•Michael J. Blebo

By Prisca Sam-Duru

They are young, six in number and are the latest pack from Rele Arts Foundation’s bootcamp programme. Now in its seventh year, Rele’s annual showcase of young artists across Africa, opened Sunday, January 9, 2022 at the National Museum, Onikan, Lagos.
Curated by Adeoluwa Oluwajoba, this edition, which remains open till Saturday, February 5, 2022, has the exhibiting artists in the Rele Arts Foundation’s Young Contemporaries 2022, showcasing works covering diverse issues ranging from collective identity to reincarnation, time travel and contemporary beauty standards.

The young and emerging artists, Jessica Soares, Ayobami Ogungbe, Kenneth Oghenemaro, NothandoChiwanga, Neec Nonso and Blebo Michael Jackson, also, work across a diverse range of mediums.

This seventh iteration of the Young Contemporaries project presents viewers with a collection of distinct and exciting perspectives on contemporary issues while also drawing attention to the exciting and critical work being done by a younger, emerging generation of contemporary African artists.

Some of the artworks include: Ayobami Ogungbe’s Another Style, Be Like That, Eleyin, Ju ege, Ewaibeji and Wolimo. Jessica Soares’ include: Esther, Her Mother’s Daughter, Make Believe, Nnene, My Mother’s Mother and The Beret. Kenneth Oghenemaro’s works are: Beam Me Up, Finding Air (I) and (II) and The Ameliorator. Michael Jackson Blebo’s works include: Fully Empty, In My Dreams, Romance of Time and Urban Commons. Neec Nonso’s works are: Abiku, Babatunde, The Last Supper, Yéwande and Egungun. Nothando Chiwanga’s works include: HunhuWandinoda, Kupiragotsi and Mwengawacho.
Michael Jackson Blebo who employs materials like charcoal, phyto (natural pigment), earth colours (red ochre), bentonite clay and steel pipes in Spaces of Scent, draws from ant nests in investigating naturally occurring geological formations and their occupation of public space. Jackson who holds a BFA in Sculpture from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, KNUST, Kumasi-Ghana, through his works, examines organic architecture as well as imagining life behind these structures.

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In Chronicles of Esther, Jessica Soares, a self-taught artist, with a background in Marketing from Redeemer’s University, works on her experiences as well as her mother’s in dealing with Alopecia – an autoimmune disorder that causes hair loss. She combines drawing and painting techniques. Her works draw from personal experiences in questioning the complexities and social notions around women’s hair in contemporary society. Chronicles of Esther is Soares’s reflection on shared trauma, vulnerability and social standards of beauty. Her paintings illustrate a journey across generations, from self-stigma to solace and acceptance. The works also explore the intimate relationship between the artist and her mother as a result of this shared experience as well as challenging societal ideals of feminine beauty.

&Co is a series of intricately fabricated works by Ayobami Ogungbe that looks into the notion of shared identity and communality, particularly within Nigerian societies. Combining photography, weaving and collage, the graduate of Mass Communication from the University of Benin, Edo State, chronicles a practice that underlines familial, religious and socio-political affiliations. Used to refer to a group of people associated with someone as well as the practice of wearing outfits cut from the same fabric, &Co highlights codes of belonging and social solidarity as well as emphasizing fashion as self-expression.

Presenting photography, film and performance, Zimbabwean artist, Nothando Chiwanga’s work challenges the domestication of wives within the patrilineage of the Maungwe in Rusape, Zimbabwe. Her exhibited series, MurooraWeguta (Shona for ‘bride of the city’) considers the relationship between patriarchal enforcement and the roles of women in African society.

Neec Nonso’s series, What Was Dead Was Never Dead, is an ongoing project that treats the belief in reincarnation and posthumous existence of dead relatives. Showcasing still images and augmented reality, the works here juxtapose life with the after-life, mining intimate family stories and histories in a bid to exhume memories, popular myths and taboos surrounding death, reincarnation and the popular belief of life after death.

In the Fast Traveler series, Kenneth Oghenemaro employs elements of science fiction and the futuristic in dialoguing with past events. Inspired by his childhood experiences dealing with asthma, the works in this series imagine the possibilities of time travel as means to rewrite history.

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