Alimi Adewale: System Disruption, Challenging the Status Quo
In many ways, leading contemporary artist Alimi Adewale’s forthcoming solo exhibition Changing Faces: New Frontiers in Figurative Art at Retro Africa in Abuja brings to full flowering several stylistic strains evident in his 2018 solo exhibition Defying Sameness.
Chief amongst these ways and true to both exhibition titles is that the bodies of work first underscore the artist’s penchant for resisting rigid frameworks and norms in yielding to a disruptive restless spirit that seeks to discover uncharted territory. This first aspect betrays the evolving nature of his practice and the thread that binds both exhibitions together.
“I strive to create work that engages me and the viewer in a discovery process. The disruption of norms and defiance of expectations often emerges from this exploration process; however, neither is the initial impetus nor the priority.”
With these words, Adewale succinctly captures his thrust in Changing Faces, to open another chapter in his exploratory process.
Second, it is incisive to note that painting and more recently, sculpture occupy a pre-eminent position in the artist’s oeuvre and are together, his favoured mediums in both solos. Resisting classification, he asserts that it is no longer fashionable to be defined by a single mode of expression, as artists working today embrace several media simultaneously to best convey their ideas while addressing pertinent global issues.
Running from 30 April to 25 June, Changing Faces features across 2 floors, over 40 works including 15 site-specific ones, ranging from monumental paintings fleshed out in thick impasto, to brutalist figurative sculptures of heads held in place by necks cut off at their bases. Significantly, they are coated in acrylics to blur the boundaries between painting and sculpture. This assertion gains weight in the observation that the majority of paintings are actually renderings of his sculptures. According to the curators Dolly Kola-Balogun and Ugonna Ibie-Ejiogu, an installation of works suspended from the ceiling beams adds an ethereal dimension to the display. In the spatial configuration, Adewale presents 2 large-scale heads surrounded by pigeons, all finely carved. Situated in a vantage position above the hall, the installation occurs alongside and concurrent to other works in the exhibition, overarching and setting them in relation to seemingly soothe the tensions arising from “a deeply divided world further fractured by religious differences, income, and gender inequalities.”
The curators also opine “Adewale repurposes long-held tenets of European, Modern and indigenous art into new visions of African figuration.” The juxtaposing of sculptures featured in Adewale’s 2018 offering against the 12 of his present show, provide a deeper understanding of the artist’s interrogation of the psychological expressiveness of traditional African sculpture. Both bodies of work could be considered as political commentaries; while the latter is distinct for the shifting of facial structures and planes as exemplified by Head I, the former is characterised by the deliberate removal of facial features like noses, mouths and ears as metaphors for our anonymity.
“The sculptures are actually finished. I started chopping off the nose, mouth and ears when I discovered that as citizens of Nigeria, we are all anonymous, faceless. The government doesn’t listen to us and doesn’t even care to address us. No manifesto during elections, we don’t know what the plans are; it’s just ‘Go and vote”’.
However, this engagement with contemporary African politics is not wholly definitive of Alimi’s broad output; his is a larger picture that emphasises the artist’s role as a chronicler of the times, from domestic and global upheavals like police violence in Nigeria to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Importantly, Adewale’s works are united by an abiding interest in materiality and rich surface textures, though they incorporate several layers and explore a multiplicity of themes including migration and brain drain. Such topical urban issues as traffic congestion and population explosion also fail to escape the artist’s gaze as he draws our attention to the accompanying negative impact accentuated by poor infrastructural support and the non-implementation of public policies.
Standing out from the exhibition is the series titled ‘Heroines’ comprising of 10 acrylic paintings on “stitched mixed media.” They draw from his 2019 exhibition The Heroine Project aimed at celebrating the accomplishments of under-recognised women in our society. According to the artist, “a heroine is a woman admired for her courage, outstanding achievements or notable qualities.”
In all, Alimi Adewale is successful in gently coaxing us to not only reconsider stylistic divergences and new visual vocabularies as the title of the exhibition suggests but also to deeply contemplate our existence in overcoming the obstacles that suppress us.
September 15, 2021
September 13, 2021
September 09, 2021