ODE­D­INA ABE

PRO­FILES FROM ART X

THISDAY Style - - COVER -

Abe Ode­d­ina is a phe­nom­e­nal self-taught artist who was a suc­cess­ful ar­chi­tect be­fore a trip to Brazil in 2007 sparked his cre­ativ­ity to be­come a vis­ual artist. He de­scribes him­self as a folk artist and his art is richly in­spired by the African spir­i­tual be­liefs, philoso­phies, rit­ual, mu­sic and arts. His paint­ing de­light in the use of colour and imag­i­na­tive pic­to­rial state­ment. These qual­i­ties are rooted in the tra­di­tion of ex­pres­sive fig­u­ra­tive paint­ings that can be found in the streets in cities like La­gos, Sal­vador, or Port-auPrince adorn­ing the sides of lor­ries, on the wall of tem­ples, beer par­lour, love mo­tels, vul­can­iz­ers and more. Abe who re­cently re­turned to La­gos after a very long time to ex­hibit at the just con­cluded Art X fair spoke to FUNKE BABS-KUFEJI on his jour­ney as an artist and his ex­pe­ri­ence on com­ing home to his moth­er­land.

What was the piv­otal mo­ment you turned your back on ar­chi­tec­ture and de­cided to start paint­ing?

I never turned my back on ar­chi­tec­ture, be­cause that makes it sound like one dra­matic dam­a­scene mo­ment. It was more a grad­ual de­vel­op­ment. I got slowly re­cal­i­brated while I was in Brazil and it re­ally was a num­ber of ex­pe­ri­ences. It took a while but it was all cen­tered around the rich­ness of the pop­u­lar cul­ture par­tic­u­larly around the ven­er­a­tion of the Or­isha. It was so sur­pris­ing that these gods that I was aware of, that seemed to be fig­ures from the past were very much alive in Brazil. And it wasn’t so much about di­rect wor­ship, it was the ex­tra­or­di­nary range of art, ex­pres­sion, mu­sic and paint­ing and the way it af­fected Brazil­ians in their daily life that re­ally in­spired me. It just seemed to sug­gest un­told riches of ex­pres­sion. I en­joyed be­ing an ar­chi­tect but it seemed that per­haps look­ing back it would need a more di­rect ex­pres­sion to re­spond to these ex­tra­or­di­nary sen­sa­tions that I seemed to be some­how aware of. It hap­pened very nat­u­rally, there was never a point of de­par­ture, it hap­pened so ef­fort­lessly and nat­u­rally.

What is your re­sponse to the term ‘’African Art’’

There are a num­ber of re­sponses. On one hand you un­der­stand per­fectly why that def­i­ni­tion of ‘African art’ makes sense in terms of a fac­tual de­scrip­tion of what an African artist might be. But on the other hand it’s a large con­ti­nent with 54 dif­fer­ent coun­tries and many artis­tic tra­di­tions so be­yond be­ing a short hand for de­scrib­ing the ef­forts of these group. If it is seen as a style then it is rather prob­lem­atic be­cause that will be a very lim­it­ing thing. We know for art that this cat­e­gory is used for artist for his­tor­i­cal and mar­ket­ing rea­sons. So as long as we un­der­stand that it is sim­ply a short hand and we don’t al­low it to limit who we are or be­gin to see it as some­thing that is pre­scribed, then I am okay with it. But if it goes be­yond that, its rather prob­lem­atic be­cause there is such a wide range of ex­pres­sion and we must make sure that this def­i­ni­tions isn’t a lim­it­ing thing but a start­ing point. And I hope a time will come where we are just de­scribed as artists.

You just had a very suc­cess­ful show­ing at ART X La­gos, how does it com­pare to other ex­hi­bi­tions or fairs you have at­tended around the world?

I can’t claim to be an ef­fi­cient au­thor­ity of all the fairs in the world but it is quite clear to me that the Art X art fair was of the high­est cal­iber. In terms of an artis­tic en­ter­prise, it seemed to me to be as good as any­thing any­where in the world and that was ev­i­dent to see. But be­yond that it may have had the ex­tra in­gre­di­ent, which is the X fac­tor that made it a very spe­cial oc­ca­sion. There was a lot of love and ca­ma­raderie there. In my par­tic­u­lar case there was an el­e­ment of re­union with lots of friends I hadn’t seen for a while. New friends and old friends. I also met a lot of col­lec­tors and it was the start of an in­te­gra­tion and un­der­stand­ing of the very vi­brant dis­crim­i­nat­ing Nige­rian art scene and I was de­lighted to be part of it.

Tell us a bit about your ex­pe­ri­ence re­turn­ing to La­gos after a very long time?

Well my time here has been won­der­ful. It was about as good as one might hope. Lead­ing up to it, my team and I were tired of the prac­ti­cal things of get­ting the paint­ings ready and ship­ping them down and all the things that came be­fore our ar­rival, but when we got here, we were hit by a tor­rent of love and sup­port and it was over­whelm­ing. It started be­fore the fair; it went on ev­ery sin­gle day of the fair. I saw peo­ple I hadn’t seen since pri­mary and se­condary school, made new friends. It was ab­so­lutely amaz­ing as well as see­ing fam­ily. I have to say it was one of the rather im­por­tant times in my life where ev­ery­thing came to­gether. What it’s made quite clear is that, it was the start of some­thing and we will def­i­nitely be com­ing back and try­ing to do as much in Nige­ria as we can.

Lets talk about your tat­toos, you are cov­ered in them, are they a re­flec­tion of your art?

I sup­pose that’s one way to put it but I’d much rather see all my artis­tic out­puts as a func­tion of a life phi­los­o­phy in which the way I make build­ings when I was an ar­chi­tect was in­formed by this. My tat­toos seem to stem from the same source of in­spi­ra­tion my paint­ings does as well. In ev­ery sin­gle in­stance it is a way to process ex­pe­ri­ence. This is what I think artist do and the medium is a ma­te­rial. We are all try­ing to process life and ex­press that process in some way. Whether by mak­ing build­ings, singing, tat­too­ing your­self or many other sort of ex­pres­sions, it is part of a con­tin­uum. It is not a sep­a­rate thing; it ties in with ev­ery­thing else I do. It pre­dates my paint­ings but there are many sim­i­lar­i­ties with the im­pulse and in­ter­est­ingly there are ac­tu­ally many sim­i­lar­i­ties with the way I made build­ings.

How would you de­scribe your fash­ion style?

I have never re­ally thought about it but this as well is an­other ex­pres­sion that ties into a life’s phi­los­o­phy. I tend to go for things that make me feel com­fort­able. I see hu­man be­ings in­clud­ing my­self as cul­tural be­ings and the only thing in­ter­est­ing about clothes is the cul­tural ex­pres­sion you are mak­ing with them and its not some­thing sep­a­rate but I rely on be­ing com­fort­able rather than any other ex­ter­nal fac­tors. There is util­ity and prac­ti­cal­ity in the way I dress. I have al­ways thought there is a strong re­la­tion­ship be­tween util­ity , beauty and style and that per­haps un­der­lines ev­ery­thing I do.

Fi­nally what ad­vice do you have for young emerg­ing artists in Nige­ria?

I don’t want to set my­self up as a sage. I will say we should be artists be­cause we have some­thing to ex­press. The ad­vice I will give is to turn up, work hard and to have faith in your own ex­pres­sions. In my way of think­ing, life trumps art and it is im­por­tant to live an hon­est life and to find ways in which to ex­press that. It will be im­por­tant for any true artist to find their true call­ing, to have their own sense of values and prin­ci­ples and see how this can in­form their art. I think it is im­por­tant that there isn’t a tem­plate for be­ing an artist be­cause that will be a sad shame. Hard work is also very im­por­tant, a sense of in­tegrity too. But speak­ing about Nige­rian artists in par­tic­u­lar, I would urge peo­ple to look at the won­der­ful tra­di­tions that we all in­her­ited and to per­haps ex­plore the won­der­ful in­spi­ra­tion that is avail­able from that as well as be­ing free to be in­spired from all over the world. It is a con­scious process and I would en­cour­age a gen­eros­ity of spirit and open ex­pres­sion.

It is im­por­tant for any true artist to find their true call­ing, to have their own sense of values and prin­ci­ples and see how this can in­form their art.

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