Arts & Design

Abolore Sobayo: Savouring New Paintings on Identities

A multi-disciplinary artist famed for his public artwork – the headless sculpture of Fela in Lagos- is charting a new route for the latest body of works in the Jelosimi series. Abolore Sobayo, who is currently an artist-in-residence at the University for Creative Arts, Rochester England and midway through his artistic interrogation at the residency programme, narrates the experience around his first group exhibition at the institution titled Midway in his virtual encounter with Yinka Olatunbosun.

Tell us what you have been working on since your left Lagos for England late last year.

I am currently an artist in residence at the University for Creative Art (UCA), Rochester, England where I have a dedicated studio space and I organise workshops for further education students. I create my works- new body of works and also engage the student’s community on how a professional artist works. The exhibition is to show the progress of work midway into the residency.

The exhibition is titled ‘Midway’ and it aims to show an extension of my Jelosimi series which began in Lagos. It is the curation of head ties (gele)and caps of the Yoruba culture and using the aso oke patterns to create the faces of the portraits. I try to explore the question of identity using the indigenous fabric. I try to assess the level of usage and how much it has been used in time past.

What medium did you use?

Acrylic on paper

How has the response been?

The response has been encouraging because it is pretty much a diverse culture. Many wanted to see things from the other side. A lot of them were intrigued by the subject matter and the skill in rendering it. One of the people who came for the exhibition actually appealed to me that she would have preferred the gele and fila and be able to touch. Moving forward, I am looking at the possibility of gele (head tie) and fila (cap) installation. For me, it is about cultural education.


Sobayo and visitors at the opening of Midway Exhibition at UCA Rochester England

Did it provoke the right kind of conversation around our cultural identity? Did they ask questions?

It did. People were looking for opportunities learn more. They were looking at the importance of cultural knowledge in the life of every society. This is something that some of the members of the community here are curious about. Some of them are working on projects around cultural motifs. They were asking more questions to develop their project further based on some of the works they had seen at the exhibition.

Being in a university environment will likely give you access to research materials? How would you say the residency has helped in curating this new body of works?

For me, there is a wide range of research tools beyond the digital library, we also have the physical library that has so much information. These has also helped to shape the work and the project. The residency has also given me the platform to speak authoritatively about the works and execute them.

What were some other materials that influenced the works created? Did you try to go outside the existing framework to deepen the understanding of the theme?

Apart from the Yoruba culture, I also looked at other similar cultures. I was able to explore the narrative around other cultural fabrics and the subject of identity.

Often times, there has been a lot of misinformation about Ankara- that it is an African fabric. People tend to forget that they are Dutch wax with African prints. They are not necessarily African fabrics. I am trying to correct that point of view by letting the people know that we have the aso-oke which is really African and we also have the adire. That is why we explore these fabrics as symbols for our identity so that we didn’t distort the history and misinform the people. for me, beyond creating works that have aesthetic value, it is important to archive history and generate some level of discuss in the works; and use the works to document history for generations to come.

What are the dates of the exhibition?

It opened on March 27th and runs till April 28th at the Zandra Rhodes Gallery, UCA Rochester.

How many paintings do you have in this exhibition?

In the series, I have created ten but I am showing five at the exhibition.

How is life in UK especially for an artist?

It has got the vibrancy for an artist. There are lots of exhibitions around here. There are several art events going on. It could be an interesting life for an artist who is willing to connect with other artists from diverse culture. it is just that the weather can be a little cold as some point when you are in winter. Thankfully, spring is said to be here. And summer is coming. Like in the UK is beautiful, but no other life like Lagos life.

Is Lagos cultural life more fast-paced than London’s?

I wouldn’t say that. If I do, I may not be accurate. I have only been here for a couple of months. And I have been in Lagos all my life. But I know that Lagos has its unique energy and London has its energy and lots of activities going on.

We are midway into exhibition showing the work-in-progress.  We are six exhibiting artists. I am the only painter, only male and the only person of colour. There are others who are ceramists, photographers, someone works with leather. We have already created a family bond among ourselves.


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