Monday, 31 October 2011

Tour Nigeria… A project of unity

By Omiko Awa

WITH the zeal to quench his curiosity and have a first hand knowledge of the people in the northern part of the country, their culture and geography, Moses Oghagbon, a Yaba College of Technology, Yaba, Fine Art graduate, armed with his camera sets out to explore the nooks and crannies of the region. The Lagos-based artist and photographer whose works has featured in several shows such as Lilies in the Swarm, Hidden Talent and over 25 others, says, “the idea to tour the country was a personal thing. It is a passion I developed while a student and fond of drawing the northern landscapes. So, while I was posted to Kebbi State for the national youth service, I decided to carry it out, fulfill the dream. It’s a personal thing and the project is ongoing.”
  How was it like combining adventure with national service? The Edo State-native artist adds, “ it was fun. During my service year, I always move from one local council to another to take photographs, draw and mingle with other Corpers at weekends and through this means, I was able to comb as many community as possible made friends and satisfy my thirst.”
  After the compulsory one year service, while other southerners who served in the north were hurrying back to their various states of origin to reunite with family members and tribesmen, Oghagbon stayed behind for six years, visiting places, taking photographs, following festivals such as Arugungun and knowing more about the people. Were there no challenges?
   He says, “I toured the northern zone of the country for six years, to see the northerners in their natural homes, understand how they live and know my country better. Though it has been fun doing all that, I ran into some brick walls that bother on some people not being interested in me taking the photographs of their environment or chasing me out of a place in discourteous manner, without allowing me to explain myself. Regardless of these, some communities gave me a warm welcome. So, it was, indeed, a mixed bag.”
  “However, I could remember while in Kebbi State, I think the state capital, I entered a place to see some old people, but ran into a small boy, who, perhaps, had not seen a man with camera before; he ran into the house and called his mother. The mother came out, saw me and cried out in alarm. Behold, I need not to be told of the next move, for I had to run for dear life. The other was a soldier preventing me from taking pictures at the Arugungun fishing festival. Besides, it was demanding and I had to live on the proceeds from the sales of my works, which in most cases were sold at a give away price, to get money to move ahead.” he recalls.
   Better informed about the country, last week, Oghagbon held a paintings and photography show that ran from September 17 to 23 at Nike Art Gallery, Lekki, Lagos. Titled Scape from Nigeria, the event, which could be viewed online at showcased paintings and pictures of different events across the country, especially those from the north.
    Speaking on the show, he says, “Scape from Nigeria was my first solo show in the country and I am grateful for the success. I was able to use my different works on oil on canvass, mixed media, watercolour, charcoal and others to tell the story of my tour project, enlighten the people about the culture and distinct landscapes of our fellow brothers in the north, tell the story of unity and call for supports for the second phase of the tour. I really need the encouragement of government, corporate organisations and well to do individuals in this regards; I mean sponsors for the project. Though there are promises, one can’t count on them until they are materialised 
   Comparing his experience with the previous shows featured, Oghagbon informs, “previous collaborations with other artists have been successful too, they broadened my ideas and exposed me to so many people within and outside the art. The experiences garnered from them contributed to the success of my show. Though this is the maiden edition, the subsequent ones would surely be better,” he assures.
   With the austere economy and high prize tags on art works, can artists really make out a living in the profession and pursue other goals like yours? The artist says, “it depends on the artist, because doing business is part of the training we got while in school. Presently, I’m putting the knowledge I have acquired from school to test; with this, I make different works for different groups — the elite, the rich and even the ordinary man in the street.”
   With the success of the show, the artist would take a long rest before embarking on the second phase of his project, visiting the states he had earlier on missed out.
  “As the show has ended I would take some break, no photography, no painting, to rest and plan for the second phase of the Tour Nigeria Project, which will start from next year. I was unable to visit Maiduguri in Borno State because of the distance, but during the second phase I will surely do that. In fact, the state was the only place I did not visit in the north. This time around, I am joining it with other states in the south.”
   But do Nigerians appreciate art collections to make you take all the pains to explore the nation? Oghagbon, notes, I hope there could be a kind of orientation for people to know that there is a difference between a trained artist and those that learnt the trade in a street corner. Those trained under structured school system are informed and know the different genres of art; they are different from the guys that go to weddings and social gatherings to take photos. As you can see my photographs are ‘talking pictures’ of places, people, events and landscapes.”
  “Besides, through this project, I speak peace, love and unity to the people. We need to understand that despite our ethnic and cultural differences, our binding force should be love and unity of purpose for our fatherland, Nigeria”, he intones.
  From the broad spectrum of works that cut across different media such as metal, pastel, watercolour, oil on canvass, landscape drawings, human paintings and grotesque distortions, it becomes difficult to put Oghagbon to a particular school of thought. Pleased with the present situation, the artist leaves the grouping to the good judgment of the audience.
  “I would prefer my audience and art collectors to classify me and my works into a school of thought rather than do that myself, as some of my works include abstract, figurative and landscape. However, I express myself in any medium that catches my fancy at a particular time, be it abstract, figurative or expressionism because in school we did all. Though as time goes on, people would begin to identify me with a particular medium, for now, I do all,” he argues.

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