Artfrica the science, philosophy and craft of African Art
Odi Oquosa is a Nigerian artist, social scientist and professional social worker based in Brighton, UK. His work is inherently colourful, rich in symbolism and encoded with cryptic messages and deep political statements that reference his African heritage. His work also incorporates shapes, symbols, textures and colours that have been influenced by the beauty of the Sussex landscape, including the Downs and the sea, close to where he currently lives and works. The locality has thus provided him with a bridge, to traverse between time, space and place, past, present and future.
Odi was born and brought up in Nigeria, where colonial evolution has been interrupted over the years by man-made wars, slavery and the heavy influence of Christianity and Islam. Odi’s cultural and spiritual practices have at times made people perceive him as a witch doctor, black magic practitioner or even as mentally ill. His art has acted as a vehicle for discovering his own identity and helped him to obtain a profound knowledge and understanding of self. He explores deep emotions such as alienation that have permeated the Nigerian culture as a result of enslavement and colonisation. His work also looks to question the impact of these experiences on wider global culture, particularly for people of African heritage and decent.
Odi’s art brings together abstract elements into particular compositions that allow him to pose questions. By using paintings, drawings, sculptures, installations and poetry,he reflects and transmits knowledge of places and objects; bringing them into light, where he is able to apprehend them long enough to distinguish their mechanics and intricacies. His work does not seek to console viewers and readers, but to create contradictions and disquiet. Odi’s work demonstrates a social consciousness, combining his intimate knowledge and experience of the human condition. Odi has personally known victims of violence who later became perpetrators that have become executioners.He therefore believes that no human being can be considered free of guilt.
Odi is drawn to what is hidden and obscured in historical accounts of African history. His work looks at how certain historical accounts have been distilled, distorted, appropriated and reconditioned for current use. Over the years, Odi has developed an acute awareness of internalized prejudices within African heritage communities; observing also that a large number of contemporary African artists and intellectuals, having assimilated to Western culture, can use their position or power to enslave their people (often unconsciously), and that this risks severing the last remaining cultural ties with their indigenous roots and with their motherland – Africa
People often ask me why I confronted the State governor/government for arming the youths to kill; because I felt that, it is the same mechanism used during slavery in Igbo land in Nigeria, but reversed this time around; by instilling fear with deceit and brainwashing, while they are the real criminals.” In Frantz Fanon’s view,”Africa will face extremely serious psycho affective mutilation: individuals without an anchorage, without border, colourless, stateless and rootless.
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“My work is a form of observation and exploration of my own consciousness and primal urges to resist ignorance and absolute power, which I believe corrupts absolutely.”
In exploring and questioning his own deeper motives and urges, Odi poses this important question: ‘What has my generation done about the after effects of tribal/civil wars, slavery, Bakassi intervention, Christianisation, Muslimisation, Colonialism, Biafranism, Democracy and Capitalistic Neo-Liberalism?’
Odi’s involvement in Social work has provided him with another avenue to fight/actualise his quest for seeking social justice and the authenticity of indigenous knowledge in Africa and elsewhere in the world.
Odi’s art also explores the power of natural forces and rhythms – the spiritual music that pervades space and time. His poetry, textiles, paintings, sculpture and music challenge and revitalize his ancestral legacy, which itself is like a spider’s web of the self, an infusion of metamorphic processes that acknowledge his past, present and future. His work also embraces ancient writings, architecture, traditional blacksmithing, wood work, weaving, the asymmetric and abstractness of ancient bronze casting, the ritual throwing of clay – all fusing with modern technology to provide manifestations of self.
Above all Odi’s art focuses on experimentation, seeking to pose questions and unveil new and ancient truths.
We might better grasp the conundrum of Odi Oquosa by viewing him as a ‘Renaissance man’ – simultaneously a sculptor, painter, clothes designer, percussionist, scholar, philosopher, and historian of his own people.
His life also embodies the traditional Onitsha (South Eastern Nigeria) values of a Prince Priest.
Odi has also deployed his art in fabric design with precious stones and textiles infused together to create magic and has sold these creations to organizations across Asia, Africa, North America and Europe.
Past exhibitions include ‘Beneath the Surface’ in 2011 at Brighton & Hove Art Gallery and Museum. This was part of a wider project aimed at encouraging groups to engage with museums and heritage sites, and looked at in-depth creative interpretation of Nigerian artefacts.Odi also held an exhibition named ‘Ancestor by the River’ at 47 Street, Harlem, New York, in 2012. Ancestors by the River was Odi’s first public exhibition in the ‘New World’ United Stated of America recognizing and healing the history of enslavement of his African Ancestors, Native American and European Ancestors who fought against the trade and treatment of the enslaved.
Odi is currently working on a project called ‘Stone-cloth and the Door of Return’ in Cape Coast Ghana, Brighton, Liverpool United Kingdom; which aims to reveal a new insight into the enslavement of African in the Cape Coast Slave dungeon (Otherwise, called the castle ‘Elmina and Cape Coast Castle