By Japhet Alakam

After participating in many international art fairs including the Joburg Art Fair , 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, London etc, Omenka gallery, one of the leading gallery in Nigeria reputed for its policy of promoting international and Nigerian artists last Saturday opened another exhibition tagged Having Travelled Far, an exhibition of remarkable paintings by five leading contemporary African artists, all of whom are based in Germany.

The exhibition which is organised by Omenka Gallery in collaboration with German-based gallery, ARTCO, will run from November 9-29, 2013 at the gallery’s house in Ikoyi. The exhibiting artists are; Owusu Ankomah , Godfried Donkor , Manuela Sambo , EL Loko and Ransome Stanley, all who share one common feature of being born in the diaspora. But, although they live and work outside the continent, a look at their works reveals that they have remained true to their roots, a tendency and initiative which Omenka Gallery upholds through its programmes.

Oliver Enwonwu, the CEO of Omenka gallery said that Having Travelled Far is part of the gallery’s way of promoting international artists, it aims to stimulate the Lagos exhibition circuit, while encouraging cross-fertilization of ideas between African artists who define their practices on the continent and those in diaspora.

On display are about 30 works that tends to create a new visual vocabulary for Nigerian collectors.
The overwhelming majority of works in this show are paintings, as most African artists choose painting as their principal medium in contrast to many contemporary artists in other parts of the world. All of the artists included in this exhibition have studied and travelled across Africa, Europe and North America and have experienced exposure to international contemporary forms of artistic expression, including alternate media prevalent in Western countries. It is just about art that retains the Afro centric elements and still imbibe a different culture.

Among the five artists selected for this show, only Godfried Donkor focuses entirely on mixed-media collages. Here, his collages combine symbols of 18th century slave trade with images of Trinidadian girls placed on a background fashioned from the pages of the Financial Times – a metaphor for the commercialization of people, a theme that runs through his oeuvre.

In his work Hanging Madonna,Donkor juxtaposes halos and soft-porn imagery to suggest the inclusion of the Christian church in the exploitation of female slaves. Originally a Medieval Italian word for noble woman, Madonna, today is used to refer exclusively to the images of the Virgin Mary.

Ransome Stanley does not stray far from his peer in reflecting on colonial clichés of exoticism and images of Africa rooted in Western concepts of rusticness and innocence. He creates planar pictorial spaces whose stark narrative painting style he then disrupts by contrasting it with the two-dimensional.

Speaking about his works, Stanley said, “In my paintings there is no reason to recount a linear plot; rather I utilize the design experience to create complex spaces. I move across the border between two worlds playing with different forms of conscious perception.”

Manuela Sambo is well-
known for her depictions of nude female portraits and figures. Her work, Nadine and Rosa Lilie employ stylistic elements of the body painting traditions from her home country, Angola. Sambo’s recent work adopts this strategy as well as integrates European elements dating back to the Medieval Ages. Importantly, the bodies of her figures are decorated with ornamental pieces taken from historical paintings and successfully balanced with the shapes of eyes and mouths painted to bear semblance to Africans.

Similarly, OwusuAnkomah’s figures are naked, bold, and powerful but differ from Sambo’s figures by a covering of complex symbols in a manner that renders them almost invisible. Owusu Ankomah is influenced by the philosophy of his Akan-speaking people of Ghana, reflected in his frequent use of the adinkra symbols each representing a particular proverb in his Microcronseries, well represented in the show.

EL Loko employs the use of symbols as he strives to develop a unique language through the use of his own personal pictorial alphabet. In the works, each alphabet embraces ornamental colour blends, figurations, primaeval symbols and cryptic signs to constitute a homogenous whole. EL Loko’s Cosmic Alphabet 47 is a result of an intensive preoccupation with the traditions of his native Togo and Christianity.

The exhibition is an infusion of two worlds, it shows that despite their stay outside they are rooted in an ancient and distinctive cultural heritage yet shared by exposure to the artistic expression of other regions of the world..

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