Review: ‘Remember the Future’ – Art Exhibition 

Now, the first thing to say about ‘Remember the Future’ is that it is a brilliantly curated exhibition – the space at ‘Red Door’ is used to ample effect, and the works on display, of which there are many, but not too many, are given their dramatic due. That is where the drama ends, because Dennis Osadebe’s paintings are not so much dramatic, as they are stylishly delicious. The key feeling one has about these painting is their coolness, on both levels of meaning. The influences are clear but not slavishly obvious, and amidst the derivation there is a clear sense of an artist trying to say something new. On the surface, this is pure pop art, but there’s a seriousness about most of the pieces here that belie the playfulness of the style, with the exception perhaps of one piece ‘Afro Dynamic I’; there is an air of worthiness about most of the other pieces, many of which are nonetheless witty and wry commentary on the society in which Osadebe makes his work.  Closer to home, the theme of the mask as a medium for exploring ideas lies at the heart of these pieces; other tropes feel pleasingly familiar, the printed fabric of many subjects echo the work of Yinka Shonibare, and in an oblique way, Cheri Samba. Most subjects in the paintings are depicted in clothing that echoes Ankara print, but without the mawkishness that comes with the familiar patterns; Osadebe digitally creates the patterns, which are then silkscreened onto canvas, after which the background is painted. The astronaut is in many ways a mystical being, like more familiar masquerades, they travel into other dimensions from a present that sends them, but from which they are also no longer or not fully a part; they represent pretense of the future, not a fully realized version of it. And so the metaphor goes, Nigerians find themselves to be modern in their aspirations, but with a staus quo that denies many of their ideas and pretension of themselves, some of which are now possible thanks to technological innovations, one thinks of the mobile phone and its transformative impact, and the corollary impact of the internet, but Osadebe’s conceit neatly shows these masks to be just masks – the characters in these paintings are in a space that is not space; aside from their masks, they’re not dressed for the future; this is perhaps a less emancipatory message than the painter wishes to convey in the exuberance of his work, but the darkness is certainly there, amidst the colour.  

 In ‘Remember the Future’ Osadebe has taken Nigeria’s vaunted ambition to launch a man into space, and riffed off this hubristic national desire to explore ideas of  power, class, and gender; it is an elegant collection of work encapsulating the contradictory zeitgeist of a country whose aspirations for modernity are ostentatiously ambitious, and achievement of those have aspirations have also ostentatiously fallen short. ‘Oil Rules the Nation’ in which an astronaut surveys the universe from a generator powered space station. This is work that will be enjoyed for its message, the currently laughable idea of putting a Nigerian in space wrapped in bubblegum images of current preoccupations, but what’s more enjoyable is the sense of fun, and confidence in these works. Osadebe is one to watch, though one is not quite confident to say these particular works will stand the test of time, it seems certain Osadebe is an artist who may well make his mark on these our futuristic times. 

Dele Meiji, June 2017 

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Review – Moremi

 Crown Troupe of Africa’s rendition of the famous Yoruba myth of Moremi, the lady who saved the people of Ife from the Igbo people (not to be confused with the Igbo people of South-East Nigeria) – is youthful, exuberant and effectively crowd-pleasing. The story, relocated to an Ife that serves as metaphor for the wider Nigerian polity, is laced with clever contemporary references that keep the dram from being overly worthy. The conceit works well, in most respects, and provides the most gratifying elements of entertainment in the play. As a social critique of contemporary Nigeria, the narrative is a little confused – but it does pointedly and with humour highlight the degree to which youth are sacrificed to maintain the social order, without following through with the implications of this critique. More delightfully, the production makes good use of a minimal set, and inventive transitions with music to gives us a sense of the mise en scene and symbolic life of the Ife Kingdom – most elegantly in a brief musical number for one of the river deities.

Though it remains true to the myth, the tragic element of the Moremi story is under-utilised – the salient fact of a mother giving her only son is rather haphazardly worked into the story, and we have very little time to reflect on it in the course of the play; what does sparkle are the actors, and the musical numbers, bar a few bum notes. Providing lots of comic relief is the love sub-plot between Moremi’s son, Oluorogbo, sometimes to the detriment of the play – and the hapless emissaries to the Oba, and their unfortunate encounter with Ife’s market women.

In general, the pacing of the production is sure footed – and it is only at the end when we are given a very bizarre concluding hip-hop number that the youthful exuberance starts to chafe. Nevertheless, this is slick and entertaining fare, which one hopes will find a home to play again.

Moremi played on the 25th – 27th March, as part of Park Theatre at Freedom Park

 Picture courtesy of Segun Adefila | Source: Telegraph Newspapers