From 1965, “Man Loves What Is Sweet and Obvious” by Colette Omogbai

In art, man loves what is sweet and sentimental. He cannot understand that art is something other than green leaves and brown body and black hair. Any living transformation of art seems to him as something as hateful and nightmarish.

Art to man, is not a thing in itself. It is dependent. Paint must be explained in terms of words and in storytelling words too. Man believes in meaning that can be expressed in clear and distinct ideas. He fails to realise that to look for an explicit meaning in art is a fundamental error based on a complete misunderstanding of the medium.

Man cannot feel what painting is. Competition with photography exasperates him above all. Man’s courage fails when he is confronted with the intense version of life. To man intensity is unpleasant.

Self-expression and a departure from nature is an inability. Man loves formulae. Fixed ideals in art are his favourites even though he succumbs to modern science and technology. A divorce from this is gloomy, fearful, and frightening. This, he says, gives him sleepless nights full of nightmares. During the day when he sees the records of the previous night in terms of paint, he screams. ‘Burn it! It reminds me of my sleepless nights’. ‘Give me reality’, Man declares, something live I can admire and enjoy. I want that which I can live with and not that that cowards my better part of man. ‘Especially that picture with black ivory black’, Man emphasises. ‘It is colour of hate, war, destruction and death.’ ‘Save that colour’. Man advises, ‘for the day my dearest one gives up her ghost. The persistence of those memories of death now haunts my imagination and finally points to the gateways of the grave-yard.’ ‘Rather give me the “salady” type pf pictures – pictures rich with ice-cream colours. I love ice cream for its pinks as soft as the dainty little frocks of the toddlers and the sweet sky-blue on cool summer days or even the fair yellow of lemon. No touch of black.’ Man insists.

Man does not challenge the voice of a strange bird when it sings an unfamiliar song. But he questions modern trends. Twisted legs and elongated necks, hair made of roots and blue body beats his imagination. ‘What on earth is this?’ Man asks with disgust. ‘Are these legs those of a monster, the neck like that of an ostrich and the torso as though a hungry stricken creature from the concentration camp? ‘Hide it all, or I fall sick’, Man pleads. Man loves the word ‘like’. To Man, nothing is the other; it must be Like the Other. ‘Give us reality.’ Man proclaims, ‘if possible, the reality as real as that of Bouguereau.’ ‘if you can paint my dear,’ Man pats the artist like his little son, ‘stick real hair, real nails, real teeth to the figure on the canvas. I like to touch these as I would in real life.’ Man, frowns at ‘Modern Art’. It is no use since it has no bearing with man’s environment. It is useless because it has no meaning. It is useless because it is out of keeping with the Old Masters’ vision. ‘It is art of the toddlers,’ Man dismisses carelessly.

Man believes in freedom of speech. In art, this is forbidden and when done at all, it must be by one as aged as the rocks. The youth that strives for self-expression is suppressed.

‘Sit down my child, your eyes have not seen as many days as Abraham.’ Wait till you have stiffened for fifty more harmattans!’, but now you will be better off a ‘photographer’ until grey hair begins to appear, spend your time copying “A-man-And-a-Donkey” and exactly too. ‘Don’t forget the man’s eyelashes!’

These are the tastes of man. How far can he go with these ideals? Where is the place of man? Where is his courage? Where is his superiority over nature and his environment? Will man continue to be the slave of that which he has created? Who will untie us of this age of the old chain of Tradition? Who will give us sight to see things in New light? Give these points a thought and let us dig into this New Way of Looking. It is a challenge to man.

The above piece, which calls for introspection, was written by Colette Omogbai, a pioneering Nigerian painter who identifies as a  Surrealist. It was published in the now defunct Nigeria magazine in March 1965, Issue 84, pg 80. Material courtesy Annett Busch, Women on Aeroplanes. 

Art featured: Colette Omogbai, Agony, 1963, Oil on hardboard, 69 x 50.5 cm. Via postwar.hausderkunst.de

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