By Osa Amadi
Creative professionals with multicultural sojourn have proven to possess cerebral energy in visual content expression.
Wanger Ayu is one of such artists whose work projects the richness in art of combined traditional and contemporary expressions.
The artist sometimes brings her fashion design background as part of components of her art, using medium of expression that combines the use of the Tiv people’s A’nger fabric with painting, printmaking and collage. Interestingly, art has led Ayu to self-discovery. “I had never connected to who I was as a person before now,” she said during her debut exhibition, recently.
“My father is Tiv, from Benue. My mother is Esan in Edo State, and I was born in Jos, Plateau State. I moved to Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria.”
As though being prepared to be citizen of the world in creative sojourn, Ayu partly had her education in England, UK. She lived in Dubai, UAE, and back home, she did her youth service in Enugu State, outside her ethnic environment.
Currently based in Lagos where she is taking the advantage of the city’s art hub status, Ayu is gradually pushing her work into the mainstream appreciation space. From native fabric and cultural symbols, she extracts contemporary contents, using mixed media of visual culture. Much of this was seen at a two-artist exhibition titled: Weaving Identity shown from December 17-23, 2021 at DICA Art, Lagos.
Among Ayu’s works that celebrate the beauty of combined native and contemporary expressions are Kura (Keep watch or guard), 2021, 46 x 46 inches, acrylic, oil, A’nger cloth on canvas; Kumakavwen (It is time to understand), 2021, 23 x 17.5″, white charcoal pencil, acrylic, oil on A’nger cloth mounted on canvas; Bundesaan (No longer lost), 2021, 52 x 52 inches, acrylic, oil, A’nger cloth on canvas; and Avadoo (It shall be good), 2021, 21.5 x 17.5 inches, white charcoal pencil, acrylic, oil on A’nger cloth mounted on canvas.
Apart from celebrating her native Tiv’s black and white stripes as essential part of her art, Ayu, in other paintings proves her versatility as an artist of great potentials in figurative works. Her work, she disclosed, are emerging in phases, starting from the recent debut exhibition.
“The work is phased with Multiplicity being the first part. I am ultimately focused on disruptions: breaks, ruptures, and disruptive events and their effects on the individual, the family, and the society,” Ayu said in her Artist Statement.
Curator, Naomi Edobor, said in the Multiplicity body of work, Ayu uses the A’nger cloth, a piece of black and white striped plain-woven cloth, produced on the narrow band loom by the Tiv people of the Benue valley, as a background from which she weaves a tale. “The entirety of Ayu’s work,” Edobor said, “seeks to engage the public by exploring the tensions between past and present.
“The A’nger cloth is most popular because it is an average clothe for both men and women – the two complementary forces that make up all aspects and phenomena of life. The colours of the A’nger cloth depict unity, how opposite forces may be complementary, interconnected and interdependent, and how they may give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another.”
The curator explained that the multicultural background of Ayu reiterates the fact that the average person in the 21st Century is a coalescence of multiple cultures and influences. She cited the relevance of the tribal distinctions in a Nigerian context, on the roles of tribe and ethnicity within the country as a micro-reflection of the issues of race and dominance on a global perspective.
“We are all different and yet the same, with threads connecting us more closely than we realise. Our cultural identity is an essential part of conflict, and conflict resolution shaping our perceptions and ideas of self,” Edobor said.
“They are always changing and always being renegotiated, and we are constantly in this shift, forcing us to have debates with ourselves about who we are and who we want to be, always becoming.”
Wanger Ayu, born 1986, is a self-taught materials experiment artist and a fashion designer. She studied law at the University of Exeter, UK, and fashion in the Middle-East where she earned a diploma from the French Fashion University (ESMOD), Dubai, UAE. She launched her fashion label, Wanger Ayu, which earned her the patronage of acclaimed Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, as well as several nominations, including being nominated twice for the Future Awards prize in the fashion category.
Her transition to studio practice began in 2017 after a surgery left her locked up at home for many weeks and made her unable to walk more than a short distance.
Art became her therapy and escape, providing freedom. Since then, she has been mentored by some of Nigeria’s old and contemporary masters including Dr Bruce Onobrakpeya and Mr Sam Ovraiti through the Harmattan Workshop Series; Nduwhite Ndubuisi, Uthman Wahab and Patrick Akpojotor, among others.
Some of her influences include Vermeer, Collins Sekajugo, Abass Kelani and Billie Zangewa.