Tony Agbapuonwu Curates a Fluid Experience Through Art

The late martial arts and Hollywood icon – Bruce Lee once said  “Be like water, making its way through cracks… Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water.”. The theme of ‘fluidity’ permeates every aspect of our experience as living beings. 

Time flows into time, growth flows into more growth. Metaphorically, life happens in ebbs and tides, so even if one does not have any canonical understanding of this fluid nature that reality and nature possess, it doesn’t make them any less a part of it. 

Art, in all its vast ramifications, and at every level, is always an extension of our being. The understanding of these ideas, sits at the base of the aptly titled “Fluidity” exhibition curated by the Art Bridge Project in a collaboration with AMG projects. 

For ‘Fluidity’, the medium is purposefully positioned as the message with peculiarly intricate attention to technique. Curated by Art Bridge Project founder, Tony Agbapuonwu, ‘Fluidity’ features work from a talented palette of distinct artists that include Stanley Ugonabo, Seyi Akinwumi, Akanimoh Umoh, Nneka Chima, and Kehinde Awofeso. 

The peculiarity of this selection lies in the distinctness of each artist’s portfolio. Every artist selected, even with a shared theme of ‘Fluidity’, brought separate worlds and ideas to the table. 

About the exhibition, Agbapuonwu says that the concept of the exhibition began with considering the nature of change and the constant transformation of life. This lays the context for understanding that change is the transition from darkness to light and from shadows to substance. He says 

“I relay this concept to the medium each artist employs in their work and how it visually reflects the notion of flow and movement in our daily lives. From watercolor to oil paint to linocut printmaking and collages, the artists transform the materials that they work with. For me, this captures the fluid nature of human experiences and metaphorically translates to our ability to adapt to change, question fixed societal norms and confront a society that is orchestrated to determine our every move.”

The exhibition, displaying at the AMG Projects space, 24 Rasheed Alaba Williams, Lekki Phase 1, Lagos, welcomes you with Stanley Ugonabo’s ethereal and shadowy trilogy of melancholic portraits. 

Primarily utilizing dark hues of purple, blue and black, Ugonabo’s figures absorb a very liquid outlook, giving you a sense of brooding, as you step in, a perfect prelude to an exhibition that is intended to lead you down the corridors of thought and memory. 

As you view the works that follow, each artist takes you on a presumably personal, and relatable journey. Akanimoh’s deft use of watercolor evokes an equally dreamy state of thinking with ‘Dancing Between Dreams’, a stunning exploration of the movement between reality and the realm of slumber, where the mind tends to create its own vivid and often wonderous version of reality. 

Nneka Chima makes use of linocut, gouache and coloured pencils on masa paper centered around nostalgia and the transient journey from childhood to adulthood. ‘The Explorer’ takes you back to the adventurous days of your youth. 

The childish innocence that once beckoned on us all to be adventurous and inquisitive. The painting features a child peering through a setting of greenery with a pair of binoculars, flanked by his playthings. 

Nneka says that the artwork (as well as ‘Remember’, another piece in the exact same art style that features a lost and found locker containing items from childhood) is part of a series titled ‘I hope we never forget who we once were’, an inundation of nostalgia, and a figurative boat on which one can ride the sometimes tumultuous and foggy sea of memory to a much simpler, and innocent time. 

Ibadan-based Kehinde Awofeso has earned a reputation for challenging the status quo of gender. They work with the theme of gender fluidity all the time. Their installation at the exhibition features ‘Sisi Clara’ and ‘In Tune’ are, in their own words, “a highlight of my artistic practice, representing a journey of inquiry into gender identity and expression, as well as the social, cultural and political implications of non-conformity”. 

This non-conformity seeps deeply into this duo of oil on canvas paintings of black bodies in their own states of camaraderie and relaxation respectively, with the jagged and unruly brush strokes that give the bodies a kind of calm, yet active nature. 

Oluwaseyi Akinwumi’s artwork on display guides you through different stages of her creative process, and life in general. Her piece – ‘Help yourself or can you?’ make use of collages and pays extreme attention to detail on strathmore mixed media paper. 

This piece shows a depiction of herself and who she describes as her “Alter-ego” making a mockery of her predicament of self-doubt and feelings of stagnancy, amongst other things. 

The piece contains nimbly cut-out parts of legendary American singer-songwriter – Beyoncé Knowles-Carter’s facial features to depict a smiling, or laughing alter-ego, who makes jest of Akinwumi as she tries to figure out how to get out of the rut she has found herself in. 

It flanks another piece on the left, which is titled – ‘Sermons for my Struggle’, a more ambiguous, but none less intriguing piece of mixed media on paper which depicts what she personally describes as “An inner struggle and a place of healing”, intentional follow up, with both heavy and light brush strokes. 

Finally, she transports us to the third and final painting – another mixed media piece titled – ‘Let me BE! Playtime’, a more relaxed piece, also of herself, which denotes, as the title tells us, a time to be free and playful. Concluding with this piece spells out the transience of human emotion, and how “fluid” your feelings can be from one stage to the other.

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