Abundance of Afro Art
We arrived at Nike Art Gallery at 9:00 am. In Lagos, this meant the temperatures were already 35 degrees. The first thing I saw were beautiful beaming white-walled faces of greeting us at the entrance, this art gallery was purely based on African art. The gate guards were mystifying sculptures of wild animals displayed boldly to every pedestrian’s eye view. The gate was a work of art in itself; long and lean outstretched African faces on the grill platted with dark hues of blue, green, yellow and red. What awaited us was a holy grail of afro art I was visiting the art gallery with my pen pal, Ebube who’d embarked on this artistic adventure with me.
The inside held the most creative carvings I’d ever seen. The classic, “see no, hear no and say no evil monkeys” standing in front of the carved edged white building in front of us; the black walls made the white walls pop. Thirty lifeless hollow faces were staring at us; the faces were made of metallic mesh with small holes seeping through the black bodiless objects with old fashioned spectacles sitting high and mighty like they were representing the crème de la crème. A beautiful black ballerina with a bright blue tutu resided gracefully in an ocean of sculptures. She smiled so seamlessly, without a care in the world. Her hair was held back with elegance and grace. Another sculpture that stood out from the crowd was a peacock with a radiant orange, green and blue tail that glimmered in the sun’s rays. A giant cock stood before us portraying its masculinity with a bright red comb and an aggressive stance taking centre stage. An ocean of African art awaited us in the building inside.
I had the honour of meeting Nike, the owner of the gallery. Her face lit up after I introduced myself and said that I’m from Kenya. She recalled fondly of her life as an artist in Kenya and her close-working relationship with Alan Donovan which made her travel to perform as a dancer and artist in East Africa in the late 1980s and 1990s. Nike still visits the country ever so frequently. She wore a beautiful blue “gele” (head wrap) with cowry shells on her neck with a constellation looking Buba (traditional dress) with white stars and a green and blue sky.
The doorway had two mosaic female figure artworks elegantly standing tall to greet the gallery’s visitors as they walked into the premises. It took me all by surprise! How much art could exist under one roof? So many textures, colours, moods, emotions, expressions, messages and identities cohabiting exotically inches after the other. Each piece was neatly displayed side by side in a form of harmonious competition and appreciation. The gallery attendant eagerly welcomed us into the open space. There was no entrance fee, but we weren’t allowed to take photos with cameras.
I felt like I was mesmerized, all time stood still. I was stuck in afro-art wonderland. It was layers upon layers of paintings that stood before my eyes. It was archaic, bold and unapologetic, naked in its truth and prophetic in its message. It was classy, poised and unphased; it could stand the test of time. The gallery felt like a time capsule had left it unscathed from the moving world a few feet away. I was completely awestruck. It felt like I was dancing in an artistic daydream, four storeys full of art. As you ascended upwards, art immersed your eyesight; all you could see was art spread apart all corners of every wall, corner and stairway.
Some of the most remarkable pieces I saw here were an afro ballerina with a tutu thrusting her hands backwards and tilting her body up into the twilight. She was stunning in her simplicity and style. Her skin and the background were made with plank-looking blotches like she was a part of a great tree trunk residing in an ancient abandoned garden. The second was a market in Lagos, thriving with many different people, buses, stalls and Keke's; it looked like splotches of ink carefully assembled like the unison of a marching band. Everything was in order, yet so haphazard, the chaos in Lagos had finally stood still. The third was an antithesis of Lagos, a city looking so peaceful and calm in the night-time; houses blearing with bright lights showcasing their bustling bodies rampantly moving, a city that never sleeps. A piece that touched me deeply was a sad girl in a lonely world looking emptily on into the abyss of oblivion, mirror of the emptiness that the society in itself embodies hollow lives.
As a parting gift, Nike left me a beautiful souvenir on my way out. An expensive Nigerian scarf with circles which is their national emblem for prosperity and their flag colours of white and green. I’d never felt more welcome in any Nigerian establishment as much as I did at Nike’s Art Gallery. The fact that she let us peruse through her magnificent artworks for free symbolizes the fact that she cares about the community at large and exposing them to the wonders of African artist’s talents, creativity and passion. If you’re in Lagos, Nike Art Gallery is a must-go destination.
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