By Prisca Sam-Duru
At a time when several countries across the world have adjusted to new normal brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, which was made possible by the infrastructures and policies put in place by governments of these countries, Nigeria and Africa are still struggling to adjust to the current COVID-19 realities.
The reasons for this are not far-fetched. Nigeria has a population of about 200 million people with half of its people living in poverty and occupy the popular ‘face-me-I-face-you’ accommodation where it is almost impossible to enforce social distancing.
In addition, people living in poverty see hand sanitizers as luxury products and would rather buy a day meal than save up to get a hand sanitizer. These narratives and many more justify the implementation of the new normal, not just in Nigeria, but also in most African countries.
It is in this light that Ndidi Dike, a sculptor and multi-disciplinary artist who works in various media such as collage, photography, lens-based media, mixed media and massive installations put together a solo exhibition comprising of at least eight bodies of work titled ‘Working Through An Impasse,’ which constitutes a varied and complex response to challenges brought about by the COVID-19 global pandemic.
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The exhibition, hosted in Art Twenty-One Lagos, highlights questions concerning globalisation, consumption and market culture. With her works, Ndidi Dike aims to depict formal and technical approaches to global issues that remain unresolved – problems that present themselves in a new guise under the lights of COVID-19.
Taking inspiration from probing intellectuals and thinkers such as Achille Mbembe and Arundhati Roy, Dike’s micro and macro perspectives of the global pandemic expose the fragility of our co-existence and co-dependence – speaking powerfully to the symbiotic relationship between nature and the “environment”.
The micro perspective centres on Nigeria and the distance between the country’s sovereign emergence in the 1960s in comparison to its current medical & political framework (as seen in “The Luxury of Distance: Between Empathy and Apathy, 2021”); whilst the macro perspective gives a global overview of the social and environmental crises in the West, such as the rise of violent police misconduct in the US & Nigeria depicted in “The Reckoning” (2021).
Through her work, Dike signifies 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.
Art Twenty-One is a space and platform dedicated to contemporary art in Lagos, Nigeria. Located at the Eko Hotel & Suites, the 600sqm space is intended to contribute to and to solidify the growing art scene in Lagos, as well as position the great city as a major force in the international art world.
Dike says she got inspiration for the exhibition from ‘the corona virus.’ For instance, in her work in the ‘Luxury of Distance, Empathy and Apathy,’ she wonders how social distance can work where a family of seven live in one room.
She further argues that social distancing cannot work in an environment where about 20 people share facilities such as toilets and bathrooms in a house.
In one of her exhibitions, for instance, sanitizers are hanging from the mesh. With all the ironies and various things that are going on, it means that just because the new normal works in other countries doesn’t mean it is going to work here in Nigeria. This, she says, is basically the concept behind the work.
Created between 2020 to 2021, Dike discloses how some works were quite hard to produce, took a long time to finish and really bring them to the standard she desired.
Speaking on how much she has invested in the work, she says, “I can’t quantify how much has gone into this, but what is important is the amount of energy, inspiration, hard work, diligence and discipline that has gone into this work.
“I have some assistants who assist me and I am very grateful to have studio assistants who are dedicated to the profession. Not everything has a price on it but it’s been quite challenging.”
Dike says she faced the same challenges an average person would face in Nigeria, which is the challenge of intermittent electricity.
“The same challenges that you face as a journalist or as a media woman or man are the same challenge I face as an artist. All of us are familiar with the everyday challenges of trying to have a productive and useful profession under the circumstances in which we live. So, it is not different. We all encounter it every day.”
Panoramic Meditation On: Trade, Capitalism and Dispossession, 2021: Mixed media installation
This large-scale black-and-white panoramic installation combines archival images and photographs taken by the artist at markets in Lagos. The work uses the panoramic format to suggest the passage of time and a macro perspective on the centrality of marketplaces to African life worlds – both historically and in the present.
Here “centrality” cuts in multiple directions, speaking not only to the overwhelming dependence that many Africans have on markets for acquiring imported everyday necessities, but also the global dependence on “Africa as a market,” a site for both the pernicious extraction of natural resources that ultimately enrich the lives of societies in the global north, and a virtual dumping ground for expired or second-hand products.
With recent images taken at Ladipo spare parts market, the panorama emphasizes through its content and composite form, the ways in which consumer markets are filled with everyday materials associated with repair and re-engineering.
The Reckoning, 2021: Mixed Media Installation
This installation consists of hundreds of black batons, of the sort used by police officers, each placed into a single slot within a large grid structure. The batons symbolize at once police violence and tools of resistance, and their formal placement within the gridded armature is meant to evoke the countless black bodies that have been slotted into the dark and cold refrigerators of morgues following lethal conflict and instances of violent police misconduct.
Many of the batons are adorned with tags bearing the names of Nigerian and black American subjects whose death in recent years have sparked outrage and grassroots organising including BlackLivesMatter and EndSARS. The work is both a memorial to those who have perished and a call to continue to struggle, resist, and reckon with the systemic racist violence and inequities wrought upon black bodies in Africa and the world over.
Building Blocks of Desire and Consumption, 2021: Mixed Media Installation
These two large-scale artworks – designed for both the wall and table – draw on the compositional structure of the grid, and so parallels past works Dike made like National Grid, and A History of a City in a Box. Unlike those installations’ exploration of urban space and infrastructure, Building Blocks of Desire and Consumption takes up the natural environment and technology as key points of investigation.
With this work, she wanted to use the similar colours of both the traditional Uli palette and the hues of rare earth minerals to advance a two-part critique of the role of natural and indigenous resources in the production of consumer technologies like cell phones, laptops, and other gadgets.
Untitled I-V, 2021: Mixed Media Paintings on Aluminum
These five abstract mixed-media paintings in monochrome colours of white, red, blue, and yellow ochre, are the products of selfcare and meditation. Dike created them as therapeutic escapes from the process of making other works in the show. Which is to say, as she developed the works and ideas in the exhibition, she found herself needing to take breaks, she needed to pause and allow unresolved issues with other artworks to settle and percolate.
Residues of Provoked Dissent I-IV, 2021: Mixed Media on Aluminium
These four works, crested with, from political posters, track years of political dissent by the masses. In making the works, Dike was drawn to the discarded, torn, and tattered residual forms of campaign posters, which are often torn up or exchanged during and after political rallies and protests.
Ashes beyond the masses, 2021: Spray paint on Aluminium – Diptych
This Diptych is inspired by the mass cremations in India following the tragic effect of the second COVID-19 wave. From an aerial perspective, using spray paint on aluminium, the ember orange and smoky grey shades are symbolic of the transitioning of life where ashes turn to dust; while the abstract composition is used as an attempt to signify both the beauty and the fragility of life, and also offers a metaphor of peace through its light and spacious aesthetic.
The Luxury of Distance: Between Empathy and Apathy, 2021: Mixed Media Installation
This installation draws parallels between the promises of modern sanitation infrastructures in Nigeria during the 60s and 70s, and the present state of the country’s inadequate healthcare system and water facilities. The work consists of seven pristine white hand washing basins, each situated atop white rectangular plinths.
A Kindred Lament to Quarantine, 2021: Mixed Media Installation
The aesthetics of health and medicine is a recurring theme in the exhibition, addressed from numerous perspectives that dovetail with formal approaches found throughout the artist’s practice. This installation attempts to model and reconstruct a history of modern health culture in Nigeria, focusing on the aesthetics of 1960s era hospital wards and their visual correspondence to contemporary spaces designed for quarantine.