Bob-Nosa Uwagboe Announces Obituary
Ongoing at the Signature Beyond Gallery in Lagos, Obituary by ‘protest’ artist, Bob-Nosa Uwagboe honours the memories of his late parents and others who lost their lives from poor leadership in Africa – in this context Nigeria. The rather provocative title is used to announce a person’s death although for the artist, it is informed by the immediate need to question the dire state of humanity.
Uwagboe explains his subject matter, “My main choice of subject matter are the provocative characters in the Nigerian social sphere, as well as the urban landscape. The figures in my paintings include police officers, government officials, businessmen and criminals, which through their actions produce havoc on the everyday citizen. These figures are formed as a kind of caricature, and come across looking animalistic and barbaric. This is reflective of the inhumanity that their actions embody.”
These amusing characters, usually with the intention to satirise political anomalies and social phenomena have contributed to the artist’s reputation as an activist. His tribute to victims of the Benue killings is a painting titled, The Mourners amongst others address the psycho-social injustices within society.
Uwagboe’s upbringing in the Niger Delta, a region smothered with civil strife, environmental injustice and corrupt oil corporations is perhaps a major influence of his resistance against political hegemony. The socio-political cohesion of Lagos is another contributing factor to his activism as the region, considered the centre of excellence promises an optimism that disappears when a bird’s-eye view is rendered. The stark disparity between the elite and less-privileged presents an interesting dichotomy in the city’s architectural advancement, as high-end environs on the Island are usually serviced by the menial labour of those who commute from the Mainland.
Uwagboe’s objective in his critique on the political ruling class isn’t unintentional but in fact a core part of his artistic journey. “The common man has been forgotten by the government, the elite accumulating wealth while the common man has no food to feed on. It is my goal to use my art as a form of activism and a call to action.”
The artist’s defiance is also informed by Bob-Marley’s counterculture sounds of reggae, as well as the political undertones of Afro-beat by the legendary, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, both immensely popular and influential musical genres in the 70s and 80s – a period that saw the independence of many African states and the emergence of democracy on the continent.
The curatorial message of the exhibition mentions the killings of five Igbo spare-parts traders, a bus driver murdered for failing to tip a police officer 50 Naira, the five innocent young adults who were murdered on the way back from a nightclub and covered up by the police, who by the way are custodians of justice. Vilely-distorted and intense, gloomy imagery alludes to the dark humour at the pillars of authority. Obituary does not intend to only cause an uproar in the art community but also within the society at large. With paintings of; a man in between mattresses, one walking away, and another purging – the artist ties in the narrative of the death of human dignity. He asserts that death is a phenomenon he relies heavily on, as it poignantly sets a precedence of one’s purpose and role on earth.
Taking centre stage as a revolt against the cold and brash nature of humanity, Uwagboe’s exhibition mourns the death of human dignity in Nigeria and Africa – the pivotal message being that as a mandatory process of healing, humanity must lose its essence, and be mourned, first and foremost. The curator, Ekiko Ita Inyang endorses the theme; “We are discussing issues such as irresponsible behaviours, whilst reacting to their socio-economic disposition.”
Protest art is not a peculiar notion in Africa, known for poor human rights records. Consequently, Uwagboe’s voice is most relevant as a disruptive tool to dissect the status quo. He illustrates this with visually compelling scribblings of caricatures, that depict anxiety, grief, human fragility and fear of the unknown. They draw from the loss of both parents and late artist, Ben Osaghae whom he was particularly close to.
From the sudden death of his mother to cancer and the death of his father shortly after, it is clear the artist employs art the way it is intended – as a portrayal of raw emotion. Uwagboe’s leaning towards civil duty has also enabled a critique of the global political structure regarding the captivity of African immigrants and refugees traded in open markets at the Libyan border, as well as of the exhaustive and heart-wrenching journey to curb the Boko Haram insurgency.
The loss of human values is evident of a failed democratic state. Uwagboe’s protest art is not a witch-hunt of politicians or their affiliated structures, rather it is a condemnation of inhumanity and oppression. Through his paintings, he actively seeks to restore the aspirations of the Nigerian people for freedom and justice, peace and progress.
May 27, 2020