Ugo Ahiakwo’s innovative installation at the Rele Gallery “Afterimages” group exhibition

It’s a bright afternoon in Lagos, the sun is out in all its tropical might. As the blistering heat raged on, more individuals poured into the opening exhibition of “AfterImages”.

The steadily waxing crowd of people was, if anything, a decent indicator of the wave of art appreciation that has evidently gripped the city of Lagos, especially within the younger spaces.

The people are here to view the array of artists that the Lagos chapter of the Rele gallery convened to display artwork and photography across various media and styles. 

The exhibition, titled ‘AfterImages’ is intended to be a thematic display of the understanding that events and objects innately hold the ability to create an impression that lasts and initializes thought and eventually action.

The official Rele website defines the ‘afterimage’ as an image that continues to appear in the eyes after a period of exposure to the original image. 

“An event is not by itself the creation of a reality; it is the creation of a possibility, it opens up a possibility… The event is, in a certain way, merely a proposition. It proposes something to us. Everything will depend on the way in which the possibility proposed by the event is grasped, elaborated, incorporated and set out in the world.”

—Alain Badiou

The exhibition hinges itself on these words by the venerable French philosopher, aiming to provoke spectators into deep thought about what the present might represent and with the innate potential for art to leave behind powerful remnants in the mind and even the subconscious. 

Boasting of a lineup that includes Kitso Lynn Lelliot’s insightful video stills, Ofem Ubi’s grief-filled poetry, laid over morbid imagery, Uche Uzorka’s powerful text-based pieces, Boniface Maina’s twin pieces on finding your path, Ethel Tawe’s state-transporting setup of dishes and artist-in-focus, Ugo Ahiakwo, bringing two separate pieces from his internationally acclaimed collection of solo show – ‘Sink or Swim’ on display this year.

On entry, Ahiakwo’s pieces welcome you to the interior of the venue, owing to it’s arrangement, flanked by Kitso Lynn Lelliot’s 2014 video stills titled ‘Displaced Skin’ and ‘TransAtlantic Saudades 2’ respectively positioned well near the entrance.

Ugo on the other side, is standing in his section with a chipper smile on his face, obviously enthused at the prospect of explaining the motivations, processes, and ideas behind his work to absolutely anyone who would care to listen.

As he discusses the craft behind the production of these abstract post-minimalist pieces, Ugo also takes us down his own memory lane, and tells the tale of his prodigious time as an art student in secondary school in Lagos. He discusses what that status meant to him, and to his teachers back then.

Finishing secondary school education in 2014, Ugo claims that being a star art student incurred some issues for him, citing the example of an old teacher of his academically maligning him with lowered grades and brash critique of his efforts.

He cites it as a problematic period but one where he ultimately chose to thrive… or swim, rather than sink, as the title of his collection implies. 

The first piece – ‘Untitled’ from the ‘Fish out of Water’ body of work that Ugo started in 2021. The piece is comprises of broken vehicle parts, wood, aluminium composite board, and finished with auto paint and lacquer.

This lustrous piece of dark gray and juniper green features a coming together of abstract parts that bring about varied meanings depending on the beholder, a powerful testament to how many different ‘AfterImages’ can be formed on an individual basis.

The second piece, a part of his fabric series that began early this year on his Seascape collection which began in 2020, and has an installation on display in Berlin, is a rather literal translation of Ugo’s dreamstate into artwork.

Ugo explains that this work, a combination of suiting fabric, and interfacing was produced partly in his sleep, as the conceptualization of this eye-catching art piece required the real slumber of the artist himself who laid on the sheets to give these otherwise mundane fabrics a personality, and a vivid, abstractive nature.

In addition, Ugo discusses the lighting around the piece and how important it is to how even the most minute crease or fold in this work is perceived.

More people come in, and Ugo is required to speak to more of them, giving them insight into what it is that has inevitably caught their attention in his corner section of the space shared by him and all the other brilliant artists on display.

Ugo’s work continues to gain traction and relevance beyond the shores of Nigeria. In candid terms, this comes as no surprise, considering the artist’s workrate, evident in his dedication to show up at as many exhibitions and events as possible with his work, while giving pertinent information and details to people who want to hear it.

Ugo has an admirable work ethic, and at a time where art appreciation and curiosity are reaching new highs in the consciousness of young people all over Lagos, and Nigeria as a whole, the 25-year-old is indubitably on track to push beyond the stratosphere of the art community.

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