Ayo Akinwande’s Power Show
Ayo Akinwande holds a degree in architecture from Covenant University, Nigeria. Better known as a multimedia artist, Akinwande experiments with colour and black-and-white in his creative process and storytelling. Employing archival materials such as newspaper prints and posters, to engage with memory and history, he also seeks to expand his expressive and thematic scope by exploring the events of daily life through critical views of the social, political and cultural, from a contemporary Nigerian context. In 2015, Ayo Akinwande held two solo exhibitions Women of Africa in Athens, Greece and Boju Boju in Lagos, Nigeria. In 2016, he participated in the Centre for Contemporary Art Lagos’ ASIKO Art Residency in Addis-Ababa. He was also a participant in the Lagos Biennial, as well as in What’s Inside Her Never Dies group exhibition at the Yeelen Gallery in Miami, United States. In this interview he discusses his forthcoming exhibition Power Show at the Omenka Gallery in Lagos.
Congratulations on your forthcoming exhibition, Power Show, which will hold from February 3 to 21, 2018, at Omenka Gallery. What inspired your new body of work and what do you hope to achieve with this exhibition?
The idea for the Power Show exhibition came during the Asiko Art School Residence in Addis, in June, 2016. I had already completed ‘The Fuel Scarcity’ photography series and was looking to expand on the subject matter. After a portfolio review session, one of the interesting things that arose from the criticism and points by the faculty was how to take my concept beyond the 2-dimensional form of photography. From then, exploring additional media, I began to think deeper about the subject of fuel and the country as a whole, and decided to use fuel tanks mostly from the 1.8 kva generator locally known as “I beta pass my neighbour”, which is manufactured predominantly in blue. Fuel tanks are the materials with which I can investigate more into the subjects of fuel, oil and the economy, as well as the issue of corruption.
What is the underlying philosophy behind your work?
I think it is most important to be aware of my environment. As an example, most of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s works are a reflection of what he and the society experienced at the time. So in all my thoughts and creative process, it’s very important to consider my environment, most especially Nigeria or Lagos, as well as how I can use available forms, including installation, sometimes sculpture, which I’m beginning to play with, photography and video, to reflect all these experiences. This is what drives me on every idea and project.
Can you please elaborate on your relationship with photography and mixed media, and the role they play in your process?
After studying architecture at school, I pursued photography professionally. At some point I was asking more questions, because photography was not enough. Right now it is my starting point. Often times, an idea grows from an archive of previous series. I look at the images and ask myself how I can expand on the subject matter to make a more immediate point. For example, I started doing many sound recordings because I cannot gain access to some subjects through photography because people react in a very hostile manner to photographs. However, with sound I can invade privacies, mostly in public spaces, to get undiluted and unfiltered emotions. So, experimenting with installation has expanded my freedom, offering more options to touch on, often times the same topic, or a variety of others, to make a concise message from.
What is your creative process like given that your style continues to evolve, and how are you able to develop new concepts to remain relevant?
Many times I have been advised during critic sessions to slow down and not rush things but for me, it comes naturally to do multiple things at the same time. I am able to keep within the framework of people who are observing, following and probably writing about my work. I am also trying to get more political. I have just started experimenting with sculpture, using iron rods and wood paddings. In my process, I usually begin by thinking in terms of space, how the object or the subject in whatever form reacts with this space, and then how the audience will function in it. It is similar to when one is making an architectural design, and has to think about auto metrics and the human form in relation to the space. The second part of my creative process is about sustaining the sculptural forms and placing them in outdoor spaces. I’m trying to see how I can fuse these figures with the sound elements, which people can easily relate with, because sound travels faster and more people get to understand the message. In exploring several forms, I ensure I don’t move away from the subject matter and that everything points to the central form. So whether expressing myself through photography or video, everything should complement what the other medium cannot achieve.
What impact do you think exhibitions like ‘Power Show’ will play in the global perception of art from the continent?
Exhibitions help artists get the public to dialogue with their work. There is no point leaving a work in the studio, viewing a photograph on a computer system or storing it on a hard drive. There are many exhibition histories in accompanying catalogues, from which one can see how the exhibitions were staged. For example, while I was researching for Power Show, it was important to look at work by Nigerian artists who have explored a similar theme. Their exhibitions became my starting point, not even the private conversations I held with some of them. I looked at Uche James-Iroha’s exhibition at Omenka Gallery in 2014 and Ndidi Dike’s State of the Nation at the National Museum, both touched corruption, fuel and oil. I also viewed Victor Ehikamenor’s exhibition Wealth of the Nation at the Jogja Biennial. I built on what these artists have done instead of trying to work in a vacuum or void. Their exhibitions are important to my thinking, as they are like a continuous thread, to which I just input. Thus exhibitions have a powerful force and become historical references to the conversations artists are engaging in. They also live long in our minds as people keep referring to them. When the force from large scale exhibitions is combined with biennials and festivals, it becomes a great thing for art from the continent.
In your work, The Shrine, you employ media such as wood, generator tanks, engine oil, zinc sheets and tyres. What do you hope to achieve with this work?
The title is inspired by Victor Ehikamenor’s description of the generator house as a shrine and a place of worship. For a while now, and as an architect, I have been intrigued the architecture of the generator house. Even when we designed at school, the generator house, as well as the gateman’s were by default considered on the site, plan or layout. The generator house is put behind and the gateman’s house in front. It is very interesting how the generator house has become not only a shrine but also part of our architecture and subconsciousness. The energy that would have been used to demand for better power from the government has been used to create different layers of comfort. For example, the rich may have their generator house embedded in their design and properly built with concrete, while those who can’t afford this may put their generator behind an iron gate or chain it down. There is also the ritualistic part of the generator, one must make sure to have a repairer, service regularly, oil and put fuel in it.
We kind of worship the generator on a daily basis, and this informs the title of the exhibition. In putting together the works, I made use of discarded materials, all of which were sought from the generator repairer’s shop, to create the illusion of the generator house. The shrine itself has no generator in it, but all the elements are there including the keg, engine oil, fuel and the switch for the ‘changeover’. This to draw the audience attention to the illusion of independence and comfort we have created with the generator house. All the materials in the shrine are part of the generator house. They are things we can relate to as they have become part of our culture. I try to put them all together in an architectural format.
You have participated in biennials and festivals within Africa, what can you attribute to the increasing global interest in African art, as well as the rising phenomenon of art fairs all over the world?
First of all, I was recently part of the Lagos Biennial as an artist and curator. I have also visited a couple of biennials including those at Bamako and Dakar. I realise the large scale format makes it easier for the audience to interact with diverse works in the same space. It goes beyond how an artist’s work relates with another he has created but how it relates with what some other artist who is probably going through a different reality has done. Art festivals and biennials for example, in Marrakech, Dakar, Bamako and Lagos, are opening up this dialogue between people living on the continent and those in the diaspora. In addition, art fairs are totally different from biennials as they are not so critical but are very commercial, which is also very important for the growth of art. Fairs draw a different audience of collectors and enthusiasts who want to understand what is going on in the art scene. For example, Art X in Lagos is good for the discourse on a global level.
You have achieved recognition for your work locally and internationally, what will you attribute to your rising success and what advice do you have for emerging artists?
Without being modest, but honest, I am an emerging artist and so think this advice is also for me. From my experience living and working on the continent, most specifically in Lagos, one of the hardest things to do is keep working in a system where the structures are absent. One probably starts from zero and has to build up. I think I’ll advise myself to keep working; it’s easier for people to critique what you have not done right but no one will critique what is in your head. Basically, we are all aware of the problems because we grew with them; there are no platforms, structures, institutions or support from the government with little from the private sector. Though we have the Internet, there are no museums to visit or publications to gain awareness of works presently created. It is now left for me to ensure my motivation doesn’t dry up because it is difficult to keep working when you are not even aware of how to rate your output, as the apparatus for determining your speed or if you are moving in the right direction, is not there. For everyone in my situation and on the continent or wherever, I think the most important thing is to keep working.
October 14, 2019
October 11, 2019