BY TAJUDEEN SOWOLE
LEMI GHARIOKWU is presently busy showcasing his new work titled Afro Beat Goes On round Africa and other domains of the black race. Outside this, he recently unveiled another work pop art at the just concluded exhibition held at Artistic Licence art gallery, Victoria Island, Lagos.
Mounted at a position overlooking the entrance of the gallery was Redemption, a piece about the obnoxious Trans Atlantic slave trade. Interestingly, Ghariokwu tells his story of redemption using the ironic result of the trade by placing a slave against that of the United States President, Barack Obama, at the opposite ends of a slave ship.
Redemption is perhaps one of the common expressions for most artists, irrespective of genres. And so, one may ask: is the Black race really there? Ghariokwu, who is known for his consistent Afro-centric ideology states that “for those of us who hold strongly to the struggle of emancipation of the race, redemption is here – we are there.” But there is the other side of the people who “still believe that redemption is a mirage; to such people, we are not there yet.”
AND to get out of this mental slavery, his new work emphasises celebration of the people’ heroes. In addition to the Obama image, pop art on late legends, Fela Anikulapo Kuti and Michael Jackson stress that argument. Electrified depictions of a concert lighted-image of Jackson in Electric-I and a brownish-toned image of Fela, smoking with the title Ah-Free-Can are his thoughts on the subject. Electrifying, he declares, “is the most appropriate to describe Jackson’s stage image.” Ghariokwu has an adapted literary explanation for the Fela image as: Ah is a common exclamation; Free, unchaining from mental slavery; Can, ability to attain redemption. These, he says, add up to represent “African.”
Proclaiming this Africaness rests hugely on how heroes are presented for posterity. He cautions that exposing the psyche of children, for example, to characters such as Superman, Batman and other Western heroes without African alternatives is wrong. He asks: “What is wrong in promoting Sango as a comic hero?” Superman, he notes does all sorts of spectacles that we admire, “but when a-Sango character spits fire, some people would say, ‘it’s fetish’ or juju. But the truth is that it’s similar to the heroic act we see of Western heroes being promoted through the mass media.”
From the boring security routines at entry points of countries in Europe and America re-enacted on canvas in Biometrics, to the global economic crisis in Meltdown, the artist smells some hypocrisy of the West.
Beyond racial divides and class, come in Square Circles, a reclining figure that engages in the natural aging process and Life is a Weaver, a woven piece of craft, which takes you through shades and colours of life.
In August through September, he had a similar show titled, Afro Pop Art: Politics, Life and Lyrics, at Arc Gallery, Tottenham, United Kingdom.