By Japhet Alakam
Since he graduated from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in 1988 with a first class in painting, Asidere has been a regular face in most exhibitions in Nigeria. In fact he is regarded as one of the best painters, and that was why the serene environment of Omenka gallery came alive again as art enthusiasts, collectors, artists, lovers and even students trooped to the gallery to witness the latest offering from him.
Regarded as an integral part of a group of artists working in Nigeria today, leading a revival of painting—a medium several critics and scholars alike consider a dead form of artistic expression. Asidere adores women and paints them out of a deep desire to identify with their strength of character.
The solo exhibition tagged The Artist and His Muse which is ongoing opened at Omenka Gallery on November 29 and will run till December 20, 2014.
As one enters the exhibition hall of the gallery, one will be greeted with different paintings and drawings that almost look the same, many of them in elongated figures that often appear headless or limbless. This can be described as the signature of Asidere, who confessed that the images express the title and character of the exhibition. The exhibition investigates in contemporary times, the once legendary and sexually intimate artists/muse relationship. It is as usual an examination of an aspect of his broad oeuvre—a culmination of a long appreciation for women above all, his mother and chief muse. She remains his most important influence; his obsession and idea of ideal beauty and love. He interprets and celebrates her virtues in these paintings of his several models.
Featuring about 25 paintings and drawings of traditional beauties and liberated women, 18 paintings and seven drawings where he comments on the everyday human drama that surrounds the political, social, psychological or cultural issues in the country. Many of the enigmatic forms appear regal and are engaged in mundane activities including neighborhood banter and preparations for a party, their masklike faces and haughty appearances lending weight to the artist’s ongoing investigations into cultural perceptions of blackness; its physiognomies and behavior; his artistic journey advancing several questions regarding the meaning of contemporary beauty.
Asidere paints his feelings intuitively, he then refines his instincts by continually adjusting his lines, colors, and planes to reflect his mental state, his sensitivity and artistic refinement evident in the soft pinks, blues, greens and yellows—a culmination of the simple shapes and textures inspired by his mother’s textiles while growing up.
The exhibition which was accompanied by an artist’s talk on the opening day, offered fans of Asiderethe the opportunity to hear from him on why he celebrates women in his paintings.
Some of the works include, Powdered Face; Missed the date; Light and Laughter; Lady in Red; Relative Peace, Joy; Celebrating Mood.etc. In Relative peace, the artists likened that to the Nigerian of his dream. “We live in a country that is having issues, issues of insurgency, corruption, kidnapping etc so the piece is a desire in my heart of what I want Nigeria to be, where you can go about your business, anywhere with fear or molestation.”
While in Celebrating Mood, Asidere says it is part of African culture. “We Africans are happy people, that somebody died or is sick can not take that away from us. Celebration is just part of us, it is not just having party, its in the spirit so you know what makes you happy.”
According to the curator, Oliver Enwonwu, “A close observation of Duke Asidere’s canvases of female figures will reveal their representation as strangely hybrid beings. Furthermore, the faces appear the same, bearing the same strong features as his mother, and are captured in an angular and semi-Cubist technique drawn from a deep knowledge of classical African sculpture.”
Enwonwu asserts that Asidere’s paintings of limbless and headless women serve to challenge and displace classical ideals of ‘beauty’, heroism and perfection. Here, the female body becomes a primary site and an important source of information, through which he celebrates virtues such as patience, long suffering, commitment and beauty.
Asidere revisits this stereo-typification and objectification in his paintings of non-erotic women by offering a critique of patriarchal communities with accompanying social practices and political structures that hide sexual abuse, and normalize assumptions that women are subservient to men.
Duke Asidere is recognised as one of Nigeria’s most important painters and has held eight solo exhibitions and more than 43 group exhibitions in Nigeria and Europe. His works are well collected in Nigeria and internationally.