At the private opening of Ndidi Dike’s new exhibition titled “State of The Nation” at the National Museum, she once again proved why she is listed as one of the revered artists in the Nigeria art scene. In Nigeria, very few artists are addressing core political and social issues that affects our lives daily. We are in a phase of decorative art, and most artists are creating to the taste of some known collectors and what sells generally at the auction or major galleries. It was reassuring to see works by Ndidi Dike speak truth to those in power, and also to her fellow citizens.
The State of the Nation exhibition is nothing fancy or commercial. There is nothing fancy or decorative about speaking the truth, speaking to those in power and provoking change in people. Ours is a nation in limbo on many levels, lots of critical situations are left unattended to chase superfluous matters, and we need artists who can express these realities and disappointments to trigger change where possible.
The four installations at the exhibition are strong compelling metaphorical works that illustrates the level of rot and decay in Nigeria’s political system and its impact on the economy and other aspects of our lives. They reflect happenings in the political leadership of the nation with focus on abuse of power, corruption and other anomalies we have witnessed in the last few years.
Set apart from the general assemblage, the most direct and striking installation sits in a dark room with spot light on it. It is an appropriated wheelchair, Untitled, but one cannot miss the message. There is a copy of the 1999 National Constitution placed under the wheelchair, while the wheelchair itself sits on a blanket made of expended bullets. With this, Dike puts it clearly how she sees Nigeria. Although, the body of the wheelchair is painted gold, shiny and attractive, it is not enough to hide the truth on the state of affairs in Nigeria.
The other works Untitled II, How Much Am I Worth? and National Grid, break down the problems prevalent in Nigeria into different parts. Untitled II points at the nation’s backwardness in this 21st century. It also glaringly points at the level of poverty existing in a country that exports crude oil. There is a high level of corruption, The government and the people are less bordered about pollution, waste management and environmental issues. Dike appropriates rusted stoves bearing marks of usage and hardship to describe this rot and degradation.
Another critical situation presented is the installation How Much Am I Worth? illustrating the story of the missing Chibok girls and the lives of women in Nigeria in general. In a highly patriarchal society like ours, what is the life of a woman worth? To a government that cares little, what is the life of a Nigerian worth? Dike stages an enactment of the abduction news story with familiar symbols from a school dormitory. A hostel bunk bed with expended bullets in the middle as bed spring is surrounded by systematically stacked dunlop slippers to represent the girls at the time they were kidnapped. The installation was created between 2014 -2016, same period of time the girls have been missing.
According to Ndidi Dike on the motive of the exhibition, the main idea behind these works is to inspire a visual conversation around our collective growth in the pursuit of democratic excellence. “The concept was subconsciously gestated in my mind for years but most recently manifested itself in my identification, selection and employment of objects as material metaphors for power, petroleum and politics. These are both literally and figuratively accruements of power as a phenomenon.”
Dike derives her inspiration from a diverse range of sources including urbanism, consumerism, globalization, post-colonial studies, history of slavery across borders/ country migration, multiculturalism, art history and contemporary politics. She has participated in numerous exhibitions in Nigeria, other countries in Africa, and internationally. She currently runs a studio and lives in Lagos, Nigeria.
The “State of the Nation” opens to the public on Saturday February 6th, 2016 at 3:30pm. Venue: National Museum (exhibition space), Onikan, Lagos.
Featured Image by Adeola Olagunju. Other images are courtesy of the artist. Bukola Oye