By Luciano Uzuegbu
Not until I took lessons in Rhetoric at the University did I realize the meaning of creativity; or maybe I knew what creativity meant, but it just never became practical for me, and that might have accounted for my missing a whole point in what my father used to tell me, “you have to decide your focus in a camera lens.” By the way, he was the best photographer I ever knew who by the pre-photoshop era of 1961 had completed a study in photography in Japan, and in 1962, started working for the federal government of Nigeria. He had kept a dark room where he performed miracles with negative films, transferring images to papers to reveal exactly his focus; and I can argue, from the vantage of hindsight, that his perspectives were often uniquely personalized.
Rhetoric, like my father’s magic with cameras opened my mind to broader appreciation of concepts and situations such that I can analyse and define them by my personal experience with them, than by mere suggestions of popular notion. This emphasizes the place of devotion and communion, which brook insightful interaction in whatever our minds engage.
Nengi Omuku’s Stages of Collapse, an exhibition of her recent paintings will open on September 29, at September Gray Gallery in Atlanta. Significantly, it will be her first solo in the US, and come as a remarkable collaboration between Cuverley and September Gray.
It will be interesting to see how she stands alone when all the focus will be on her art, away from the distractions at the Amory group show also in the US, which earlier had featured a few of her older works, amongst several by other artists.
Cuverley’s mission is reposed in a personal affinity for the arts, which has been nurtured to lead a generational development of contemporary art from Africa, and the Africa Diaspora. It is a consciousness, which happens upon artistic talents cutting across artists, curators, gallerists and art managers, and exploiting their propensity to imbue humanity with such a profound experience of life. September Gray Fine Art Gallery (SGAG), also specializing in contemporary works by established, mid-career and emerging African American and African diasporic artists, emerges as a veritable partner on the vanguard of preserving the African diasporic cultural legacy and narrative. Thus a break-through beckons on us all; the artists, curator and art managers to discover something worthwhile, something that tends to reconnect and resolve an elusive past, especially of childhood or innocence, which leaves us with a sense of great fulfillment. For all we may know, a reputation is being molded here, which hopefully will inspire and celebrate more special moments with fate.
My association with artists (Nengi Omuku inclusive) refreshes my notion of a curator’s role, and saddles me with the concern about creating a platform to make their art more visible and assessable, if only to secure the social and economic gains of their endeavors. How I achieve this objective often depends on my personalized skills, including practical strategies such as, building partnerships (“you have to decide your focus in a camera lens”). But first, I must convince myself of having learned the artists reasonably.
Besides relying on your knowledge of art history as a curator, you will find it important to abandon your overt presumptions, and engage artists with your whole being – mind and emotion; learning their personalities, working methods and the inspirations underlying their creations. Such interactions usually mute suggestions to the mind, which become purposefully aligned with several other notions, or experiences to contrive meanings that fairly interpret the art and artists to the public.
I remember wandering down this surreal road with Nengi on our first meeting like a 3year-old being introduced to a set of new toys. I had had the chance of observing firsthand and intuitively matching forms, colours and subjects, just about anything that lent order to meaning, and arriving at some insightful inferences, which otherwise might have been shortchanged by a preconceived notion, or lack of deep and participatory appreciation. Her art is eclectic, and holds much universal appeal; if she was making music, to which she is also inclined (as she plays violin) , she would be a Bjork. Her subliminal finishing is phenomenal, often attempting to denude her of her African heritage, but for the evidence inherent in her self-portrait painting, or occasional portrayal of black woven-hair as predominantly won by African women.
In reality, Nengi’s works are as open-ended as her mind tirelessly stretches the depths of her capacity to communicate experiences beyond borders, including suppositions of alternative reality. Her ‘focus’ within her space often has the propensity to stretch your imagination beyond the possibility of the canvas, as it yields more meaning with every single visitation. In confronting Omuku’s Stages of Collapse, I therefore suggest an openness of mind that allows for interactions with the individual and collective signposts inhabiting her space and palette, together with their atmosphere, upon, which certain conclusions can be richly negotiated.
Regarding the inspiration behind Stages of Collapse, she points to her experience as a Nigerian born artist who trained and lived most of her adult life in the United Kingdom. “This change in space and exposure to another environment, created in me a heightened awareness of my body in space. With every journey, I consider how human beings position ourselves in space and see our bodies in relation to other beings…”says Nengi.
In relating to the artistic culture back home in Nigeria, Nengi struggles with her globalized persuasions, while providing alternative artistic paradigm with regards to narrative and style. However, on the flip side, it will be exciting to see how her artistic hybrid resonates among international viewers at September Gray. Whatever the outcome of Stages of Collapse, you can be sure it’s already a win for the stakeholders (Cuverley, September Gray Gallery, Nengi and my humble self) who already by ‘deciding their focus’ with the unveiling of this show are most fulfilled.