What does it mean to be African? Who decides what passes or is not African enough? These are the kinds of questions Badagry-born, Lagos-based, Nigerian artist Soji Adesina is interested in exploring with humour, honesty, and curiosity. While Adesina’s preferred medium is acrylic on canvas, he has a diverse multi-disciplinary practice.
Adesina is interested in themes involving memory, language, identity, the effects of global migration, and the politics of war and conflict. He explores these questions first by listening carefully to what is going on – locally, on the continent, and globally – and then piecing together the gathered information. What the audience sees in his paintings is these carefully thoughtout topics becoming one through his use of colour and symbols.
Take the series ‘Coffee and Cigarettes’, for example. The title alone recalls images of certain kinds of people sitting outside cafes smoking, of the famous Starbucks brand, of ‘free’ time – a luxury to some. In ‘Kudi in the Garden’ (2018), Adesina paints a woman with tribal scars (to show her distinct African origins) sipping coffee, her hair resembling billows of smoke as a way to visually introduce the complexities of tobacco, coffee, and African culture.
What is it about something that goes to the West and comes back that makes it more valuable?
Through this series, as in much of his work, Adesina wants us to think deeper; about coffee, tobacco, and even the flowers in the background, which all grow in Africa. Do we ever wonder how a simple coffee bean is now a luxury item? Are these coffee beans African? Do we remember how these products were exported by Europeans to the West? What is it about something that goes to the West and comes back that makes it more valuable?
This feeling of wanting to debate the answer, of not being sure, is part of what Adesina encourages his audience to think about.
An article by Chiedza Pasipanodya
Featured image : Soji Adesina, “Blue Hair”, 2018. Acrylic and oil on canvas. 165 x 152cm. Courtesy the Artist.
This article was written for The Art Momentum | ART X Lagos 2019 Artpaper. [French version inside]
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