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By Chukwuma Ajakah

Renowned mixed media artist and environmental scientist, Olu Amoda, in an exhibition titled “Carte Blanche” which began Thursday, November 4, 2021, and runs till January 29, 2022, is showcasing his works at Art Twenty One, a contemporary art space in Eko Hotel and Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos.

Carte Blanche, the artist’s fifth solo exhibition, features diverse sculptural expressions that address a wide range of socio-political and economic issues in present-day Nigeria and the world at large. The body of work covers the masterpieces the experimental multimedia artist has sculptured in the last three years.

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In a press briefing held at Art Twenty One, Eko Hotel and Suites, venue of the upcoming event on Wednesday, November 3, 3021, the curator Tony Ola revealed that the art space, a platform dedicated to promoting contemporary local and international art in Lagos, Nigeria will open for art enthusiasts between the hours of 10:00 AM and 4: 00 PM all through the scheduled days – Tuesday through Saturday, of the exhibition.

The multimedia artist used the occasion to appeal to art critics and writers to go beyond the peripheries of artworks by probing into the totality of such works thereby, noting the issues embedded in them. Thematically focusing on real issues of the moment in political and social circles, Amoda’s works expose social ills such as banditry, state-sponsored executions and related brutal acts against humanity. 

Using a work that decries the lip-service paid to press freedom, and the ill-treatment of journalists to instantiate his stance, the artist says: “When a journalist gets arrested because he said the truth, then we are not free at all.”  While condemning the attempts of government agents across the globe to gag the press he also implores journalists and other social crusaders, not to compromise the truth for pecuniary gains or due to intimidation.

According to the artist, one should find a way of navigating through the myriad of problems in society artistically. Explaining that he toes the line of famed artists like Fela Anikulapo who reveal how “Nigerians are suffering and smiling,” Amoda observes that there is the duality of roles for most of the things in urban areas that people rarely take note of. “There is organized chaos in society. The chaotic experience we are going through all over the world; Lagos offers me that chaotic experience. “

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The artist believes that every artwork speaks for itself, saying: “I respect material integrity. I use forensic objects.  As you look at a crime scene, you find objects that point to the crime. I use this for my creative works.”

Speaking on censorship as a limitation to Press Freedom as captured in his work, the iconic artist remarks: “If you see your work more as a means of livelihood you will care about censorship. I am not afraid to speak through my works. My salary as a teacher were stopped for a year, but I still went to work. Censorship is about you making the call.  When I present the work, you choose the aspect that you want to focus on.”               

The uniqueness of the body of work being presented reflected in the convergence of diverse art forms, materials and technologies as the artist ingeniously combine steel objects, aluminium, and wood in shapes of spoons, birds, cattle, earthenware and humans engaged in various socio-economic activities.

Amoda also integrates literary devices into his craft, using characterization as a playwright would. Works featured in this medium include masterpieces adapted from Wole Soyinka’s famous play, The King’s Horseman.  Explaining the connection between his sculptures and drama, the artist says: “I use books and wood. Using objects as characters, I reverse the roles to have the characters of the objects, as static while the audience moves around them instead of what obtains in the theatre where the characters move. As in drama, we dance to very serious issues.” 

Explaining what informed his thematic selection, the artist reveals that his works are dominantly products of personal experiences, saying: “As an urban artist, I live by what I see on the streets-the impunity of government agents, the economic burdens as in women selling things on the streets. I see these as artistic sights, try to create humour and suggest that you find a creative way out of any problem you are stuck in. An object is not just a plain thing. It has a mystic force attached to it.” 

Buttressing the view on superstitious beliefs, Amoda sites instances such as his encounter with some poor folks who refused his of brand-new sets of spoons for their overused old ones because they suspected he intended to something with the spoons and the myths about herdsmen turning into cattle or egrets exchanging white fingernails for black ones with children who desired them.

One of the strategies the artist explores in the collection is using familiar objects to reveal the unfamiliar as he repurposes materials such as household utensils to represent art-laden values and messages that resonate with the larger society.

Amoda believes that the threat to urban dispositions is endemic as evident in power structures and the private sector and argues that “The use of art as a tool for social discourse has created an inflexion where artists are now interceding for the art-no more art for art’s sake. The “about” has become more significant than the “on” comfort zone for art critics and journalists now thrive on the “about,” thus negating the discourse of art history interception to contemporary art-making.”

Most of the works portray what the artist describes as “today’s society’s organized chaos, the eternal desire to accumulate more than we need.”  Pointing out that “Today’s challenge is about one’s ability to disrupt,” Amoda posits that “The ants in their colony will marvel at how humans have managed so far and not extinct themselves.”

As a sculptor, muralist, furniture designer, multimedia artist and art educator, Nigerian born Olu Amoda has evolved an elevated sculptural language that incorporates rusty nails, metal plates, bolts, pipes, rods, etc. that are merged to create divergent art forms, including animal, flora and human figures which he deploys to interrogate contemporary socio-cultural, political and economic issues.

In addition to his Sunflower which won him a top prize at the DAK’ART Biennale in Dakar, Senegal in 2014, Amoda, a sculpture graduate of Auchi Polytechnic, Nigeria who also holds a Master’s Degree of Fine Arts from Georgia Southern University, USA, has participated in several national and international exhibitions and completed residencies at Villa Arson (France), The Big Factory (South Africa), Appalachian State University (North Carolina) and the New York Design Museum.

His works have featured in exhibitions at the Victoria and Albert Museum (UK), the MUSEUM of Art and Design (New York), Skoto Gallery (New York), Georgia Southern University (USA), Didi Museum (Nigeria), Art Twenty One (Nigeria) and WIPO Headquarters (Switzerland).   

Commenting on the most striking aspect of his medium, Amoda remarks: “I repurpose objects. Once you give me any objects that are of no use to you, I find other purposes for them.”

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