A review of the visual art exhibition at Ake festival 2016.

by Mathew B. Oyedele

The Cultural Centre, Kuto Abeokuta was a rendezvous of creativity from 15th-19th November 2016. It was the venue of the much publicized Ake Arts and Books Festival which attracted writers, artists, poets, playwrights, and creative personalities whose sources of livelihood relies on the literary field. At the east side of the venue was an engaging display of attracting works of art by two visual artists; Fatima Abubakar and Ayobola Kekere-Ekun. The two artists rightly selected their elements and principles of art to initiate curiosity in the spectators and generate an ambience that allows spectators to travel from the world of reality to the island of imaginations.

The silent noise made by the works attracted lovers and enthusiasts of visual art to the hall where the works are neatly arranged. Welcoming spectators to the hall are Ayobola Kekere-Ekun’s works of intricate colours and meticulous execution that hits the retina with a standstill observation. At the other side are Fatima Abubakar’s photographs that are rendered with amazing fidelity to optical fact.

Fatima Abubakar’s exhibition titled, “Resilient: The Face Series” is a display of captivating and empathizing photographs from Borno State, a north-eastern part of Nigeria. Its iconography includes the faces of school children, herdsmen, old-age men and women as well as religious men. They are depicted with diverse facial expressions. An inquiry into the iconology of the works takes one to the happenings and lifestyle of Borno State.


Borno State has witnessed numerous tragedies in the past few years. The efforts of the Nigerian government to curb the hazardous activities of the Boko Haram insurgents have resulted in the death of many. In 2013, President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in Northeastern Nigeria, including Adamawa and Yobe alongside Borno after the death of 200 people in the fight between the state armed forces and Boko Haram in the town of Baga. The following year witnessed the kidnapping of Chibok school girls which threw the country into pandemonium. Fatima Abubakar captured the people and the environment of Borno in her series of photographs.

Showcasing humanity’s enduring spirit and the willingness to navigate through the relentless storm of upheaval, turmoil, conflict and pandemonium seems to be the aim of Fatima. She proved that humanity have the innate energy to survive every facet of life irrespective of age, gender, dialect, and complexion. Her believe in the power in people is exhibited in her photographs.


The presence of the surrounding architecture heightened the comfort of the environment. The somber colours in her works did not showcase conflict or fear but peace and comfort in an otherwise unsettling atmosphere. Fatima’s works hold a firm ground against Plato’s idea of mimesis which situates art as an imitation of life. She did not imitate or represent life in Borno but captured it. She captured the religious beliefs, education, and business of northeastern Nigeria.

Ayobola Kekere-Ekun’s intriguing collection titled “Dysmorphia and other thoughts” is a societal reflection. She question humans’ role in the shaping of culture and the identity of man behind culture. The artist feels there is a certain disharmony in who we think we are, who we would like to be and who we really are. She feels that humans hold on to things that are done for a long time as culture and are resistant to change. Why are we resistant to change? Why do we stubbornly adhere to outdated cultural elements that may not be useful against sophisticated technological advancement or external invasion and profess to be the product of culture? Can we develop without culture? Why are we so comfortable in this state of blindness? Why do we hide behind a deceptive concept of culture turning it to a cage we are bound to? Perhaps there is a conflict in our perception of ourselves and the reality of who and what we represent.

In the execution of her works, Ayobola employed intricate lines that culminate into shapes of rhythmic harmony. The interaction of these lines culminates into shapes of different variations. What more could surprise a spectator than lines and shapes communicating in distance?  She also explores the rich and varied colours of Ankara mixed with acrylic to question humans’ resistant to change.

She asserted that her selection of Ankara as a medium is meant to question Africa’s claim of the textile as an African cloth. She believes that Ankara is neither made in Africa nor made for Africa; it is made in Indonesia but found a market in Africa and we have absorbed this as an African cloth. Why have we developed such willful oblivion?

A spectator who would like to remain anonymous described the works as ‘questionnaires. “He stated that the works creates an impetus to think and see the exigent need to stand up for whatever we believe in. We are brought up to hold on to things that have existed for many years without questioning their function or etymology. We were not encouraged to ask questions or offer our suggestions. These are just questionnaires that should be shared for collective answers and diverse opinions” he said.

Interestingly, Ayobola created a studio for herself in the exhibition hall. She was working on a piece as the exhibition progressed; this was to bring the creative minds together in a conversation that will exist in visual form. Each spectator left a voice on the canvas through pigments of paint, stripes of ribbon, and pieces of Ankara.

Ayobola and Fatima are not out to condemn the societal subjectivity and the perception of ourselves as humans. They just situate their works as mirrors in which we see ourselves and reflect on our innate abilities and strength to be the decision maker of our actions. The society is the crucible in which we are made but the society could only exist with the presence of man as man is the prime mover of all activities.

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

Mathew B. Oyedele is an artist and art historian

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