Multidisciplinary artist, Nú Barreto draws attention to political and social issues on the African continent. His work resonates strongly with the #EndSARS movement currently shaking Nigeria. Few weeks before the opening of the 5th edition of ART X LAGOS during which a selection of his works is presented, Nú Barreto spoke about his practice, his inspiration, and his projects.
Graduated from the AEP Photography School (Paris, France) and from the National School of Crafts Image Gobelins (Paris, France), you have been extending your artistic practice to other media, including drawing, painting, collage, and even video. Would you say that this recent experience as a photographer has influenced your use of light and colours in your work?
I am aware that my training as a photographer is a source of inspiration. In my work, photography benefits or is inspired by other practices, and the reciprocity is also true (from photography to drawing or painting). I introduce or think about the composition of a work when I shoot a photograph. It is also my concern to introduce my photographic assets when I paint or draw. To me, it is creativity as a whole that leads you to multidisciplinarity.
Could the colour red be seen as a guiding thread in your work? What does this colour mean to you?
The colour of anger and the most attractive. No other colour in history, be it as intense and captivating, has been so praised or fought against. In my case, it goes beyond the modest symbolism of a thread. Red has, in my opinion, a betrayed soul and a suffering body. It is a colour that fascinates and moves me at the same time, to the point that I can’t do without it.
With Bones, you introduce a more sculptural dimension to your work. How important is mixing media for you? Is there another technique you would like to explore in the coming years?
In the quest for creative expression, we are compelled to find a way out of the project that we conceive. That said, we must never lose sight of certain aspects where unfeasibility is in question. In my creation, I go everywhere, in terms of mixing, assembling, or associating materials. For the work Bones (Ossements), I had to deal with several techniques, ranging from the marouflage of canvas on plywood (the structure of the work) and the manufacturing of “clumps” of bones suspended on each star. I have an immense love for sculpture. I also have another sculptural project on hold and I hope to realise it one day.
Bones is a large canvas mounted on wood, representing a revisited American flag with Pan- African colours and bones instead of stars. This painting is part of a series questioning the unity of the African continent, entitled États Désunis d’Afrique (Disunited States of Africa). Could you tell me more about the story of this painting?
The first flag of the Disunited States of Africa was realized in 2009/2010. The founding idea is an umpteenth denunciation of the disunity of the countries of the continent, masked by the utopia of the ‘African Union’, an idea dear to some African leaders. Using the American flag as the symbol of union, I have simply replaced the colours with the ones most used by the African States (red, yellow, green, and black), and I have painted 54 black stars, corresponding with the 54 States of the continent, but these stars are disseminated in a disorderly manner to show the lack of a common vision. In 2018, when an important and determining project of a solo exhibition (Africa-Renversante, Renversée at the Galerie Nathalie Obadia) was proposed to me, I was able to present several pieces (États Désunis d’Afrique) evoking different issues of the continent.
Bones is a work dedicated to the numerous genocides and crimes against humanity in the history of the continent. The bones hung on the stars are a tribute to the ones who lost their lives in these unforgettable tragedies.
Bones resonates strongly with the current situation in Nigeria. The country is facing a huge wave of protests against the government and its police system. While thousands of people were protesting against police brutality as part of the #EndSars movement, the army opened fire – causing multiple deaths.
In spite of so few improvements, the whole world notes with dismay the regression of the continent in terms of freedom of expression and good governance. Dictatorships are institutionalised and this only disturbs those who care about the African continent. There is a deep fault line between the rulers and the people. The conditions for acceptable development are lacking on a continent that is the lung of the world. The result could not be anything other than revolts, riots, frustrations. The Arab Spring set the tone and the Maghreb was shaken, deposing the most worn-out political powers, but in the other part of the continent, this spring seems to only meet weapons threatening the population.
How do you feel about this situation? How does this echo with what you are denouncing in États Désunis d’Afrique?
The upsurge of these facts leads to the point where some people consider migrating to greener lands and others dare defy the authorities in order to be heard. In taking these risks, many people give their lives. As if this is their last chance to find a more fair society. It is now or never, because playing deaf is mortgaging the future of the continent and taking the youth hostage. My work, Disunited States of Africa, proposes a consensus by opting for the right methods: sincerity and a development that extirpates from the continent its image of a miserable beggar.
I would be delighted that this work is perceived or read as such, in the awareness of our reality. In any case, the work bears witness to its time, and will remain in the history of the African that I am and that of the continent, a testimony, disturbing but genuine. I wish my works will enter into this category of art, which marks its time and is usefulness for society. Let us be happy, considering the other, and accept the differences for a better life.
ART X LAGOS – 2-9 December, 2020.
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