Dennis Osadebe: Reinforcing the Idea of the Urban Living hybrid
Nigerian mixed-media artist Dennis Osadebe is best known for his vibrant post-pop style – a unique blend of digital processes, which he uses to create canvases that are subsequently layered with acrylic paint. With his characteristic use of flattened planes and bold colours, the artist creates what he refers to as a “Neo” visual style, one that is “modern, bright, expressive and provocative”. In this interview with Omenka, he talks about Neo-African art, his working methods and techniques, as well as his recent exhibition A Stranger in My Home at The Other Art Fair in New York
You recently staged a solo show titled A Stranger in My Home at The Other Art Fair in New York. Tell us more about the exhibition.
The exhibition was a progression from my past series. In this show, I wanted to juxtapose Nigeria’s rich art history with classical models that have shaped the idea of what art is today. These models, art periods and themes from different times, range from the Renaissance era to Romanticism to modern art, which has become the foundation of art history, as we know it.
By making culturally rich Black figures the centre of the narrative in these classical picture frames/structures, I am redefining, in my own terms, what our expectations of art can and should be. By doing this, I am also highlighting our world today and reinforcing the idea of the urban living hybrid.
What is the significance of the helmet in your work?
The symbol of the helmet differs from protection to technology and spirituality. It binds the diverse characters of the works together. In one sense, the helmet is a form of protective gear, shielding from the harmful effects of the outside environment. The helmet also creates a sense of anonymity, disguising the identity of its user.
There is also an inherent sense of isolation associated with the helmet, which parallels the isolation created by the technologies that we consume. As the technologies of our world advance and offer a new level of global connectivity, they also transform our experience and the way we interact with others and access information.
Your works from the exhibition, A Stranger in My Home featured identical masks inscribed with traditional symbols for faces in contrast to the helmets employed in your previous series. Is there a reason for this change in direction?
The mask plays the same role as the helmet. Additionally, masks and facial concealment have long been used by Nigerian artists to define relationships between individuals, communities, the environment or the cosmos and, sometimes to challenge the status quo.
“Osadebe’s bright, expressive and distinctly pop-art style challenges the traditional notions of contemporary African art and poses an interesting question: What does ‘African art’ even mean?” Kindly expatiate on this statement and your interpretation of ‘Neo-African’ art.
Neo-Africa seeks to reflect the radical diversity of art emanating from the African continent. It questions why these diverse works are all tied together under the label ‘African art’ and suggests its limitations. I believe that we can create art in the continent with the right labels such as Afro-futurism, hyperrealism, post-pop art and all of these labels that fit into the bracket of contemporary art.
Like many artists well known in Lagos today, you are entirely self-taught. What challenges have you overcome in achieving recognition, and has the absence of formal training actually been an advantage, and in what way?
It has been an interesting journey because the majority of my experience has been edged towards curiosity. There are always challenges in a system where there is no proper structure, which is the case with the art industry in Nigeria. However, I wouldn’t say that being self-taught has given me an edge but made me realise that passion more than anything will take you to the next level.
Full article published in Omenka Magazine Volume III Issue I.
November 16, 2018
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