Exhibiting Unknown Pleasures


Versatile female artist, Ndidi Dike presents Nigeria’s socio-political environment in a solo exhibition in Lagos, NKRUMAH BANKONG-OBI writes

The newly refurbished gallery of the National Museum, Onikan, gleamed radiantly. On the walls, pieces of frescos beautifully installed gave the ambience the semblance of an artist’s studio. The gallery is playing host to Ndidi Dike’s solo exhibition, which comes after a period of seeming lay-off. Her last outing was in 2008, where she was recognised as fledgling talent in a terrain regarded in the country as an exclusive preserve of men.

On display are 26 art collections from a range of 36 pieces made for the exhibition. The various artworks were made from acrylic and other abandoned materials from the nation’s recent traditional setting. The installation of the works, some of which are three-dimensional, bear witness to the creative sculptural background of the artist. While briefing newsmen on the preparedness to open her work to the public, Dike explained that she spent time learning and gauging the acrylic material, which she interacted with as a child. The choice of that particular form, which owes its roots to the traditional adire material, the abstract artist whose career spans more than two decades said, was informed by the observation that “end-product is the element of surprise; when the work dries, you have very little control over it”.

Even in their abstract state, the artworks have messages that are salient reminders of the socio-political environment we dwell in. For instance, there are Meditation, Three Chapters of the Same Story, and Degradation, each dealing independently with issues that affect people in their daily lives and their interaction with their habitat. These images have the capacity to strike an individual as a participant in the cycle of life. The uniquely styled stuff, The Constitution, is another vivid imagery that captures the human situation. “The white beautifully crafted one is our constitution. It is a document whose pages seem to have been tattered… the document has been shattered and stained. The laws symbolically illustrate our politicians. They continue to pause and tinker with its implementation like the panel-beaters, to the detriment of the Nigerian populace,” Dike said of her work.

In a statement announcing the exhibition which is billed to open to the public later in the week, the National Museum described Ndidi Dike’s work as: “An experimental approach to art making…extends the artist’s recent praxis of repurposing object troves in ways that reconfigure their signifying logic and challenge their aesthetic limitation.” The agency noted that the exhibitor is playing a pivotal role in the blend of technicality, theory and simplicity in conveying messages through her chosen medium.

It further noted the therapeutic efficacy of her work which “oscillates between cultural, personal and political spaces, her body of work effects a complex tableau of meaning wherein both the past and present are made visible, a rigorous engagement with process and materiality,” the statement concluded.

Antawan I. Byrd, who wrote the curatorial forward, acknowledged Dike’s balanced understanding of the “relationship between two integral aspects of the creative process: experimentation and discovery of material.” The material fused together to realise the artworks on the platforms of sculpture and mix-media installation, according to her, include marine wood, aluminum plates, mesh fabrics.

The artist explained that she encountered challenges in the course of putting the work together. According to her, Unknown Pleasure and Competing Tendencies had been completed about two years go, but there was no proper space to exhibit the works. Besides the absence of space, she noted that the issues militating against a flourishing creative industry in the country are not limited to the fine artist alone, as poets, journalist, dramatists, musicians and others encounter same impediments peculiar to their field.

Some of those who did a critical appraisal of the work include Tajudeen Sowole and Chuka Nnabuife, a fine artist and journalist respectively. They expressed delight at the aesthetic consideration in the display of the catalogued artworks.

Ndidi Dike studied Fine Art at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. From 1986 when she first did her solo exhibition, she has featured in others, either in collaboration with others or personally, the most recent of which was Waka-Into Bondage: The last ¾ Mile and Tapestry of Life: New Beginnings which she did in 2008.

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