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Material witness by Peju Alatise An Art Exhibition Held 23rd March 2012 Lagos, Nigeria Year of publishing 2012 Photography & Design Adeyinka Akingbade Editor Dapo Akintunde Curator Dapo Adeniyi For more information: www.pejualatise.com © copyright 2012, Belongs to Peju Alatise No part of this Publication maybe reproduced without the prior permission of Peju Alatise
Title: …the other half won’t let me Size: 3ft by 9ft Year of production: 2009 Cover page Title: Some have, some have not Size: 4ft by 8ft Year of production: 2010
Material Witness An Art Exhibition by
Held at the Nike Art Gallery Lagos, Nigeria March, 2012
I am an artist: a story teller, painter, sculptor, architect and furnituredesigner- an artist in all. I have practiced professionally in these fields and I have found it difficult to abandon one for the other. Recently (in the past 2 years), I have attempted to intersect all these experiences and knowledge into one, morphing into an art expression that is unique, novel and evolved. Each artpiece I produce tells a story and my paintings become heavily 3-dimensional and sculptures are finished painterly. The execution of each art-piece is a result of experimenting and understanding characteristics of materials with the desire to present them in a contemporary-African aesthetics language. I am Nigerian by birth and I have lived most of my life on the African continent. I am deeply moved by my encounters here and I have recently fallen in love with Yoruba Mythology; but still I feel a strong disconnect with my place of birth. My artworks tell stories of my social, cultural, political and environmental experiences, concerns and disconnect. Everything (all the experiences and stories) comes back to me in my dreams in forms that sometimes haunt me till I recreate them. Recreating them is my way of searching for understanding or resolving some inner conflicts. It is important to me for my works to have an aesthetic appeal and attractiveness to the eye. I balance the aesthetics with the disturbing issues in my subjects.
Title: Purple Period (Lest I forget 1,2,3) Size: 48" by 48" (Per Panel) Year of Production: 2009
The Exhibition Material Witness is one whose testimony is both relevant to the matter at issue and is one also required in order to resolve the matter. In this instance the truth as experienced by the witness may not be the entire truth for it is mostly subjective to the witness, but remains nevertheless a critical contribution to arriving at the bigger truth. Material Witness (pun intended) is the idea that the 'material' is the witness. The idea that an inanimate object can be made to speak in a visual composition of its experiences as though it indeed had life and memory. The expression “if these walls could speak…” come to mind. “If the knife could speak…it would speak about the flesh it has cut.” “If Your dress could speak…It's sleeve will tell the tears it has wiped off your face.” “If a gun could speak….It would call it's victims by name.” At some point anyone would wish to hear the truth from anything other than the human witness. Another idea is the human witness gives testimony using only material (tangible) evidence. This would be an effective method in a situation where speaking is tedious, dangerous, irrelevant, ineffective or impossible. “The evidence will speak for itself!” When applied within the context of an Art Exhibition, Material Witness is a body of Artworks and installation projects with several layers of approach to it, all in search of a certain truth; of which no one layer can remain independent of the others as it gives credence to others. The three main layers are the thematic, materials/medium and the technical execution style. The ideas which inform the theme and instigate my formal concerns are not more important than the mediums and materials used or the composition and overall appearance of the Artworks. Every process is an integral part that leads to the other. Title: Half of the Story Size: 54" by 54" Year of Production: 2009
With the 'MW Pun Intended' ideas, the 'material/medium' is the obvious path to the truth. The choice and approach to materials in this body of works are sometimes purposeful and predetermined; other times it is experimental. It is my intention that the materials and mediums tell a visual story. There are a good variety of materials and mediums used in these projects and each Art piece is a mixed-media assemblage.
The MW is born from an Idealistic yearning for justice and truth where it seems there is neither fear of retribution in issues concerning corruption nor caution in the infringement of human rights. It has been a three-year journey and the first step taken was an exhibition titled 'TESTAMENT' (held in 2010), a PRELUDE to this Exhibition 'Material Witness'.
The materials used include recyclable glass bottles, plastic containers, newspapers, Nigerian-print fabrics, ropes, treads, wires, scrap metal, scrap wood, driftwood, sawdust, an abandoned boat, sand, acrylic paints, resin, plaster-of-Paris, and stretched canvas. Most materials were manipulated, recreated and used to their possible limits. There were times the mediums/materials dictated their specific contextual usage. The acceptance of their properties and limitations redirected the end result of a preconceived idea. The most frequently used medium is the recyclable Nigerian-print fabrics. The contributing reason for this is the Nigerian-English language often substitutes the word fabric with material. In western-Nigeria, the cloth (wrapper) is a powerful symbol for covering all human secrets, mysteries and shame. In pre-colonial era, there was a certain type of clothing for certain ceremonies; certain colors worn on certain days by certain people. The motifs and symbols were drawn and printed on clothing in a language peculiar to the ethnic group. The cutting of the motifs and symbols on the wrappers mostly collected from my mother(which are quite modern prints) are used as collages to recreate a new visual language.
Corruption in the Nigerian public and private sector has contributed to Nigeria's poor image in international circles. A revolution driven by the people seems inevitable as a result of the lethargic attitude and lack of courage displayed by elites reveling in its spoils. The desire for positive change and development strengthens within the masses as corruption eats into the fabric of society. The positive empowerment derivable from this body of work in 'Material Witness' will provide energizing ammunition to the people to persevere and make a difference especially in a world where art has been relegated to mere luxury pieces reserved for the privileged few. 'Material Witness' is not an attack against the wealthy and corrupt; on the contrary it attempts to provoke thought against imperialistic ideology, apathetic attitudes and a general lack of consideration for the next person, borne out of an ignorance of why to be considerate, which promote materialistic and selfish behavior in society. The situation of my home country has been the inspiration for the themes and the stirring of formal concerns. My role as an artist becomes the problem seeker and not the problem solver. I, like every other Nigerian seem know what the Nigerian-problem is, but I am not sure we really understand the Nigerian-problem. It would be presumptuous and even incorrect for me to assume I have a solution, or that I am qualified to diagnose the Nigerian-problem. I want my audience to experience my own Nigerian-problem through my work, maybe to provide a common ground to better understanding of it. MW has three defined formal concerns that both motivate my subject matter and influence the materials with which the artworks are created: They are social/political/religious commentary, the idealistic versus the realistic, and Elements of Material Nature.
Every piece of material used gives a symbolic relevance to the overall composition.
The composition and overall appearance: This part of my creative process is the most difficult for me to articulate. Most of my Artworks I 'see' in dreams, and I know what they should look like before I am started. Yes some works change course due to contributing influences of material mediums or lack thereof; but still, I make reference to that part of my unconscious. If I am conflicted on how to proceed with a particular piece it would be because 'I have not seen it yet'. With that said, there are obvious artistic techniques used like the mixed media collage, fabric freezing, pointillism (painting technique), drip painting, molding and sculpting. As mentioned earlier, the Fabric collage is the most recurring. I was first inspired by the patch work designs by the renowned Nigerian fashion designer 'Ituen BasI'. I was interested in the way she designed her clothing after reading an article about her. There had been a ban on the importation of fabrics into Nigeria, and She has reinvented the use of Nigerian print fabrics successfully. There was a burst of mismatched colors and prints, sewn together in a way no other designer had ever done, and it became the new identity for contemporary Nigerian fashion. This I definitely borrowed from Ituen, but also taking it to another direction; the painter's direction and my fabric collage was born. Due to my background in architecture, my rendering style of pointillism in painting takes cue from the rapidography in technical drawing. Applying this to the fabric collage has become a the new visual language I mentioned earlier. Fiber glass is the new stone marble for me! Its possibilities are extensive. The technique of freezing fabric or giving fabric memory is made possible with the use of resins.
Commentaries Traditional Political Social Religious
These techniques are the uniting constituents in all the artworks as I am exploring a wide variety of materials and subjects. The overall look of an artwork is what makes the work approachable to my audience. It pulls the theme and mediums together to tell a story or reveals a situation that the audience should respond to. It is the composition and overall look that identifies me as the artist.
Nine Year Old Bride
During an interview, a curator asked me if I was feminist. My response to her was, â€œI live in a 'third-world-country' every woman here would be feminist to survive. Asking to be treated with respect here is feminist. Demanding consideration is being feminist. Of course I'm feminist!â€? But what 'ism' movement is there to fight the atrocities committed against the girl child? Her abusers and oppressors are everyone else! From the disappointing moment that she is born to whatever age she thinks she has become a woman. I have witnessed a ceremonious wedding of a twelve year-old girl marrying a forty-something yearold man. I was told the girl's family was poor and the groom would be more a caretaker than a husband. I was conflicted with this explanation because it was a lavish wedding and the girl's family was paying. Yes the husband would be a caretaker to her but he would also have sex with her that night to be sure his bride is untouched. I met a girl who had married four husbands before she turned twenty. I have also met a 'promiscuous-five-year-old girl'. She knew what to do to a penis. I have spoken to men who brag about their sexual conquest with younger teenagers. Some of them are the elitists of my country. There is also the poor slave girl molested by the woman who employs her to care for the children she is barely older than. There is nobody fighting for this type of child not even her mother. After all, she too was a child bride. There are surveys conducted by United Nations Populations Fund on child marriages in Nigeria and the statistics are shocking! The government seems to be utterly oblivious to the consequences of this. Everybody pretends they have nothing to do with this. 'Nine year-old bride' is made with forty-two yards of fabric. The creases and drapes retaining the female forms are frozen with resin. It is finished in fabric collage and pointillist painting. Title: Nine Year-Old Bride Size: (irregularly shaped) 13ft by 6ft, depth: 2ft Year of production: 2010
Where Is Her Mother?
An elected Senator (name withheld for obvious reasons)representing Zamfara West constituency for the All Nigeria People's Party (ANPP) in April 2007 was appointed to committees on Selection, Federal Character & Inter-Government Affairs, Drugs Narcotics Anti-Corruption and Agriculture; and was under investigation for an accusation of marrying a 13 year old child bride from Egypt. This comes after an accusation in 2006 that he married a 15 year old child bride. He is being investigated for having violated Nigeria's Child Rights Act of 2003. He has maintained that he has not violated sharia laws. According to Al Jazeera, he paid $ 100,000 as dowry for the 13-yearold Egyptian. This man ran again in the 2011 elections for Senator for Zamfara West on the ANPP platform. He was reelected with 154,359 votes. When a group of human-rights activist demonstrated against this deplorable act, a group of women took to the streets too. They surprisingly were not for or against the senator, they were demonstrating against the other demonstrators. Their placards read â€œWE TOO WERE CHILD BRIDES!â€? What they further explained was that it is their culture and they survived it, thus the new brides must survive it too. So where is the mother of the child bride? Is she the one who dresses the child in wedding clothes and presents her to the groom?
Title: 9yr old bride, where is her mother? Size: 10ft by 4ft Year of production: 2011
Inside They Are Broken It could not be trusted with him, They gave it to her. Deep in the pit of her gut, they buried it. It would be safer there, Heaven knows who is righteous, Orun mo eni to mala. In Heaven's garden, she chooses her vessel, the earthen ware one. She walked on the white beach sands and played with the yellow plastic soil by the river-bed. She was fascinated with red iron-rich soil but she chose the black one; full of compost and black mineral, a hand full of it. She took the sounds from the seashells, berries and melons from the bushes. An elephant's tail, buffalo's sinew, eagle's eye, silk's softness and sugarcane's sweetness. Mustard seeds, cotton seeds and olive pips. Flowers from bougainvillea and milk from coconuts. Music from eyeibaka and dance from igala. Nine drops of rain, nine rays of sun and more. Of all she was allowed to choose, she loved her vessel best. Orunmila fashions her cloak and teaches her to wear her. Earth was an unusual market place. Orun mo eni to mala and she prospered. Her pride grew with her confidence. But the day of the wolf came. “Look at the crystal vessel, transparent to visible light but sparkles. Surely this one is most valuable! Give me yours and I will give you mine.” May be it was greed, may be lust, maybe pride, may be naïve, may be foolishness, may be it was she lacked something, may be all, but she traded her earthen vessel for a glass bottle. The bottle broke. Heaven wept and she lost her eye. She has become blind. Blind to her seeds and sons. Blind to injustice. That day came also, she bore her child. The one with the wrong genitalia, no extensions but plenty disappointment. Disappointed to see her reflection. She called her daughter. Daughter inherited the glass bottle. Daughter took her broken self to be repaired by the preacher man and he said, “Be strong, be hard-working, be resilient, be endearing, be enduring, be long suffering, be duty-bound, be quiet, be patient, be responsible, be acceptable, be downtrodden, be giving, be sober, be humble, be prayerful, be tolerant, be still!' With a yellow tape of modern words they attempted to mend her brokenness. Today daughter walks about, bag in hand and heel to shoe, head high and higher with her hair-do/headgear; bound together in colorful stripes of other people's clothing, hair and names.
Title: Inside they are broken Size: 10ft by 4ft
But inside she is broken.
Year of production: 2012
The captain of red tape bureaucracy. This is the invisible man that speaks, hypnotizing in the ear of all duty bound officials. His favorite words are 'No', 'Not now', 'Not yet', 'Later', 'Late' and 'Never'. The Artwork is made of canvas stripes painted red, frozen in resin and strapped crisscrossly trap anyone, even the captain himself from passing-through.
Widely read Nigerian newspaper headlines (one week subscription), were cut without percipience to meanings but only concerned with text size, and pasted on every red tape. It is amazing what the Nigerian news is about. The relevance of this is to show what our journalists and newspapers editors deem newsworthy information for the entire nation to know. Hardly was there any headline saying there was an improvement in any sector of the country. No news of development. But there were complaints of bad roads, lack of electrical power supply and speculations of money stolen by corrupt officials. There was news on the upcoming elections and university lectures' strike. The headlines reveal a potent presence of red tape bureaucracy in our country.
Title: Captain Red Tape Size: 7ft by 4ft Year of production: 2011
JUDGMENT DAY, the line up
You will know they are Nigerian not because of their appearance but because of their black oil anointing. This is where I the artist play the role of God and I decide who goes to hell or heaven. Nigeria is one of the most religious countries on the continent with two major religious beliefs, Christianity and Islam. One thing both religions have in common is 'Judgment Day'. There are tenets that must be observed in these religions which lead to a path of righteousness. To ensure the adherence to these tenets is the most potent of all messages and that is the 'Day of Reckoning'. Yet, the 'one of the most religious' is also the 'one of the most corrupt'. This is a country where there are far more religious buildings than there are schools and hospitals. When I ask the question â€œwhat is the cause of this problem of corruption?â€?, an answer can be traced back to the word 'Oil'. There are 58 poles representing 58 souls displaying their merits and their demerits. They are 58 because judging or criticizing more than a hundred would be most exhausting, Less than fifty would leave me prone to the pointing of fingers. But when choosing the precise number with symbolic significance, I came across the Pythagoreans. The Pythagoreans were a group of mathematicians who believed Numbers ruled the universe. The Pythagoreans thought of number five as " hieros gamos", the marriage between heaven and earth. The Pythagoreans called the number eight "Ogdoad" and considered it the "little holy number". It would be 58 or 85, I chose 58. Sawdust from my carpenter friend's workshop and torn pieces of fabric dipped in gel-coat are used to create this artwork.
Title: Judgment Day Size: 6ft (length of each piece), 28ft (when spaced out 3inches apart) Year of production: 2011
Title: All Coming Together Size: 10" by 10" (Per Panel) Year of Production: 2011-2012
The Material Elements of Nature Water Wind Earth Fire
Water Element (Excerpts from Gangan Prophesies)
Title: Water Element Size: 54 inches by 108inches Year of Production: 2011
Omode meta nsere, Three children playing, three girls. They played a game called 'what will you be when you grow up?'. They played while their mothers busied themselves talking about everything and nothing, sitting a in a distance close enough to watch their girls. The first girl said she wanted to be a dancer. “Dancer?”, her mother was perplexed, “I will not have a wayward child, what has become of Fela's dancers? You will be a doctor! You hear me? Doctor.” The second girl said she wanted to be a singer. All the mothers laughed. “My dear, sweet child”, her mother said, “be realistic, you sound awful when you sing. You will be a lawyer with that voice of yours”. “What about you?”, the third mother asked her daughter. “I want to be just like you.” She said hesitating, hoping it was the right answer. “Is she mocking us?” “Do you think you can do better than us?” “Do you think it is an easy job taking care of you and the rest of the family, cleaning the house and cooking every day?” Omode meta nsere, it was the next day and their mothers were absent. The third girl said, “I'll tell you a secret you must not tell.” They agreed. “I want to fly when I grow up.” “No, not a pilot. I will grow wings and fly. I dream it every day.” The three little girls liked this ambition best. “But we need to practice somehow. They don't teach it in schools.” Every time the little girls played together, they made their wings from little pieces of colorful fabrics and paperbags, like the labalaba. “When the wind blows we will ride on it.” But their mothers never let them test their wings. “Some day when we grow up, we will find wind and we will be free to fly.” And they kept their wings.
Title: Wind Element Size: 54 inches by 108inches Year of Production: 2011
Title: Earth Element
Title: Fire Element
Size: 54“ by 108"
Size: 54“ by 108"
Year of Production: 2012
Year of Production: Unfinished at the time of Catalogue print
Idealistic VS Realistic
Idealistic VS Realistic
This is an art installation exploring the paradoxes of variations in a possible worst case scenario. It is also a commentary of circumstances/situations. The installations portrays what the collective strength of various groups in a society can attain and gives an appraisal of the human spirit that is able to overcome insurmountable obstacles. The art piece looks at this view point in the weight of effort and hope of the energy exerted by the masses and their eventual progress or destruction. But it begins/ends (depending on the observer's physical approach to the installation) in a nightmarish chaos. In this installation there are three obvious situations. They are titled 'Freedom is like a sailboatâ€Ś', 'That thing within' and 'Compatriots'.
Freedom is like a sail boatâ€Śso is slavery
The boat is the symbol of the paradox that is the apparent freedom of those Africans in the diaspora, in contrast to the modern day Africans and their forebears. Modern Africans are free men that never experienced slavery but had among their number people that sold their neighbors as slaves. The free African stood on the shore lines and watched the merchant ship sail away beyond oceans with his kinsmen; he thought to himself, â€œI am free indeed.â€? This freeman is the African that I portray in this artwork. The man that stayed the son of the soil and struggles in this same soil. The hand blames the eyes for the item it stole, "if the eyes did not look so lustfully at It...!" The eyes blame the brain, "If the brain did not think It...!" The brain blames the mouth, "If the mouth did not have an insatiable appetite for It...!" The mouth blames the legs, "If the legs never took us all to It...!" The legs blame the hand, "If the hand did not itch so much for It...!" And so it goes on...every Nigerian has a reason why someone else screwed up the country. The young blame the old. The old blame the leaders. The leaders blame the military. The military blame the civilians. Then some blame the white colonial masters, who blame the so-called-kings for selling their children for a piece of glass and a shot of booze. But the kings are dead! Can you awaken them?
Now is the time to fight to change it all but my people sell their birth right for instant gratification. The young have no one to look up to. My hope is something awakens within them to make better choices. But hopes are like wishes, and wishes are not horses. Please do not say pray!!! For there is a time for all things. The prayers have been said already. Now is the time to DO!! Do what? WAKE UP!
That thing within
The unseen travails and weights in the belly and head of man are depicted as an encumbering mass in the core of his being.
The making of a flag. Size: 77â€œ,72",68",65" Year of Production: 2011
Year of Production: 2012
Title: Ascension Size: 48" by 72" Year of Production: 2011
Title: Beautiful Mind Size: 54" by 132" Year of Production: 2011
To my family, they tell me the truth! Any time. All the time. Dearest Daddy, this is for you. My mother and friend, you are special to me. Biodun, the first artist I ever met. Yinka, I wish you the best. Bolanle, thank you for your encouragement. BisoBiso, always giving me more than you have, you are too kind. DUPE!!!! Remember all you did? For me? I never forget, I wish you were in Nigeria more often, I miss you much. Tunde, Ultimate fan, looking out for me. Layiwola, the Brain, kindest Heart.
Fidelis Odogwu Olawunmi Banjo David Adeogun Kayode Bakare God's Power Okoro Richardson Obviebo Dada Oluwaseun Adebayo Okiemute Ejoh
My people are the kindest people and I love them with my heart, soul and being.
Acknowledgments Fidelis odogwu, It's been 8 years we have worked together and it only gets better. I appreciate your work; our friendship and your dedication to all the projects we have worked on so far. You have always believed in me and supported every mission I have embarked on. Thank you. Tobi Rickett, forgive me, you know I love you irrespective of what hairstyle you've got on. Thank you for your service and hard work (even under extreme situations), I know you give it your best. Olawunmi Banjo, David Adeogun, Kayode Bakare and God's Power Okoro (in no order of preference), I could never have achieved as much as I have without your assistance. All our late nights, early mornings and our 16hoursstraight-everyday for the love of what we do. Thank you for believing in my visions. I Have enjoyed every minute that we have worked together. Thank you for your dedication. I love and appreciate you all. Mrs. Anne Duke Asuquo, Mrs. Sandra Obiago, Omoba Yemisi Shyllon, Mr. Folusho Phillips, Mr. V. G. Osibodu, Thank you for your support over the years. You have encouraged me every step of the way. You have given fuel to my resilience. The truth is every artist wants to be understood and appreciate. It is food for me to see you enjoy what I do. Anne, You are my big sister and a dear friend to me. You pointed me in the right direction at the earliest stage of my career. F.O.P., I remember the first day you walked into my make-shift studio and you bought every painting there. You marveled at every dot of my pointillist paintings, your face lit up; and I was sure I was right to give up my job as an architect to paint. Mr. Osibodu, In 2006, you did not let any other person collect my work that year. You filled your office with my paintings. You always believed in my work, from the first day you visited my show at Goethe Institute. Mrs. Sandra Obiago, You performed some magic and my world is more beautiful because you believe in me. You 56
do this for many artist; but for me you do so much more. Omoba Shyllon, There was the day you announced to everyone that, â€œPeju Alatise is my artist of the year!â€?. Thank you for your most generous gift to me and for all the advice you have given me. Mr. Rohan Walker of Hercules offshore, thank you for sponsoring the production of the catalogue and for your continued patronage. Nike art gallery; Mr. Reuben Okundaye Thank you for your support. Caroline, Aina and the entire staff of the Nike gallery, thank you for hosting me. Mama Nike, you are the greatest! Dapo Akintunde, I have learned so much from you. You challenge me to be the best I can be in my career as an artist. I value our friendship. Mr. Dapo Adeniyi, I appreciate your assistance and support. Thank you for your benevolence. My gratitude to all staff members of Position Magazine. Adeyinka Akingbade, you surprise me. Thank you for the great job you did on this catalogue. Marcia Wok Kure Okeke, Yetunde Owoseje, Natalie Dickson, Your friendship is dear to me. Ernest Chukura and the staff of African Foundation for the Arts I appreciate your services. Thank you for helping me keep to time, every time. To the four most significant encounters in my career as an artist: David Dale; as a teenager, he gave me the courage to choose art as a profession. Nike Davies Okundaye; my first encounter with her made me understand the power of the Arts and my role as a woman in the Arts. Bruce Onobrakpeya; he exposed me to the significance of working with other artists. Susan Wenger (Late); I learned humility.