By Prisca Sam-Duru
Ndidi Dike has been consistent on the contemporary Nigerian art scene for over three decades, displaying a sense of assignment. As a sculptor and multi-disciplinary artist, she has produced works in sculpture, paintings, collage, photography, video, mixed media and installations that resonate with time and season. Her artistic prowess has seen her, participating in over seventy group or joint exhibitions and more than a dozen solos.
Dike’s latest body of works is on display at Art21 Gallery Eko Hotel & Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos, in an exhibition that opened last Friday. The exhibition titled, “Working Through An Impasse” which remains open till 25th September, represents a result of intense research and engagement, all of which materialised during the period of lockdown due to the Corona virus pandemic.
Dike was already planning a major solo exhibition of new works in a range of media in early 2020 of which she envisioned titling “Intersections and Realities of An Aesthetic Vocabulary.” And as the title suggests, she was thinking reflexively about the conceptual and material engagements found in her past work, but the plan was shattered by the unexpected arrival of COVID-19.
“In developing this exhibition, I wanted to mark out new formal and technical approaches to problems that remain unresolved—problems that present themselves in a new guise under the lights of COVID. These are questions concerning globalization, consumption, market culture, and the pandemic itself. In this new body of work, I respond to the collective experience of quarantine and isolation, inequities surrounding sanitation and health, recent histories of racial and political upheaval, and the exploitation of natural resources and human labour”, she explained.
Dike who had her early education in England and her tertiary education at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, graduating with a BA in Fine and Applied Arts in 1984, disclosed that “The pandemic not only redirected the questions I was asking of my own work at the time, but also prompted me to seriously reflect on the role of the artist in moments of crisis, which, in turn, provoked me to recalibrate ideas for the show.
“The works in this exhibition, “Working Through An Impasse,” constitutes a varied and complex response to challenges brought about by the pandemic. Not only did the virus bring the engines of global capitalism to an abrupt halt, it has also eroded the myth of the West’s invincibility”.
Although in Nigeria, we have always been going through hardships, Dike described the title, “Working Through An Impasse”, as appropriate because of the experiences of the Coronavirus across the globe. The pandemic according to her, exposed inadequacies of systems especially the health system in Nigeria, and globally.
Her inspiration comes from many sources, objects, people, places, circumstances and the environment. And she usually works on what appeals to her at a point in time. “The market for example will always appeal to me; I’ve done a lot of work on it. It’s just being aware and conscious of our environment”, she said.
In all, eight bodies of works that include massive installations, mixed media, paintings and collages which took more than one year to complete, are on display. ‘Ashes Beyond Masses’, ‘Residues of Provoking the Saint’, ‘Building Blocks of Desire and Consumption’, ‘Taking Stock’, ‘The Reckoning’, ‘The luxury of Distance, Empathy and Apathy’, ‘Panoramic Meditation on Trade, Consumption and Dispossession’ and some other untitled works are exhibits for observers’ viewing.
For the artist, the pandemic served as a useful resource for works produced during this season. “We never believed it because it was new to all of us. We didn’t expect that we will be forced to quarantine or locked down for three months and some other countries are still grappling with the Corona virus. So, it’s obvious that the Corona virus is here to stay and it’s true that it gave me materials and ideas and concepts to express in my art. Initially I was afraid especially during the lockdown because we didn’t know what will happen next”.
Among the works is a multi-layered art piece designed with the concept of a mega city, with medical vials stacked to evoke the construction of buildings and thorough fares, while individual units resemble mass movement of people and mass production of therapeutic vaccines. The work she noted, emerged naturally while she was watching how vaccines were being made on automated assembly lines which she explained, called to mind, the movement of people throughout the cities all over the world. “It was in the similitude of mass migration in India, when people were asked to go back to their villages. That’s basically the concept behind that”.
Another fascinating piece is ‘Residues of provoking the Saints’. It shows political posters from various campaigns, bringing in decayed element which sounds more of a metaphor for the Nigerian state. “I’ve always liked some of the slogans they’ve used, the fact that you notice after campaigns, all the posters disappear. So for me, Its a kind of material- residue of empty promises; you know they promise light, water etc. And this is why the masses are not happy with what the politicians are doing. That’s why I called it ‘Residues of Provoking the Saints’, and that’s what keeps the masses restless”.
While she ensures the Uli tradition is represented in the exhibition, she also displays installations that ran commentaries on Nigeria’s oil industry. “I’m always referencing natural resources in parts of the continent, taken to feed the industrial global north and by that I mean Europe and America and, other continents. The exploitation of our resources bothers me”.
‘The Reckoning’, which took the artist months of hard labour to produce, is “based on one of Prof. Wole Soyinka’s quotes which says the man in us if not completely dead, has gone into a coma. What is happening in the United States, is of enormous concern to us. We’ll be very foolish if we fail to recognise in our society the kind of dehumanisation of the black body going on in the US; if we fail to make any correlation between that and the dehumanisation going on in our own soil by our own people, whether it’s by leadership, military, police or any kind of institution or private enterprise. That quote is the inspiration behind it”.
Of great interest is what she calls ‘A Kindred Lament to the Quarantine’; a very emotional and important aspect of the exhibition, portraying loss of loved ones due to the pandemic. And for the artist, it is a sort of homage to medical personnel, to friends, families or anyone that lost somebody to the pandemic.