Another look at quickly emerging contemporary artists exploring figurative art in unique and remarkable ways from the Nigerian art scene.
In recent years, the global art scene has witnessed a proliferation of Black representation in figurative art. With artists like the Ghanaian favorite, Amoako Boako, who gained prominence with such speed and received worldwide acceptance for his figurative works, even more diverse figurative renditions have come to be; particularly from young emerging artists.
More importantly than mere appreciation for figurative art by collectors, this proliferation has also been borne out of the need to reassert not just Black bodies but African bodies as well, in how these they are viewed not just by the West but also, fellow Blacks and Africans. Despite the long years of on-going conversations and process of healing, Blacks and Africans continue to protest against marginalization and racial discrimination.
Oluwaseun Odeyemi, My Eyes On You, 2022, Acrylic, charcoal and conte on canvas
There are layers and variation to the forms in which discrimination happens. Sometimes, it is in obvious situations as seen with the case of George Floyd who during the height of the pandemic in May 2020, died at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis and at other times, be in more subtle ways like how Africa is viewed, perceived and even presented by the rest of the world. With this reality, Africans and Blacks in various fields on the African continent and the diaspora continue to resist and reorient in whatever form they find befitting; and of course, artists are not left out in this fight. Perhaps, the need to continuously do this has brought about more contemporary African artists exploring the figurative form.
While art enthusiasts who have experienced recent exhibitions of some of these figurative art from the contemporary art scene may readily encounter the depiction of the Black body in literal black colors with many artists, several others continue to carve a distinct visual language for themselves, away from the usual, focusing in more delicate and intricate aspects of Black perception and representation. Nigeria in particular has increasingly produced emerging artists who explore and play with figurative expressions beyond the Black skin to even more contemporary identity. Some of these artists include Oluwapelumi Oluyemi, Oluwaseun Odeyemi, Olayinka Stephen Aragbada, Badru Temitayo and Joseph Idowu.
Three of these artists - Oluwapelumi Oluyemi, Oluwaseun Odeyemi, Olayinka Stephen Aragbada - are currently in a group show on Artsy, titled "Colour Me Brown, Call Me Black".
Colour Me Brown, Call Me Black spotlights figurative works by emerging Nigerian artists -Oluwaseun Odeyemi, Olayinka Stephen Aragbada and Oluwapelumi Oluyemi. These fast-rising artists from Nigeira, share their distinct visual expressions, delicately portraying aspects of every day contemporary living in Nigeria, and by extension, Africa, that is otherwise missed and overshadowed by a stereotypic Western narrative of what it means to be Black and African in today's fast-paced and global world.
Oluwapelumi Oluyemi, 'My Safe Space', 2022, Oil on canvas
Oluwapelumi Oluyemi (b. 1997) currently practices in Ibadan, Oyo State where she was born. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Design from the Federal University of Akure. She works with oil, charcoal and graphite, using the Italian method to create strong physical appearance. The characters within Oluwapelumi’s work are real beings with an undeniable sense of self, in that they exhibit all nuanced manifestations of individuals navigating the reality of the everyday: from sadness and joy, to curiosity and contentment.
Oluwaseun Odeyemi (b. 1989) works with mixed media exploring materials such as oil colour, pastel, conte, charcoal, acrylic and watercolor. He is drawn to the idea of using elements of design to create strong and vivid emotional depictions of Black existence, playing around with wet and dry effect to portray the uniqueness of the Black skin. Odeyemi’s work may not only be seen as an ode to African Black history, but also a documentation of human connection and experiences based on social interactions. This is why he is drawn to using the human face as a means to convey subtle experiences in emotions that could otherwise be missed.
Olayinka Stephen Aragbada has nursed the craft for visual art since his childhood days. In coming into his own, Aragbada utilizes his figurative paintings to tell are stories. Viewing each painting requires no speculation yet they compel the viewer to linger a bit more, unveiling the appeal with each passing second. This is simply because each painting are relatable to how we live and experience the every day.
Olayinka Stephen Aragbada, 'Coffee I', 2022, Acrylic and charcoal on canvas
Aragbada stands out distinctly in both style and technique. He recently caught the attention of American celebrity collector, Alicia Keys who described his work as “Gorgeous”. Indeed, they are. Since the acclaim, Aragbada has racked up teeming interest, bringing an excitement that anticipates the evolution of his distinct representation of Blackness in contemporary Africa.
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