BY TAJUDEEN SOWOLE
You sure will be fascinated by the technique and style of rendition of a piece of work of members of this group of artists, but don’t ask, if the araism is a style, movement, club or association?
From five ‘disciples’, which made the group’s debut exhibition in 2006, the number of artists working in Araism has increased to 14, including the proponent, Mufu Onifade.
At their last outing titled Araism Movement 5 held at Mydrim Gallery, Ikoyi, Lagos; Oludotun Popoola, Esther Emmanuel, Abiola Mautin Akande, George Egunjobi, Jonathan Ikpoza, Stephen Oni, Abolore Awojobi, Adeleye Taiwo, Jimoh Babatunde, Kesa Babatunde and Bolarinwa Olowolabayaki had their works on display.
Onifade, who also exhibited at that outing recalls, how he “invented” Araism between 1989 and 1996 because he did not want to be counted among Art graduates that “fizzle out” of the mainstream practice soon after school. And what he describes as “constant experimentation” finally led him to Araism.
For an art that derives its name from an ambiguous Yoruba word ara (which could mean wonder, thunder, body, relation), the culture and ideology of the people appear strongly in the concept. Basically, Araism is a painstaking application of repetitive design over an entire surface of the canvas.
Onifade’s Sango’s Harem, acrylic on canvas, for example, revisits, Sango, the Yoruba god of thunder and lightning; capturing the tragic physical demise of the deity.
Matted against oceanic colour are Sango’s three favourite wives: Oba, Oya and Osun. For those, who still hold on to traditional beliefs, these characters are regarded as deities of rivers, and benevolent goddesses in Yoruba land
Popoola’s Ajo Laye (The Return) dwells on the Yoruba philosophy that the world is like a market square; a temporary abode. “The true home abounds in the realm beyond,” the artist retorts.
In Oluwambe’s Bogiri ‘O Lanu (Cracks to Harbour) -- the crack in a wall is a refuge for the lizard-- is also linked to the Yoruba thought that disunity starts with badly managed misunderstanding, no matter how small.
In a group show such as this, it appears that Araism is less appreciated compared to when it is seen among other works of diverse styles, techniques or forms. This is noticed every time the work of an Araism acolyte is featured among other works.
However, Araism, Onifade argues, could also add aesthetic values in the art of other cultures. A member, Jonathan Ikpota, who is a non-Yoruba, for example, Onifade notes, “is using it to promote his Edo-Delta culture.”
Despite the increasing number of members, Onifade stresses that Araism did not borrow from similar movements such as Onaism or Ulism in Nigeria as “I was not aware of any Nigerianism” apart from those already known in history art.
Without his disciples, Onifade has taken the concept beyond the shores of the country as one of the exhibiting artists in shows such as Dance of the Mask, U.K., 2004, and Art Expo Las Vegas, U.S., 2008. One of his earlier experiences abroad was a group show of 16 artists selected from seven countries -- Ghana, UK, USA, Trinidad, Cuba, Brazil and Nigeria --that took part in an exhibition titled 16 Pieces to commemorate Black History Month in London.