Nigerian artists brighten Beirut with contemporary African art

An ongoing group exhibition in Beirut, Lebanon, showcases the works of six Nigerian artists and further affirms the growing popularity of contemporary African art


LONG before the commencement of the ongoing protests in Lebanon, six Nigerian artists were in the country to participate in an exhibition titled ‘The Journey into Contemporary African Art’ organised as part of Beirut Art Week by Belvedere Art Space.

The sextet of Duke Asidere, Rom Isichei, Chidi Kwubiri, Gerald Chukwuma, Adewale Alimi and Suraj Adekola are the Nigerian artists whose works are showing at Belvedere Art Space, Beirut, the Lebanese capital, to underline the increasing appreciation of African art globally.

The third collective show by Belvedere Art Space is the artists’ first exhibition in Lebanon and is on till November 1 after the official opening on September 17.  Five out of the six Nigerians practise in Lagos while Kwubiri is based in Germany.

Explaining the inclusion of the artists in the show and the focus on contemporary African art in its gallery statement, Belvedere Art Space said: “The beauty of African art can deliver various feelings and messages, however, true appreciation can only arrive through a comprehension of the culture and environment that influenced the art.

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“In Africa, art was seldom used for decorative purposes, but rather to give life to the values, emotions and daily customs of the various ethnic groups throughout the continent. The result has always been a fascinating art form that speaks to the viewer of the present turmoil while evoking a rich cultural past.”

It also highlighted the qualities of the Nigerians and the diversity of their thematic engagements that include “urbanism, migration, culture, identity and women in a unique African spirit, rich in composition, colour, texture, material and expression.”

The gallery hailed Isichei, noting that his “practice has persistently engaged object and material exploration. His compositions often evoke contemplation and engender dialogue about identity and culture, failures and insecurities, less and excess, loneliness, rapture and gaiety, and other emotional ‘gestures’ within our contemporary commune.”

Kwubiri, the art space noted, “is an artist that addresses through his artwork the reinforcement of power and hope against socio-political tension surrounding global migration issues. His bold interpretations also touch on the impact of music on global youth movements by interpreting cross-generational rhythms, culture and political consciousness.”

“Asidere comments on everyday human drama that surrounds him, political, social, psychological or cultural through painting headless or limbless figures and faces of strangely hybrid beings to densely populated urban landscapes, accentuated with thick strokes of vivid colour, simplicity of form and expressive lines,” the organisers said.

They also commended Adewale’s depictions of traditional genres with a contemporary expression in a profusion of rich texture and often uncommon sculptural finish. “He incorporates elements of minimalism and abstraction to create a distinctly current artwork. Alimi has used his art practice to explore urban issues as well as painting the sorrows and joys of African women.”

It was noted that, “Chukwuma uses a multitude of techniques like burning, chiselling, and painting common materials that capture a richly layered history embedded with personal and political meaning. The artist is drawn to the movements of people through voluntary and forced migration as a vital stage in the progress of our collective humanity.”

Adekola, they said “strives to document the Nigerian culture using light, colour, texture, energy and subtle emotion in his paintings. He is mostly interested in depicting the Nigerian rooftops, landscapes and topography.”

Shortly after the artists returned to Nigeria, they shared their experiences in Beirut. The Germany-based Kwubiri expressed gratitude for the opportunity to show alongside some of the country’s finest. He also mentioned how the show was well received in the Mediterranean country.

“The exhibition was the talk of the town in Beirut. Three works of mine are on show. And it was not much about selling, but the responses from visitors…it was massive. I was a bit pessimistic initially when the gallery got in touch with me about the show. But I was impressed by the level of organisation and how the exhibition eventually turned out. The discussions for the show all started from Lagos here,” he said.

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‘ Marriage Dance’, mixed media by Gerald Chukwuma

Asidere explained that though it was a single show, the artists have different experiences. “I have a contract specification with the gallery and I believe my colleagues have too, but each of us has different contract definitions with the organisers. I showed two works. It was very interesting to meet an old collector at the event. She had bought my work over two decades ago. She flew in from Riyadh to Lebanon after reading a preview about the exhibition.

The artist and furniture designer, Chukwuma shared his experience this way: “Earlier in the year, Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery, London and Gallery 1957, Accra showed my works in my first solo show in the UK. I also featured in KUBATANA, a show of 33 African artists from 4th of May -22 of September 2019 at Vestfossen Museum, Norway.

“Now this group show in Beirut. The opening was a well organized and attended exhibition. A great opportunity for cultural exchange and especially another arena to tell my story.”

Isichei hailed the exhibition, noting that “it was an exhibition of sublime spectacle. All phases of the show’s organization were skilfully and professionally discharged. As a first-time visitor to Beirut, I was overwhelmed by its charm, history, and hospitality- both of our hosts and natives. ‘Bring back my Yesterday’ is the title of the only large-scale piece I had on the show. Rendered in my “grains of dust” technique, it depicts a veil covered young boy in a supplicatory repose.

“It’s a reminder of youth and hypothetical entreaty to restore the distance past, when to be peerless and fitting into every template is not a fact of existence. And when lies are not subjective truths.”

On his part, Adewale said, “One of the interesting things about the exhibition was that initially, all of us did not know we were going to show together. Each artist knew he would be showing in Beirut,but had no idea with whom until later during the preparation. The exhibition focused on Africa.

“I always know that we have good prospects in our art here, but lack of international exposure had been the hindrance to many of us. Showing in Beirut was exciting. The opening day had over 1000 visitors. Maybe not a big deal for the gallery, but big for us. I showed sculptures and installations.”

Adekola, a talented artist to look out for, and whose painting sold at Bonham’s African art auction in London, Piasa African Art auction in Paris and Geneve Encheres in Switzerland said the viewers were impressed with works shown. “The audience believed that they have not experienced such a show before. There was an exhibition going on simultaneously within the same area in Beirut, but our show wowed the audience.”

Though Beirut is currently boiling due to the street protests, the artists are not averse to returning once normalcy returns.

Nigerian Tribune

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