Ayo Akinwande: Power Show II: The God-fathers Are Not to Blame
Ayo Akinwande’s exhibition Power Show II: The God-fathers Are Not to Blame at the Revolving Art Incubator, Lagos, is an impressive sequel to the contemporary Nigerian artist’s Power Show exhibition held at the Omenka Gallery earlier in the year. Curated by Njideka Iroh, it features five wooden sculpture installations – a distinct signature of Akinwande, sound and video installations and an expansive arrangement (running from one end of a wall on the first floor to the other end) of screenshots from social media sites of commentary by Nigerians on the state of the nation.
According to the artist, “Power Show II: The God-Fathers Are Not to Blame is a multi-layered exhibition of sculpture, sound, video, and digital archives, as a means to address the vexed relationship between leadership and citizenship in Nigeria. The title of the exhibition draws from The Gods Are Not to Blame, the 1968 adaptation of the Greek classic, Oedipus Rex by Nigerian playwright and novelist, Ola Rotimi. A central theme in both plays is fate and/or destiny, which allude to the parallels that exist between Greek and Yoruba epistemology”.
The sculpture installation consists of a 30- foot high figure in the middle of the space extending from the ground floor to the last floor of the gallery, and four other much smaller sculptures produced from wooden boards arranged in a metal frame, the shape of a human figure. The sculptures have a range of characteristics from blatantly aggressive to a quieter, though commanding appeal, occupying a space between hegemony and ambivalence. On the surface, the visual pun is evident: The God-fathers, the king-makers and fixers, adorned simply with caps – the colour of the Nigerian flag – worn over their heads. A deeper inquiry reveals a more problematic image. The occupied space. The multi-layered absorption of space by the few at the expense of the many. Akinwande offers a critique of the political hegemony prevalent in contemporary Nigerian politics, these ‘God-fathers’, on screen and behind the scenes, playing the role of king-makers, resulting in a recycling of self-seeking and egoistic ideals disguised as nationalism and faux ‘change’ narratives.
The video installation features 13 cathode ray TVs, playing archival footage of speeches from past to present leaders, both civilian and military in post-independence Nigeria. The installation is reminiscent of several ‘October 1st’ (Nigeria’s Independence Day) speeches. The fact that the exhibition opened on Independence Day is symbolic in this aspect and is not lost on the audience. The installation aptly titled Vagabonds in Power is a cross-examination of generations of speeches spanning a period of 58 years. A fascinating feature of the video installation is the absence of sound. The speeches are muted, which when contrasted with the sound installation on the first floor The Mumu LP – featuring voices of the people in discourse on the state of the nation and suggestive of ‘market talk’ – give an insight into the exhibition’s thrust, “a means to address the vexed relationship between leadership and citizenship in Nigeria”. The sound installation, coupled with the displayed screenshot clippings of social media commentary by the Nigerian people, places an importance on amplifying their voices. The clippings, monumental in scale (hundreds of polaroid-sized squares, occupying an entire wall on the first floor) are sourced from Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and are indicative of the usual response by the average Nigerian to such situations arising. The exhibition amplifies the voice of the people, but in doing so, also poses interesting questions, Is just talking about a problem enough? Is the power of the people restricted to their voices? How does a voicing by the people translate to reclaiming the spaces occupied by these God-fathers? Are we even having the right conversations to begin with? The exhibition while failing to provide answers to these questions, examines the role of the people in challenging political patriarchy and hegemony and hints at something more; the leaders have talked, the people are talking, but ‘change’ is an action word.
Another interesting aspect of the exhibition is the latter part of its title, The God-Fathers Are Not to Blame, drawn from Ola Rotimi’s The Gods Are Not to Blame, a book on the inevitability of fate and destiny, and the futile efforts to flee from it. If the God-fathers are not to blame, then who is? The people? Are they supposed to resign themselves to a fate dictated by these God-fathers? How much control do the people really have over their lives in the Nigerian community? What is the role of fate and destiny in this dynamic 21st century? The exhibition has the audience pondering these open-ended questions and more.
Ayo Akinwande’s exhibition mines contentious issues related to power construction, digital activism, fate and/or destiny and their dynamic relationship. He explores the representation of power among the two different factions of the society; the leaders and the people. A much-needed conversation, considering the gradual approach of the election year. Power Show II is a testament to Akinwande’s ability to transform commonplace materials like wooden boards and old television sets into the sublime, employing a certain irreverence and monumentality in the treatment of his subjects.
According to the curator, “This exhibition attempts to translate decades of discourse into contemporary forms of processing through a historical view, weaving in notions of African decolonial approaches and looking at media from documentation through television to oral history and storytelling, to the street consumption of information, the use of social media and the communal digestion of the information shared on it”.
The exhibition in all is an impressive continuation of Akinwande’s discourse on power and its many variations, leaving the viewer with more questions than answers.
Power Show II: The God-fathers Are Not to Blame runs until December 31, 2018.
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