By Anote Ajeluorou
He is part of the three visual artists whose works are being exhibited at the ongoing ‘Unspoken Words’ show at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos. The show started two days ago and will run till Wednesday, August 31, to bring to a close, paintings that address various subjects of human interest.
As one of the exhibiting artists, Gbenga Offo has 18 works on display and they address issues that range from traditional motifs to contemporary ones. But like many artists, he loves the freedom to range wide and not be circumscribed by notions of what specific subjects or art forms to engage in. Yet, within this craving for freedom, he confessed his interest in exploring issues that affect women, and by extension, men.
You could call him a feminist judging from the passion he has in using his art to pursue issues relating to women’s emancipation and empowerment. In a recent conversation before the exhibition opened, Offo said, “I have a soft spot for women; they fare worse in the peculiar world men have created to put them down. You need to look at the deprivation of women, the mutilation they suffer, and outright cheating of women in this part of the world. Men beat women and cheat them; women are the ones who are trafficked for prostitution for men’s pleasure and financial gains. It’s unfair.
“Man has knowingly, deliberately put the women at the background. For instance, a woman can’t become a managing director of a company easily. Even when she eventually becomes one, she can’t bail someone from jail; she has to ask a mere okada rider to do it for her!
“I have this sympathetic feeling for women. In the villages, women do most of the farm work while the men drink palm wine all day. Sadly, every religion of the world puts women at the background. I went to mixed schools; women can be more brilliant than the men. Indeed, they sometimes are! Unfortunately, women have been conditioned to believe in this inferiority complex thing even if their percentage in the world is more than men.
“It’s like men all over the world connived to deal with women, but for what reason, I don’t know. Why do we create laws that discriminate against women? Why? So, it’s what I’d like to do, this sort of social issues affecting such a vital member of society, and to use my art to focus on things affecting women, why there’s this imbalance and inequality between men and women”.
However, Offo said he and some other artists, who are socially minded are financially handicapped because such preoccupation with socially relevant messages hardly attract financial reward, at least not immediately. This is where Nigerian artists have difficulties as there are no grants of any sort to enable them engage in issues-related art as such works do not sell.
He, however, stated that he has one such work among his 18 works on display at the show, titled, ‘Victim’. Offo said for him to embark on such artistic excursion and bring women’s issues to the fore for greater attention, he would need a grant or sponsorship to realise it. This is so because he would need to accumulate a sizeable number of works before he could exhibit while staying off works that would immediately earn him money.
For this show, however, Offo has works exploring both African cultural and contemporary motifs. So, there are such works as ‘Under pressure’ that examines the Nigerian socio-economic environment, the hard times Nigerians are going through because of pressures from all sides. The series, ‘Iya Oyo’ and ‘Baba Oyo’ are portraits about tribal marks among Yoruba people, which are used as marks of identity, a distinctive feature amongst the Yoruba that is fast going into extinction. Now, Offo argued, tattoos are in vogue in place of tribal marks.
Of the evolution of his works, he said, “My art has evolved from the Yoruba, cultural preoccupation to being more contemporary in style and subject, although you still find traditional motifs in them. I used to have a lot of African motifs in my work before, a lot of Africanness in them. Now, I’m doing away with the motifs to just being ‘me’. It’s about the way I feel.
“When my art focused on traditional motifs, it was heavy on cubism and African culture. It’s still cubism but less African now; my works come in stylised, distorted forms. So, the major influence is cubism but I just like enjoying myself painting”.