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Art: Wastes as new medium of art; how durable?

By Udemma Chukwuma
 In today’s world of creativity and amazing art, some of the world’s most compelling and creative works have been born out of the simplest and most abundant of materials: waste. But how durable are these artworks? Would collectors and art buyers get value for their money?

Art is consistently revolving. Out of wastes, artists are now creating beautiful things. They are becoming daring with the choice of materials they work with and are continuously trying their hands on new medium, recycling wastes and turning them into priceless artwork. Some of the materials for these emerging medium include ankara fabric, plastic, crown crock, newspaper, charcoal, corrugated iron, spoons, you name them.

Some artists who are using waste materials as medium
Artists such as Kolade Oshinowo, George Edozie, Peju Alatise, Yinka Sonibare are few of those using rags of ankara fabric to create masterpieces. Uchay Joel Chima, another known artist uses charcoal on board to create alluring works. Chima had also delved into working with strings on canvas and finishing it with paint.  Last year, Rom Isichei wowed those who came to view his new show. He created most of the works on display with all manner of cans, used tomatoes tines, paper collage, corrugated iron, as well as sawdust.

Interestingly, recycling old waste not only benefits the environment, but also breathes new life into old objects once seen as worthless. This is a case of one man’s meat is another man’s poison. But can the materials stand the test of time?

Why the sudden shift?
Olaleye Oluseyi Martins, Principal Lecturer at the Art and Designs Department, Ibarapa Polytechnic, Eruwa, Oyo State said, “People are tired of the old. They are consciously seeking a new world of new materials and method e.g. in ceramics, clay was only limited to the usage of artists, but the new material world has opened ‘clay’ up to the pharmacist, the engineers and even the doctors, who used it in preparing a Nano-particles gauze in stopping blood flow in a critical wound.”

The realm of creativity, Martins said, is populated; and with incentives so high, “every artist is trying to cut a niche for themselves, more so in this era of polluted environment. The mind of the artist is seriously working on alternative medium of execution for various reasons.”

Some critics are however of the view that many artists are running away from drawing, painting and sculpting, and embracing this new medium because they cannot cope. But disregarding this claim, Martins said, “Art is dynamic and evolving.  The modern world is even challenging, and greatly awakening the consciousness of everyone. And mind you, not only in art. I would like to conclude that the 21st century is having its strong impact on Arts as it does on science and computers…. Artists aren’t running from paintings and sculptures, but busy finding a better and modern ways of communicating with this generation that always wants things done “instantly.”

 Prof. John Ogene, an art historian, aesthetician, critic and a lecturer at the University of Benin, said doing art for the sake of vogue is like gambling. It is not about escapism- running away from canon. Experimentation and sheer curiosity contributed to the trend. Historically, this kind of practice came to the fore in Nigeria during the austerity and SAP (Structural Adjustment Programme) years, when the cost of art materials was beyond the reach of the average artist in Nigeria. There may have been other historical influences which had nothing to do with austerity measure. There were also artists who borrowed a leaf from Western artists like Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp. Picasso did not run away from painting and sculpture when he used waste or found objects for art.”
Charcoal work by Chima

Art historian, critique and lecturer at the Kara State University, Morenike Fola Balogun in her view said “Trends change, so does taste…. Artists have always ‘stolen from each other.’ Artists like to explore, be unique and at times, different… I guess we are in the era when we are still going to see a lot of ideas, and innovations coming up as artistic expressions.”

She said art to her, “Is either God made or Man-made; art is not static. It evolves and artists steal from each other – consciously or unconsciously. The buyer can get value for his money in iron work, depending on the theme rendered and the skill put into the construction. The salt of every work is the construction. If it is well balanced, I think it should be okay; but if it is huge or massive, it will be better as an environment sculpture.”

According to her, artists stress process more than content. The level of abstraction she said “is more pronounced in the use of material, plastic, paper etc. The artists are more adventurous now, that is why we see so many brands now. The freedom to define their own terms has also helped the Nigerian artists.”

Can they stand the test of time?
For Ogene, the quality of new art materials being introduced in art-making cannot be guaranteed both in durability and toxicity. “It may well be a passing phase, where some may last, and others may not. Nevertheless, they remain art,” he said.
Explaining further on the durability of the materials, Ogene said “It largely depends on the buyer, in what connects his life experiences and emotions and how that taps into his memories of life and environment. Some buyers may feel it is worth the price after all, while others may see it as garbage.”
A piece by Isichei 
Balogun said, “Trends change, so does taste… Artists working with these medium are due to contacts with one another and other cultures. Artists have always ‘stolen from each other.’ They like to explore, be unique and at times different… I guess we are in the era when we are still going to see a lot of ideas, and innovations coming up as artistic expressions.”
She added that “the materials are durable; iron cannot decay, so also plastic, but the finishing also matters.”

While Martins also agrees with them, he said: “I have seen many artworks in recent times; be focused and set the target at the right cadre of your intending customers. Again don’t forget the cravings for African arts by foreigners but yet majority complains so much about weight and space in transits.”
Affirming that the materials are durable, he said: “Iron cannot decay; so also plastic. But the finishing also matters, depending on the choice at play. Any buyer would definitely get the value….” Martins said.

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