Matter as Metaphor

Omenka Gallery is proud to present the exhibition Matter as Metaphor, at the 6th Joburg Art Fair featuring the works of two leading contemporary artists from Nigeria: Nnenna Okore, and Adejoke Tugbiyele. The artists are drawn together by their open approach to form and media, seen in their use of everyday materials, found objects and mixed-techniques inspired from the African continent’s stylistic traditions of abstraction, psychological expressiveness, and symbolic representation.

Nnenna Okore is one of the fast- rising names on the international contemporary art scene. Textures, forms and colours of materials such as clay and wax, or discarded materials like newspaper, paper bags, recycled cardboard boxes and rope, inspire her installations, which speak about critical issues such as ecosystems and engage the cultures of consumption and recycling in Nigeria. Her work aims to re-connect her materials to their original sources- including Nature herself. Discovering reusable value in these found objects, she enriches her work with several layers of meaning through the repetitive, laborious and unconventional processes of weaving, sewing, rolling, twisting and dyeing. These practices observed from villagers perform their daily tasks, at once lend to the highly evocative nature and unpredictability of her output.

Nnenna Okore continues to experiment, her dramatic formations drawing inspiration from intimate spaces, shelters, architecture and the natural environment. Much of her recent work, a few examples presented here involves deconstruction – fraying and ripping to generate forms that reveal layers of history. Critic, Gerard Houghton
suggests that many of the works symbolize transition in reference to life’s processes of ageing and dying or decay and decomposition.

Adejoke Tugbiyele’s installations are metaphors for Nigeria’s social and political history. She employs a variety of unconventional materials and traditional and non-traditional methods in capturing Nigeria’s reactions to changes within the larger global economy. She systematically deconstructs and reconstructs her media to yield subtle transformations of visual complexities.

Among the display is Tugbiyele’s series of works Moskito Ministry, a metaphor for man’s thirst for materialism where the service provided by these blood sucking pests is in transmitting extremely harmful human and livestock diseases such as malaria, yellow fever and filariasis. She uses African beads, tropical nuts and copper wire to construct the small, midge-like flies complete with wings fashioned out of naira bills, feasting on a Nigerian flag hung upside-down and consumer products such as Maggi cubes and a Milo beverage can. Here, Tugbiyele speaks out against the greed and excesses of power of several corrupt leaders and politicians, who in servitude line their pockets and leave in their wake, impoverished masses.

Her work Water Go Find Enemy is inspired by Fela Kuti’s song Water No Get Enemy. Hugely popular in Nigeria in the late 70s, the late afrobeat legend sings about water as a source of life and its indispensable qualities. In disagreement, Tugbiyele’s urgency of purpose is clearly evident as she warns about self preservation:
Normally, perforated metal drains are designed to sift impure particles in water and are the first line of defence against pollution and disease in the sewage system. Similarly, brooms are meant for keeping a place clean. I am taking this as a metaphor to talk about the things in Africa that we need to defend-our water, human rights and culture.

Overall, the exhibition offers both artists a platform for the exchange of ideas that are politically relevant and socially engaging. The works presented are manipulated largely by hand, alluding to the traditional African way of ‘making’ in contrast to the mechanized or technological processes of the West. They are also concerned with ongoing struggles for more humane societies and address both everyday realities and profound philosophical concepts. Through the artists’ lens and unique perspective on pertinent issues, we can deepen our understanding and partake of a global conversation.


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