Beyond Functions II: A Shift to Socio-Political Issues with Ceramics | By Mathew B. Oyedele

On June 9, Ato Arinze and Djakou Kassi Nathalie opened their joint exhibition at the Quintessence Gallery in Ikoyi, Lagos. The works that are presented in the exhibition, Beyond Functions II, offers a marked contrast and deviation from the common functions that are consciously or unconsciously attached to ceramics.

Arinze and Djakou’s works are strongly different in content and style. Born in Cameroun, Djakou lived and taught in there before moving to Nigeria some years ago. Arinze studied in the southwestern and southeastern parts of Nigeria respectively. Growing up in different environments have major influences on their works. For Arinze, the Nigerian landscape offers an array of opportunity to define and conceptualize his art. He alludes to socio-political situations with simple shapes and sound contents. Djakou’s works neither question nor comment on socio-political happenings – spontaneity and the primacy of the gestural treatment of the fragile medium is central to her works.

Arinze oeuvre offers a trajectory into the rumbles and chaos of the society. He is deeply concerned by the agony and hardship that the people experience occasionally and positions himself as a social commentator who participates in public criticisms through conceptual art. In Bullet holes and bullet wounds, featured in the exhibition, the artist presents a commentary on the recent killings in the country by Fulani Herdsmen who attacks villages and settlements at will.

Another piece, Africa Series, offers a call to action to all Africans. The continent will account for more than half of the global population growth in the next few years and Africa is not prepared for this tremendous growth. How will it be prepared when the young continent is ruled by old people? The bold text that reads “Awake” in the series is the artist’s call to Africans to take up the responsibility of transforming, shaping and growing the continent significantly for the benefit of future generations.

With allusive and humorous titles, Djakou confronts her spectators with guilt-ridden contents and daily happenings. Facial expressions present a horror vaccui on the body of her works and attest to a spontaneous play of lines and shapes that have been mastered over time. In a piece titled Depression, she engages the curiosity of the spectator with personal imprisonment. She delineates a man with his head buried between his knee in a sitting position. Bits of circular shapes in repetitive pattern creates translucency and encloses the work in a spherical form. “We are out of jail or in jail because of our actions” was her response in a brisk conversation. Humorous titles like GuestsHesitation, and Wonders Shall Never End offers a peep into human reactions to everyday happenings.

Both artists employ forms in the service of their ideas and explore elements of art as metaphors for representing situations. Arinze’s colours are reminiscent of the current situation in the country – red for the constant killings and grey for mourning. He also employs a wobbled form to illustrate the political instability in the country. Djakou’s facial expressions made with lines and shapes texturize her works and addresses man as the prime mover of all activities.

Beyond Functions II is open until June 24, 2018. Featured work: Ato Arinze: Africa Series. 

Oyedele is a visual artist and art historian. He blogs at

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