By Japhet Alakam
Ordinally, the KIA Motors showroom located at Adelu Odeku street, Victoria Island is one of the places customers go to purchase their various range of cars, but the place received unusual visitors last month when people from all walks of life, especially art lovers trooped to the place not to buy cars, but to be part of the unique solo exhibition organised by Arthouse Space for one of Africa’s living modernist masters, Prof Yusuf Grillo titled Igi Araba .
The solo exhibition which could be described as the mother of all exhibitions, is coming up 40 years after his last outing, featured body of works that make his legendary night blue strokes glow with some of the never-before-seen paintings. Also among the new works were stained glass pieces, rendered in a medium of which Grillo, for several decades, asserts his great signature.
Given the artist’s background as teacher of masters as well as dream collection of many art lovers, any art event that focuses Grillo means so much to quite diverse shades of art enthusiasts.
So the opening was a carnival like as it was graced by prominent Nigerians, captains of industry, diplomats, expatriates, art collectors, promoters and lovers especially the members of the Zaria rebels.
It was declared open by the Deputy Governor of Lagos State, Ranti Adebule who represented Governor Ambode of Lagos State. Others include former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Obong Victor Attah, Prof. Bruce Onobrakpeya, Demas Nwoko, Jimoh Okolo, Prof JP Clark, Prof Ebun Clark, Jerry Buhari , Oleseinde Odimayo, Kolade Oshinowo and a host of others.
A look at some of the works shows his masterly rendition of his strokes as in the piece, Kabiyesi and Olori (oil on canvas, 2010-2012). Grillo also celebrates his resilient Yoruba cultural value, as shown in the painting, which is about royal couple that captures the flowing elegance in the native iro / buba for the queen and buba/agbada for the king. However, there seems to be a slight de-emphasis on the artist’s cubist identity compared to most of his older works.
Apart from his usual paintings, one special feature of the show was the display of stained glass works produced over the decades for private collection and religious worship places, which are not made more visible to a wider viewing public, but Igi-Araba provides an opportunity, perhaps privilege too, to see Nigerian modernism at one of its very bests.
According to the artists who is known for his specific use of colour blue, “the works are there, people want to see it and luckly there is an organisation ready to promote the exhibition, so what more. So the exhibition is to give people the opportunity of seeing what I have been doing for years now. It is a mixture of old and new, we are not putting new wine in old bottle, but we are showing new works side by side with the old works, works done since 1960 till date.”
Speaking about the exhibition, art scholar, Prof Jerry Buhari had this to say, “I don’t remember when Grillo had his last show, its a long time and I do remember that there has been several discussions, when are we going to see Grillo. It is very interesting to know why he came out, how he was convinced to come, credit goes to the people that did that and we thank God for his life, his creativity and all that he has given to contemporary art in Nigeria.
You can see that he has brought out the stained glasses from their traditional habitats ( Churches) and they are now seen, have been liberated from the cathedral or buildings, now they are standing on their own and making statements of their own. For me it is extremely profound,” he added.
For master printmaker, Prof Bruce Onobrakpeya, “It is a rare opportunity to see Grillo come out like this. This is stupendous and we know Grillo, we like his works but we have never seen them put together. As one of the greatest artist we have in Nigeria, it is real an honour and privilege to encounter his works the way they are. And you can see the audience, the amount of people that have come, that shows his greatness. He is number one, not only for for creating such good works but because his works are seen by thousands of people every day, the ones in the churches, are seen by billion audience.”
For Kavitta Chellarams, the CEO of Arthouse, the organisation that organised the exhibition said, “it is a coup, it is a lot of collaboration between us and a friendship we’ve established. I’ve been going to him for the past 8 years, begging him for the works and show and finally here is it. I am very happy that the show is sold out, we sold out all the works, he is happy too, all his colleagues that were in Zaria and were part of the Zaria rebels are here to honour him.”