By MORENIKE TAIRE
Recently, veteran artist Segun Adejumo showed, in Lagos, a much anticipated body of work titled Emotions, which focused on the moods of women in a wide range of dress and undress. The little bit of an activist in him showed forth in the collection, arousing Women-to-women’s fascination with his fascination with the female mind and body. Excerpts:-
Emotions in men are a very difficult thing. We tend not to show too much, not that we don’t have them. There’s thinking that it’s not a man’s place to make mistakes in life. Children can make mistakes and their parents will rescue them; women can make mistakes and they can find some succour in their husbands but when the men make mistakes who do they run to?
Is it when you make mistakes that you show emotion?
No, I’m just that a man’s thinking pattern is that you contain as much as possible. Women by disposition, I think there’s something medical about them- let me use that word. Science has proven they are actually given to a lot of emotions so it’s easier for them to express them. It’s easier to express emotions of people who are already easily disposed to them than to try and do that with a man.
So how are you able to read their emotions and then translate them into your works?
Women always want you to see what they are thinking in the first place. They want you to know. To read it is not a big problem; to translate it is where the problem is because most of the time people miss the details. It’s like singing without soul. You can sing by following a pattern but the interjection of your person into the song is the problem.
Is this a stage in your revolution as an artist?
I did a portrait of a family and the family rejected the portrait. I knew the family well. As an old friend I wanted to translate what I saw of their family onto canvas. Artists have seen the portrait and marvelled. The portrait was rejected. They had a photographer come and take pictures of the family. They must have compared my painting to the photograph, which is not what a painting is. The daughter was not smiling in the painting. Now I know the daughter…
…and you know she does not smile?
On a regular basis. So why would I paint a false version of a person. The woman in very protective of her family, unconsciously. When you look at the painting carefully you’ll find she’s the one actually holding everybody together. It’s not something that is obvious: she has her hand round her son. She likes to always be in charge.
Unlike a photographer I don’t arrange, I only observe. I wasn’t offended that they didn’t like it. I want to have an exhibition of rejected masterpieces one day.
I have another piece that I did for a spa that was rejected.
What was that one about?
I thought what could be better than the figure of a woman because it’s mostly women that come to the spa and want to enjoy the finer things. So I thought it would be nice to have an ideal figure of a woman- what a woman always wants to look like.
I did this piece of a figure- no head, no arms, stops at the knees. Brilliant piece. I took a photograph of the clay work that I was about to cast for the client and to my horror the client preferred to cover the figure with a towel. So what is the essence of the figure of you covering it with a towel?
I gave my client back the advance on the work. I had wanted a commission because I wanted the work in the public space. Eventually, I sold the work for more than what the commission was because I now settled down to cast into stone and bronze. It was bought by one of the top Nigerian collectors. He couldn’t believe that I sculpted that, and at that level.
So, what is your ideal figure of a woman?
All women are beautiful but if you are talking about ideal figure as an artist, there is what they call the artist figure. There is the science figure and artist figure and they are not the same. The statistics are different. It is what science thinks. There is white woman, black woman, Asian woman; and they are not the same figure. The average thing when you combine everything is what a woman should look like at a particular age. Then there is the artist’s figure. The artist’s figure usually is fuller at the hips.
Like the ones we see in those Van Gogh paintings?
There are tons of them. They have thighs. They are women
What is your general opinion about nudity in art?
There’s a difference between nudity and nakedness, first of all. Nakedness is when you don’t have anything on, then you stop light (laughs). Nudity is when you use your skin as a form of clothing. You are comfortable- you are wearing it.
Like people in nudist camps?
Yes, it hasn’t occurred to them that they are naked. When they see they are not wearing anything is when they are naked but they are wearing their skin and they are happy with what they are wearing. If a child grows up in a house where there are nude people around then he does not see anything wrong with running around in his pant. Africans are a lot more comfortable when Europeans are wearing skimpy dresses, but European children never complain about seeing their mothers wear hot pants. They are used to seeing their mothers that way. In art a nude figure is God’s masterpiece. Of all the things that were created by God man was the most innovative. There was the first manufacture and the refined one. The refined one was too much that even the man was in awe and called this one woman. A woman is a mixture of a whole lot of things. There’s a word, Allure
And it’s the beauty of a woman in its own separate and different way and each woman has her own peculiar way. Finding the allure is what makes every nude painting different from the other one.
I don’t understand this allure thing.
Some in their eyes, some in their lips, some in their arm. Some, it’s just their disposition
Are some of your followers ever taken aback by some of your nude works?
No. all fish eat fish. Fish eat other fish. Very few fish eat plankton- they must be very tiny. But it’s the shark that has the bad name.
All artists must go through school and in school you paint a nude figure but it’s Adejumo that has a bad name.
You must really be watching women closely. Is that very productive?
I marvel when I see women. A woman can be enchanting and mean and vicious- a whole range of emotions that men have not been able to muster. Men have certain emotions that form their character but every woman can change at any point in time no matter what their major characters are. That is very amazing.