Six leading and emerging artists with strong roots in Germany and Nigeria presented to the public ‘Wandelust,’ an exhibition of 40 paintings, drawings, photographs, and mixed media works, in Lagos on Monday (10 July).
Chidi Kwubiri, Junkman of Africa, Emeka Udemba, Numero Unoma, Yetunde Ayeni-Babaeko, and Jimmy Nwanne showcased works exploring the ‘why’ behind cross cultural, cross border, mental and physical journeying.
‘Wanderlust’ is a German word that describes a desire to travel and explore.
“The world’s growing burden of cross border migration makes daily global news headlines,” says Sandra Mbanefo-Obiago, the exhibition’s curator and Artistic Director of SMO Contemporary Art.
“Whether one considers the refugee crisis in Europe, the issue of displaced people across Africa, or the influx of vacation seekers during the peak summer travel months, migration affects us all.”
Award-winning artist Kwubiri’s three-meter wide painting, ‘Transitions,’ in which a human form sits cross-legged with arms outstretched, touches on the very essence of Wanderlust, highlighting the need to “open up” emotionally, spiritually, and physically when embarking on life journeys.
Kwubiri describes the exhibition, which will run until mid-September 2017, as a homecoming that would enable him contribute to the Nigerian arts scene.
“I see art as a stage where people have to communicate, I don’t do works that kind of pushes somebody back, I try to use my work to draw somebody closer, even when I’m talking about difficult and unpleasant topics.”
Better known for her fashion photography, Ayeni-Babaeko presents multi-layered photographs which reflect nuanced historical African migration narratives while pushing the boundary of stylized studio images.
Writer-Photographer Unoma’s witty pop-art paintings and poetry touch on the irony of travel, teasing out deep-seated cultural sensibilities from differing African and European viewpoints.
“The Wanderlust exhibition should give us some insight into the minds of the artists. It’s quite an eclectic circle of artists with experience from both sides,” she says.
Known for his installation and performance art, Udemba presents stark portraits of society’s marginalized wanderers reflecting the emotional and physical “up-rootedness” of (imi)migrants and (emi)grants.
He describes Wanderlust as an exploration of aspirations of people among the periphery of mainstream society.
“You can stay in one spot but you are out spiritually. with your smartphone, you can be in America. if you dream, you can travel,” Udemba adds.
Junkman of Africa, who is known for sculptural installations of recycled objects, presents a new body of fragile paper works, expressing the “transitional realities” of wanders through human and animal forms migrating through abstract colour landscapes.
“Some of you might be looking out for my junk installations in this exhibition, these are reflexes,” says Junkman of Africa.
“I have come to that point where an idea can come out more in colours or on stage or in lyrics, so I leave you to the works that are coming out here.”
For Nwanne, his portraits of men and women haunted by memories of fading histories are a reaction to European socio-political realities.
He says his tolerance-themed works aim to knock down walls between people of different communities.
“Wanderlust is about movement, anything that will make a person not be able to move to another part of the world or anywhere else discourages interaction,” Nwanne says.
“Through interaction we learn more about people, eliminate fear, and it makes the world better. Trump was talking about building walls between him and Mexico, but the message should be to knock down walls so people can learn more about each other.
“I’m a Nigerian, I live in Germany and sometimes you have to explain certain things about where you come from because people have a negative perception about you, or they know little and want to ask you so they can get first-hand information. So it’s all about being able to express yourself and when you connect with people, that’s when those things happen.”
Oliver Enwonwu, the President of the Society of Nigerian Artists, says Wanderlust stimulates cross-fertilization of ideas cantered on issues of identity, migration, and belonging between African artists who define their practices on the continent and those in the diaspora.
“All the works presented here, are a testament to each artists’ quest in exploring new visual vocabularies and the development of new techniques.”
Mbanefo-Obiago says it is important that art helps question, reinforce or realign core values which shape individual and community evolving histories.
“I trust the WANDERLUST exhibition will bring us to a deeper understanding of the emotional and physical effects of migration and hopefully increase our empathy for the world’s displaced people,“ she adds.