Omenka Gallery is proud to present ‘Beast of No Nation’, a virtual solo exhibition of recent paintings by fast-rising contemporary artist, Ikechukwu Ezeigwe. The show borrows its title from Fela Kuti’s 1986 song, but unlike the Afrobeat maestro, Ezeigwe takes us on an excursion through global history. With a nod to ancient Greek mythology and an interrogation of colonialism, he singles out the most infamous of rulers. Nigerian politicians and businessmen also fail to escape Ezeigwe’s scrutiny; in his world, they assume animal forms to emphasize their negative traits of greed, corruption and an unabated thirst for power. This powerful use of satire serves to bring the exhibition’s offering –15 paintings all strongly individual, together.
The concept of bodies that combine human and non-human elements is not new. The history of art and literature is replete with images of mutated, transformed and in this case, hybridized bodies. Some of the many instances are mermaids, chimeras, griffins, werewolves and centaurs—the actors in Ezeigwe’s oil on canvas Struggle against Corruption (2019). However, the roles these hybrid characters play, differ with each artist. Here, Ezeigwe’s unique message is not lost. With technical virtuosity, he seduces the viewer while at the same time, warns of a repulsive existence with permanent negative social behaviours and structures, if left to thrive.
The paintings appear sketchy and often unfinished at first glance, the artist’s excitement with broad, sweeping gestural lines clearly evident. Paint also adds a sense of urgency to the ensuing drama. Hurriedly blocked in, it serves mainly to describe physical presence and psychological character, sacrificing finished form and detail for breadth of execution and increased emotion. Significantly, this immediacy documents the artist’s search for truth, highlighting in quick commentary, pertinent issues in the society while calling succinctly for participation and inclusion of Nigerians, Africans and indeed Black people all over the world in achieving communal development and progress.
In heightening the unfolding spectacle, Ikechukwu Ezeigwe incorporates other formal properties to not only challenge the status quo but also define our roles in negotiating our collective path. Perhaps the most notable are costume and the bold use of language to suggest meanings that go beyond what is depicted on his 2-dimensional canvases. Ezeigwe’s approach is multi-functional; significantly, his socio-political commentary is deployed as signs, metaphors to construct associations or relationships of meaning, narratives, titles or captions. The words “Berlin Conference 1884” captioning the painting of an ape’s triumphant moment, provide further context in recounting the events that led to sharing of the African continent’s vast mineral resources amongst powerful colonialists. Likewise, “Animalism: Vote for me I Go Build Road” and “Meet your Next President: Vote Blindly” warn against choosing a leader carelessly in the next gubernatorial elections in Nigeria, which will prove inimical to the progress in curbing corruption already recorded by the present Buhari-led administration.
Overall, Ikechukwu Ezeigwe succeeds with this exhibition, his accomplishment hinged largely in his imposition of a moral conscience for the society, at once, reminding us of what it is to be human.