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  • By Folu Oyefeso (K-AiR Guest Writer-in-Residence)

New Dawn: A Look at Duke Asidere’s Residency at K-AiR

Updated: Apr 24

The morning atmosphere felt fresh and crisp. The new rains had washed away what was a dusty dry season in the city of Ibadan, leaving the coconut and mango trees glistening with a subtle lustre, as they danced in the breeze. Some dark clouds had rolled in, but the sun’s rays cut through them with intention and soft golden rays beamed down on the Kòbọmọjẹ-court. This marks a new cultural awakening for the vibrant art scene in Ibadan, as the southwestern city is known for its rich cultural heritage and legacy. A legacy that includes the likes of the Mbari Club, “a collective of African writers, artists and musicians whose works personify the quality of transformation embodied by the aesthetic of creation, decay, and regeneration” as evoked by Mbari tradition. It was founded by Uli Beier with the involvement of Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Christopher Okigbo, Demas Nwoko, and J.P Clark. 

The goal of Kòbọmọjẹ-AiR is to offer a space for creatives, to explore the possibilities inherent in synergies, fostering exchanges, and a sense of fellowship, - as they connect with one another, the natural world, and the vibrant local communities in Ibadan. Located in the carefully restored residence of the late humanist and political activist Suliat Adedeji, and combined with a  vision to  reposition Ibadan as the bedrock of creative practice in Nigeria, Kòbọmọjẹ-AiR, through its cross-disciplinary residency program, encourages collaboration, creative democratization and development. The residency space was built and designed by G. Cappa Plc - an Italian building and civil engineering company founded in 1932 and they paved the way for other Italian construction companies to enter the Nigerian architectural space. Their commercial design and building portfolio includes industrial and residential projects such as the Cocoa House, the Holy Cross Cathedral and the Civic Centre. K-court is a part of this portfolio and it stands out with personality. It is built amongst the greenery of the undulating face of the Iyaganku hills, and large windows provide ample lighting without taking you away from nature. All these elements come together and provide some of the most stunning views the city has to offer - a haven for creators. 

The journey to the residency program began in 2003 with the first artist in residence, the late Ben Osaghae - prominent painter and social commentator, stayed for a period of 6 months. In his memory, and as part of activities leading up to the official launch of K-AiR, we have special interests in supporting Nigerian contemporary creatives by supporting 4-selected creatives during their stay at K-Court through a closed-call.

Our genesis artist for the program is Duke Asidere, one of the foremost contemporary artists in Nigeria and widely known for being bold in both speech and expression. This was immediately obvious as he grumbled about some conflict he had experienced in traffic, exasperated by the humid atmosphere. He works across diverse mediums and his career spans over 4 decades. He spoke with a familiarity that is difficult to explain, it felt like a conversation amongst old friends which allowed for free-flowing discussion and exchanging of ideas. Asidere has multiple attributes - his fun-loving character, his propensity for story-telling and his warm persona are elements that inspire you, but it’s perhaps his frank nature that is most endearing. He does not mince words, direct and brutally honest when he speaks regardless of what anyone might think and it is this sincerity that carries over into his art. Many of his masterpieces speak to the various stories that surround us, coming in political, sociological, cultural and psychological forms. His visual metaphors tackle the everyday struggles of living in Nigeria he explained while pointing to a piece titled “Stop” - a textured black canvas with streaks of red and yellow. This piece points to the worsening national electricity situation that we (Nigerians) were unfortunately experiencing at that moment.

As we continued to inquire into Asidere’s work, we couldn’t help but observe his techniques. His palette knife dancing ever so elegantly, while slathering thick blobs of oil paint onto the canvas. His technique was intriguing, rough yet elegant, bold yet gentle, experienced yet youthful, we started to see Asidere in his work. His raspy tone alluded to the rough and somewhat 3-dimensional texture of his paintings which seemed to lift the subjects off the canvas, and appear more alive. His liveliness and colourful mannerisms carry over well, evident by the eclectic mix of bright hues sploshed on the tapestry. One of the unfinished canvases titled “Landscape” for instance, highlighted this aspect vividly. This painting depicts a residential neighbourhood in Ibadan enveloped by greenery, and it stood out because the city is colloquially  known as the city of brown rooftops. Asidere’s depiction of the city was different though. Perhaps a direct foreshadowing of a more vibrant future for Ibadan, one that is sprouting with life and bursting with colour.

Having spent a month in the city since the middle of February 2022, he has had time to be inspired by the surroundings and has produced a solid body of work. The quietude, the green spaces and the eye-catching architecture are elements of the city visible from our upper studio at the residency and it’s lovely to hear that these were amongst his favourite sources of inspiration. In a quote he says “My stay here was very intensive and everyday has been a standout moment for me. The residency opportunity has allowed me to stretch myself beyond my studio space in Lagos… The practice of art is also a practice of life and I believe in doing art to precede one’s age”. He expressed that he would definitely love to spend more time in the city, so we will definitely look forward to his next visit. 

The presence of female imagery is also a common theme in Asidere’s work. Duke explains that women play a very influential role in his life, and as an ode to them, a good number of his paintings depict feminine forms. Interestingly this thematic expression is often associated with giving life, and in the way life passes through a woman, we at K-AiRir strive to foster new ideas, relationships and ultimately, the cultural and art landscape in Ibadan.

When Duke isn’t painting, you can most likely find him with a pencil in hand, sketching. This “back to basics” technique serves as the foundations for the 16 pieces he created while at K-Court - simple in form but no less expressive. He describes sketching as his first love, and spends ample time creating from a graphite base. To capture the architectural landscape of Ibadan, Asidere spent some time driving around the city, looking for interesting structures to sketch. His method is quite spectacular, especially to an inexperienced eye, they almost seem to start off random, but as they progress the shapes begin to take form. From the vantage point of Asidere’s eyes, we are able to see how the artist creates certainty, despite starting off with arbitrary lines. This method contains eerie similarities to life’s unsure path and is an inspiration to continue to tread that path, until it makes sense at the end.

With the project off to a strong start, we can only anticipate higher grounds. As K-AiR pours into talented artists and talented artists pour back, the vision becomes more opaque. One  cannot help but be excited, because we are witnessing the birth of a higher echelon of the cultural landscape, in the southwestern city of Ibadan. 


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