Abe Odedina is a phenomenal self-taught artist, whose journey as a practitioner of the arts, and the circumstances with which he embraced his artistry in the visual arts, particularly with painting and mixed media, is inspiring. This artist also has interests in ceramics, sculpture, photography, printmaking, dance, textiles, and film.
Prior to the experiences that led to his decision to be a visual artist, Abe studied at the Hull school of Architecture, after which he began a successful private practice on institutional, educational, commercial and private residential buildings. The plot changed at the turn of the century, while on a visit to Pernambuco, Brazil, with his family. In encounters that created a reawakening of his spirit, Abe rediscovered the Orishas, which reminded him of what he had lost since leaving Ibadan, South West of Nigeria, where he was born in 1960 and lived as a young boy.
The existence of African spiritual beliefs, philosophies, music, art and rituals, in cities like Recife, Salvador, Sao Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro, which mostly originate from the Yoruba culture in Nigeria, gave him the insight that the Orishas were alive and flourishing.
Candomble, an Afro-Brazilian religion, which encourages devotees to focus on realigning with nature and the paths of righteous living, celebrate the Orishas, and the artist’s rekindled interest in all these motivated him to succumb to the call to embrace art. That became a very significant part of his life and purpose, and, thereafter, he went on to make his first exhibition at The National Portrait Gallery, London, in 2013.
The painting titled Adoration of Frida pays homage to the unforgettable and irrepressible Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, who Abe says he owes an artistic debt.
Abe, in an interview, once said about her: “It’s not like I have an obsession with Kahlo or anything; It’s just that I love the way she forged modern art out of adversity.”
His masterpiece of Frida and her animals, and of paintings like Oya, Mother’s day, A capable girl, Amazing grace, High grade, Lagos girl, and more, display women who are alive and live only on their own terms.
In these works, Abe’s appreciation for womanhood and an acceptance of their humanity, and rights to not be boxed in by popular opinions and unfair expectations by society is obvious.
These are not the stereotypical paintings of almost nude and mostly African women, just sitting around with voluptuous and erect breasts, complete with the trademark hoop ear rings, but real and diverse women in diverse and relatable situations. Hallelujah!
When asked if he had some words for women in visual arts in Nigeria, Abe encouraged this talented group of people, to remember the words one of the most forward thinking women in Nigeria and Africa’s history, Fumilayo Ransome Kuti, who, while being persecuted for her political activism, said “As for the charges against me, I am unconcerned. I am beyond their timid lying morality and so I am beyond caring.”
Abe Odedina paints with acrylic on plywood, mostly on his trademark flat surfaces that engages colours with unbridled imagination, depicting human life in rural spaces and cities. His message is crystal clear, heartwarming, and distinguishable. The Repentance of Area boy is an example of a piece with a caption that most people in Nigeria can instantly relate with, irrespective of social class.
Abe pays homage to the Orisas, and saints with his works; nature, and even farm animals, are not left out either. He is also interested in fictional characters that we engage with in reality, and many intriguing characters in human history that are sometimes misunderstood; like his interesting painting of the popular Nigerian magician, Late Professor Peller. The Adoration of Mamiwata is one of several pieces that show Abe’s interest in African mythology and mysticism.
Besides the characters and themes of his work, Abe Odedina is inspired by his own powerful sense of optimism, and especially by family: his wife and daughters who he always seeks to impress. At present, he is preparing for his solo show tagged: The Seven Deadly Sins and the Seven Heavenly Virtues, which will run from November 28 until December 4, 2016 in Brixton.
Photos of Abe’s works currently for sale and from past exhibitions, found on his website, www.abeodedina.com, serve as proof that his spiritual encounter was profound, and heeding his own voice paid off. He is surely one of the important Nigerian artists in Diaspora to keep an eye on, and enjoy.
Featured image of artist courtesy: Abe Odedina