On the 11th of May, 2018, the Art Twenty-One studio stationed in Eko Hotel & Suites, hosted a mini-art festival. Actually it was an art exhibition but it was too much quality of art for one man, (even though I know there’s no such thing). Ibe Ananaba was the artist whose works were on wall and his paintings were enough to bring together a mixed audience of Nigerians and foreigners to wow at the beauty of art – his art work themed, “Long Drawn Shadows.”
The paintings in the collection are reactions to the socio-cultural turbulence in Nigeria. Each has something about the troubles facing the Nigerian public – reoccurring fuel scarcity caused by the greedy cabal, looting of public funds, unemployment, poverty and other outcomes of failed government policies that people try to live through. Serious national ills like the case of the N36million allegedly swallowed by a snake that should not have been accepted, but has been trivialised and welcomed as a meme material on social media. It was metaphorically represented – all my complains about the state of things, and more, in the paintings. The artworks had a jarring effect and reminded me that “all is not well.” Ibe Ananaba is practising activism without necessarily uttering a word.
Some of the paintings were connected in a series to form a whole story. One of the series bore the title: “Shey na like this we go dey?” – a rhetoric quiz that arises from a situation that’s far from satisfactory – the situation of Nigeria today. It is like saying, “are we going to continue in suffering?” The two parts of the series – a group of male figures and a female group – had properly dressed characters with several stains on their fine outfits, representing Nigerians who are comfortable and unconcerned about wrong goings in the nation. It could be a reflection of you, depending on how much interest you have in the corrective course of Nigeria. “Shey na like this we go dey?” is just as jolting as it is inciting. The artist said, “it is me asking the public, is this how we are going to continue, forming cool? Are we just going to continue, being clad with all these issues, being dressed up with all these issues?”
Ibe Ananaba led me to another series, this one titled “Waiting till infinity.” The series of about 6 linked paintings had two personalities and one subject – the cabals, the oppressed and the issue of reoccurring fuel scarcity. It captures the long wait at filling stations during the period of scarcity and the evil geniuses behind it, sitting on the fuel that should be in the tanks of people on the streets. The piece was telling. It was inspired by real life experience of the artist. He said, “it is actually my personal experience in reaction to the usual reoccurring fuel madness that they call scarcity. I have had to leave my house very early in the morning till late afternoon and I still hadn’t gotten fuel. On the queue we were just waiting and in my mind I kept wondering why I’d spending all these hours and other people that are supposed to be at work; are spending productive hours queuing up for fuel. So I asked myself ‘what does productivity mean to us?’”
His question isn’t new. It is the same question that activists like Femi Falana have been asking the government for long years. It is the same message that Fela’s songs carried throughout, and even after, his illustrious but turbulent career; that a group of Nigerians have been unfair to the larger population. It is gospel of Ibe Ananaba’s works on display. He led me, through the queue of kegs that gave the scene a semblance of filling stations in Nigeria during the time of fuel scarcity, to his collections; one of them with a similar theme but titled “Give Us This Day Our Daily Fuel”, while the other titled “Forced crown.” The illustration here was a bit different from that of the other series but it still centred around the Nation’s fuel distribution problem. Sharing the message of the “Forced Crown”, Ibe Ananaba said, “in a country like ours that’s blessed with crude oil, you’re supposed to be crowned a king but the situation has crowned many with a funnel instead.”
Enough was told in that room, about us – Nigerians; although not in words but through paintings. The situation of things in the country could be seen through Ibe Ananaba’s lens of imagination, using metaphors to express his subjects in a way that people who understand the language of art would appreciate. I, perhaps others present at the exhibition too, left that room with an impression – an impression that art lives through the works of Ibe Ananaba.
This article was written by Ibironke Oluwatobi. He tweets via: @ibironketweets