofeimun’s poetic  lines that sing ; “ I will ask questions with stones/if they take my voice.”

Continuing he said, “I would say that I am still evolving because if I look back  to say between 1999 to 2000, I remember that I started employing ordinary materials in the form of waste and trash into the medium of my work. I use artificial hair, chicken wire, cigarette butts, fabrics etc. The usage of  waste and ordinary material have become part of my medium of expressions. But now, instead of using these material to paint, they now on their own, become the medium themselves instead of attaching them on canvass. They now assume the total works. In this new sense, these materials are seen to have gone full scale.”

The result of this realized  visual commitment is the  birth of  Causalities, Reservoir, Crowd, Pouring Out, Crossing, Black Out  and emissaries; paintings and installation works scheduled for another solo exhibition at the Center for Contemporary Art, Yaba, Lagos on Saturday.

The exhibition tagged, Trash-ing , he said “ has to do with discarded materials and waste object around the environment, which are consciously employed in the service of artistic expression.

‘Am interested in waste materials. For a long time, I started collecting waste material, which I now  incorporate in my works. I use  these materials as medium to make statements. To talk about issues. Issues that bother on environment, politics, infrastructure and all that affect humanity.

‘The materials in themselves have the capacity to express  the feelings I have inside me, which I intend to convey to the public. I use paint tubes, which I flatten out after use to make artistic statements as well as discarded can beer  and mineral water.”

Employing these waste materials and found objects, Kainebi uses colors of various hues to imbue souls and voice in them. Depending on their color characters, each previously common object takes a flight: and becomes an active agent that either challenges frustrating compartmentalization in the crowded scenes of the city or makes confounding statement about the  state of permanent darkness in the land as represented in his  work titled, Darkness.

The one month exhibition, which  showcases  ideologically steeped compositions will provide another deserving and engaging platform in the character of the host venue, the CCA, for scholars, artists, theorists and  the general public to savor again, from the new direction of Nigerian art, which in all ramifications are conforming into contemporary global art practice.

Though, the works may not look like the usual stop and pick kinds of art collectors brand, but in their own terms, they are works that  bristle with messages of national and global implications; and hence, are good  collections for national museums, public and government offices as well as private homes.

Beside this newness of  forms, the artist, Kainebi succeeds also in bringing visual beauty, through his deft use  of colors, introduction of symmetrical rhymes, visual harmony, emotional feeling and strong content values in the works. And their lies his strong and unique achievement.


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