By Osa Mbonu
In this era of unbridled materialism and entrenched culture of pre-occupation with mundane, trivial and sensual pleasures, it is rare to find visual artists who speak with their brushes and pencils as Fela Kuti speaks with his music and dance. Duke Emuyenwomano Asidere is one of those few artists.
Asidere was born in Lagos on October 7, 1961. Trained at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria from 1985 to 1990, he graduated with B.A. (Fine Arts) First Class Honours in Painting. He also obtained MFA in Painting from the same school. Asidere has been a full time studio artist after he angrily quit his job as a lecturer at the Auchi Polytechnic, Edo State, in 1995.
“My name is Duke Asidere. I paint, I draw. I am an extremely passionate person,” he bellowed out in a deep, gruff voice probably shaped by many years of verbally and artistically protesting against the socio-political and economic decadence he sees all around him. “My work is not just esthetics; it’s everything…the Nigerian state has a disdain for the people they rule,” he punched with words.
In September 2012, Duke Asidere’s new initiative, The Playspots Studio was launched in Egbeda. Created as a convergence for artists to interact via workshops, open studio and seminars, Playspot has been very active ever since, hosting artists from across Lagos and beyond. Now moved to Gbagada, as a result of perennial traffic jams and power outages in the area, Playspot is today having its event in the new space.
Yet, other species of the decadence remain in the new environment: “This morning, I took a walk around Gbagada. I saw dilapidated schools. The people who rule us are wicked. If our arts are just about landscapes, then there is something wrong.” Duke believes that art should address the problems of our society and protest against the rut and injustice. “It pains me. My aim as an artist is not necessarily to make money. It’s good to have money in your pocket. But you can’t flog a man and at the same time tell him he has no right to cry. Those who have been ruling Nigeria – whether they are APC or PDP – have no love for the country and the people,” Asidere said emphatically.
The Open Studio event should not be misunderstood as launching a space or studio. The Open Studio 2018 of Playspot is an event that gets friends of Asidere to visit the studio and interact with the artist over his works. Open Studio in visual arts parlance is not uncommon, though comes once in a while for artists to Interact and exchange ideas via informal setting.
But for Playspot’s Open Studio, it is being expanded to include non-artists such as collectors and other observers of the art, including members of the press.
The artists’ Playspot Studio, situated on the ground floor of a two-floor building took off in Egbeda with ‘Protest Art’ concept in focus. Now in Gbagada, a more accessible axis of Lagos, the workshops aspect of Playspot, according to Asidere will take a more expansive and inclusive format. He hopes to include secondary schools within the Gbagada axis as a way of promoting creativity.
Today’s event also offers the artist to roll out his art exhibitions plans for 2019. One of the exhibitions is a solo in which he hopes to show just 12 paintings and few drawings at Omenka Gallery, mid next year.
While in Egbeda, Asidere had organised a workshop for artists, which took form of street painting as part of activities that marked his 50th birthday. He believes that art must engage issues. But before artists can use their art to speak to the larger society, there is need for internal cleansing, Asidere said. Visual artists need to lift their game, he argued. He also noted quite a number of unprofessional conducts among artists.
In his own little way, Asidere has resolved to always use his art to engage his immediate environment where he works. It was Orelope, in Egbeda since nearly ten years, regularly. Now, the focus is shifting to Gbagada. “We must share our art with ordinary people on the streets’, Asidere said. “Art has the power to change our society for the better, only if artists take the lead.”
It should be recalled that when Asidere had the workshops that marked his 50th birthday, the events held at more than five spots on the streets of Lagos. With more than 30 artists, the workshops held on the streets at Egbeda, Palmgrove and Ojuelegba, among other spots. “In the coming years, it will be more expansive and inclusive” Asidere said.