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Evolving Currents: A Conversation Between Raqib Bashorun and Chika Idu

“Things are either devolving toward, or evolving from, nothingness.”- Leonard Koren

Evolving Currents is a joint exhibition of recent work by well-known sculptor Raqib Bashorun (b.1955) and leading contemporary painter Chika Idu (b. 1974). The works presented are in the varying media of sculpture, installation, oil and acrylic on canvas, and watercolour on paper. Curated by Sandra Mbanefo Obiago and Oliver Enwonwu, the exhibition is suggestive of creative currents that continue to flow between consecutive generations of artists. This notion of interconnectedness is further accentuated by the fact that though the artists work across different media and are separated by age, Idu being considerably younger, they are brought together through several points of investigation of their intriguing art forms.

Bashorun belongs to an exceptional, but older established generation of sculptors who have firmly inculcated the practice of employing unconventional techniques and media including recycled and found materials in their interrogation of the larger society. Coupled with a successful career as a member of the teaching faculty of the School of Art, Design and Printing of the Yaba College of Technology, his alma mater, Bashorun holds a preeminent position among Nigerian artists.

As so often with his previous installations, the works presented here are fashioned from his preferred media of wood and metal. However, in the last decade, Bashorun has increasingly explored new directions and possibilities with the incorporation of recycled and found material from his immediate environment, most notably metal in form of aerosol and soda cans, as well as domestic accessories like table cutlery. Graters, mechanical parts including spark plugs, pipes and springs have been introduced to his work. Though design remains central to the artist’s oeuvre, a closer observation of his work reveals a heightened focus and sensibility in the manipulation of his media, and more significantly, an increasing engagement with contemporary African politics. This period can therefore be viewed as an important phase in the perfection of an aspect of his creative output, one that is already a culmination of
these various experiments since his graduation from the Yaba College of Technology in 1982. Evolving Currents documents this critical stage in the artist’s evolution and in many ways is a continuum of his second solo exhibition, a retrospective spanning over 3 decades of active practice, held at the Omenka Gallery last year.

Fast-rising Chika Idu is an exciting painter on the Lagos exhibition circuit. He graduated from the Auchi Polytechnic in 1998 and has exhibited extensively across Nigeria. His inclusion in Evolving Currents is incisive and facilitates a comparison of the stylistic development of both artists who are separated by almost 20 years, as they actively engage their varying realities and the complexities of their media. The exhibition’s strength is hinged on the juxtaposed placement of each artist’s work; the geometric and abstract forms, as well as the rigidity and hardness of Bashorun’s sculpture against the palpable impasto, delineating the more fluid figures and forms that populate Idu’s canvases. Significantly, both artists are united by each other’s interest in the texture and materiality of his chosen media.

Chika Idu’s strongly figurative and personal style is easily recognizable, one that traces his trajectory and stylistic development. His technique involves the exhaustive priming of his canvas. This day-long treatment begins by over laying several different colours of primer with an acrylic finish to provide the “textual substance that bonds subjects to canvas and lends his work a contemporary antiquity.” Working almost entirely with a knife, the process of manipulating becomes more significant than the material, betraying his chief interest in varied surface textures. Heightened with a luxuriant palette, Chika Idu’s paintings at once reveal a tactile, almost sensual relationship with matter.

His broad oeuvre embraces themes such as traditional Nigerian ceremonies, musicians and landscapes. Several of his paintings are imbued with narrative content. They depict children engaging in various forms of activity—on the way to school, praying, reading or swimming. Here, the artist cleverly achieves a careful balance between the iridescent light bathing the picture plane and thick clumps of paintwork, delineating the immersed bodies, and giving the impression of suspension underwater. This skillful manipulation of light, clearly evident is reminiscent of his translucent and evocative watercolours, which earned the artist much recognition when he emerged on the Lagos artistic landscape. Interestingly, Idu is also an accomplished portraitist; his canvases portraying the beauty of the African woman with her pouted lips and lithe supple body, are built up thickly with palette knife and sometimes fingers.

Overall, the works are strongly individual, a personal journey and testament to each artist’s development, and an ultimate vehicle to convey a quest for empirical truth. In turn, the collective of works is unique as a collaboration between 2 curators, an exhibition that is hopefully the first in a series that will contribute significantly to narratives of contemporary art in Nigeria.

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