Sunday, July 8, 2012

Celebrating Jerry Buhari who clocks 53 on 11 July

Despite Windows of Hope, Man and Earth on collision course
Hurray! Jerry Buhari, a former Dean, Department of Environmental Design, a former Head of Department (HoD), Department of Fine Arts, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU); Secretary of the Nigerian Society for Education through Art (NSEA) and one of the Editors of The Eye, a Fine Arts journal launched in the early 1990s; et cetera clocks 53 on 11 July, 2012.
Jerry Buhari in 2009. Photos: MAURICE ARCHIBONG. Copyrights Reserved.

Unknown to many people, Art or Culture is Siamese twin to Politics. The late Afro-beat creator, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and German-born sculptress, Kaethe Kolwitz, as well as countless other artists used their creativity to draw public attention to important social, economic and political issues.

Through the creativity of an artist, many megalomaniac rulers often find themselves cut down to size. The truth might be bitter but an intrepid song-writer like Fela knew the nation was better-off served that bitter truth than fed with praises of thieving leaders.
Power Chair.

Shuffering & Shmiling as well as ITT, two of the late Nigerian afro-beat maestro’s compositions, is classic creations in this regard. Aside Fela, numerous other creative persons, whose approach are far less combative, though still effective; have been helping to document their country’s woes over the decades. One of these advocates of better society is painter and Art Historian Jerry Buhari.

As a painter, Buhari’s works have been displayed at numerous solo and group exhibitions in Nigeria and overseas. Between the late 1980s and mid-1990s, his paintings featured prominently in various shows in Lagos, especially at Goethe Institut and Art & Objects, both in Victoria Island; both located in Victoria Island, those days.
Man and Environment.

In the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna, Buhari’s works were often on view during many exhibitions at the local Alliance Francaise and Avant Garde, an architectural firm-cum-art gallery run by Mr. Bolaji Doherty, also of blessed memory.

A family man, painter, writer, art historian and lecturer, Buhari is not immune to the perceptible degeneration of his country’s moral, educational, political, social and economic fibres. This decay, expectedly, frequently finds its way into Buhari’s paintings.

It could be recalled that Nigeria was thrown into chaos and gravitated toward disintegration, following the annulment of the 12 June, 1993 presidential election; and, a collection of some 3,000 miniatures produced by Buhari from June 1993 to the late 1990s aptly captures the Nigerian situation at that time.

Aside his paintings, which predominantly rely on bright colours, even when the subject is gloomy, Buhari has also produced a number of mixed-media works projecting Intellectual Art.
Death of a leaf.

Take one sculpture-like piece from Buhari for example. A small piece of a corrugated roofing sheet is affixed to a piece of wood, and dangling like a pendulum from the piece of metal is a small lock and two keys or so.

On the superficial level, this is not one of those artworks that instantly fascinate the viewer. But with help or interpretation from the artist, you immediately come to love this work.
This innocuous looking wood and metal amalgam tells a vivid tale of the foul character, who hides under politics to lie, swindle and loot; while pretending to represent prospective solution to society’s problem.
Two women harvest corn.

If you had the key to a lock, apparently, that should provide access; unfortunately, the politician’s key is often the wrong one, different to the lock. So, at the end of the day, what do Nigerians get? No solution, as the late “afrobeat” maestro, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, would say.

Interestingly, this piece of corrugated roofing material throws up another metaphor: The naïve electorate is likely to be taken-in by the sight of a roofing material because it is evocative of shelter and as the politician is likely to lie to you; succour. Protection from the rains and harsh sunshine.

The prospective thief masquerading as vote-seeker would ask one to see his roof for housing, warmth and the world; even. At the end of the day, the pretender statesman offers nothing good. But, the voter ought to have seen it coming, for the size of the roofing sheet was too small in the first place.

Buhari, a former dean of Environmental Design, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria; has been documenting Nigeria’s history on paper, wood, pieces of metal and mixed-media.

Most times, he writes with colours, but some of his stories are also rendered with pencil or pastel. In the 1990s, when Nigeria stood precariously on a precipice, following the annulment of the 12 June, 1993 elections won by Bashorun MKO Abiola and the obfuscating cloud of uncertainties that hung over the nation; Buhari was busy in his studios.

And, when we visited him in Samaru; we counted some 3,000 works mostly miniature renditions, some of them drawings, but the majority water-colour. Although he had a title for each work, we called the collection 3,000 visions of tension; for, their execution took place between 12 June, 1993 and 27 May, 1999.

A gentleman to the core, Buhari is keen to confront the issue without appearing confrontational. But, is that possible? Buhari does not pick on anyone in particular as regards his nation’s woes; yet, by employing allegories he succeeds in making his point.

And, his studies are not limited to local issues; well-read and versed in current affairs, Buhari is also concerned about the environment, international affairs and the economy as evident in the four-part National Issues series; National Issues I, National Issues II, National Issues III and National Issues IV; all rendered in 2008 and 2009.
Generation of dry bones.

Death of a leaf as well as Man and Environment is among other Buhari works we find deeply touching with regard to the environment. These acrylic on canvas pieces, which bear braided scrap fabric, we gathered, allude to “The relationship between Developed and Developing worlds. They can best be described as a complex tapestry of a game of interest networking, where the good, the bad and the ugly occupy positions of similar importance. In this work, I use the national flag as a platform of dialogue with some so-called super powers”, the painter explained.

It is worth recalling that when Buhari clocked 50 years old on 11 July, 2009, the commemorative exhibition celebrating his Golden Jubilee took place roughly five months later.

Albeit, there was need to celebrate; for, Buhari had survived various health challenges and surmounted sundry other hurdles to tell the story of his journey thus far.

The commemorative exhibition, which took place at Goethe Institut (German Cultural Centre), then on Ozumba Mbadiwe Street, Victoria Island, Lagos drew a sizeable number of viewers.

But, visitation is one thing, while collecting is quite another. To cut a long story short, Man and Earth, as the milestone show was dubbed, was a commercial flop. Paradoxically, however, the repertoire of Buhari’s works that went on view from 21 November to 4 December, 2009 was one of the most interesting we’ve seen in roughly 25 years of reporting on fine arts in Nigeria.

In classical era, Fine Arts was more popular considered as Five Arts; Painting, Architecture, Poetry, Music and Sculpture; and all five came to the fore, one way or another in the 30 or so works that went on view.

Whither Painting? Buhari took his first degree in that subject at Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria in the early 1980s. Architecture was evident in his concern for and focus on the environment both in content and context.

The lyricism that ran through his annotation of some the objet d’Art on display threw up Poetry, and lest we forget, Buhari earned a Master of Art in Art History at his alma mater in the mid-1980s. The sight of his paintings, such as Two women harvest corn and The moon and Rimi tree are music to the eyes, while Sculpture surged forth in Power chair.
The Moon and Rimi Tree.

However, some of this widely-travelled artist’s works, and the imageries they projected, were somewhat unsettling in the thoughts they provoked. Roll call: Death of a leaf, Prophecy, The Generation of dry bones (2009), etc.

In spite of all of his nation’s woes, Buhari sees Windows of Hope in a 2008 piece, which features two termite-ravaged wooden frames. Somehow, the decayed piece of wood turns out alluring after Buhari painted and adorned it with scrap rubber pieces as well as miniature cylindrical stuffs that come from brand-new pairs of rubber slippers.

This could well be a Nigerian metaphor: Given improved political leadership at all levels the nation could become all reinvented and renewed, despite its current level of degeneration, we reckoned.

In The Generation of dry bones, the miniature cylindrical pieces turn up again, just as the two square frames made from termite-devoured wood also turn up. In this case, however, the squares lie horizontal instead of vertically as in Windows….

The frames bound termite-eaten wood placed vertically. But, these apparent refuse is money waiting to be made; a sort of waste-to-wealth transformation. Hear the artist’s analysis: “In this work, I think of a city rising from decay, perhaps even a nation. I see dustbins and refuse dumps being translated into wealth. I see idle youth and jobless graduates finding inspiration in their country and becoming catalysts for progress and change”.

Born in Akwaya, which he once described as “a little hamlet” in Kachia, Mr. Buhari is on the academic staff of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, where he took his Bachelor of Art (BA) and Master of Art (MA) degrees in the early and mid-1980s.

A former student of Gani Odutokun (deceased) and Prof Jimo Akolo, among others, Buhari was Dean, Faculty of Art and Environmental Design at his alma mater in the mid to late 1990s.

Prior to being promoted dean, Buhari; who is also Secretary of the Nigerian Society for Education through Art (NSEA), had served as Head of Department (HoD), Department of Fine Arts of ABU.

In many ways, including the numerous students and graduates he groomed and continues to groom, not to talk of his writings as an art historian and through his paintings, Buhari has made; and, continues to make; invaluable contributions to the growth and popularity of art.

Such is Buhari’s enviable place as an artist, and in the realm of art education in Nigeria, that he is the subject of doctoral theses by two art scholars, Kefas Danjuma and Duniya Gambo. These scholars simultaneously also worked on Gani Odutokun, a former HoD of the Zaria Art School and one of the casualties of a fatal auto crash that occurred in early 1995.

As an organiser, Buhari was a major factor in the realisation of Aftershave International Artists Workshop, a groundbreaking international artists’ gathering, which took place in Nigeria in 1999.

Aftershave International Artists Workshop brought 10 Nigerian and seven foreign artists together in a workshop, held at the Museum of Traditional Nigerian Architecture (MOTNA) in Jos, Plateau State.

That debut was sponsored by The Triangle Arts Trust, UK; Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development, Netherlands; British Council, SO&U, Omoba Yemisi Shyllon, Plateau State Government, Signature Gallery, Lagos and Bas and Matt Limited, Jos.

Happy Birthday and Many Happy Returns, Jerry!

Below, is some guide to the motif and interpretation of 13 works by Jerry Buhari:

1.     Green vs Black (2009): more scrap fabric and acrylic on canvas 122cm x 122cm “It seems that there is always a contest between life and death. In pursuing our diverse interests, individual and corporate, we all must seek a balance between these two inevitable forces”.
2.     Death of a Leaf (1995) Enamel and acrylic on canvas 84cm x 120cm “This work mourns the death of beautiful nature. When a plant or a tree dies, the first sign can be found in the withering of the leaves”.
3.     Untitled I & II (1998) Mono print 21cm x 32cm each.
4.     Two women harvest corn produced during a workshop in Vermont, USA (2005) Mud on water colour on paper 22.9cm x 30.5cm “In this work I try to connect with mother earth by employing mud, an artistic medium to reference the soil and food”.
5.     The moon and a Rimi Treee over Zaria City (1998) Mono print 15cm x 22cm
6.     Journey to Gadani (Pakistan 2005) Water colour on paper. “In the small village of Gadani everything green becomes so important assuming a larger than life significance – when a shrub”.
7.     Polution: Break of the morning on Third Mainland Bridge (1990) Water colour on paper 19cm x 14cm “In the early hours of the morning taking your view from water banks of the university of Lagos, the view of Third MainLand Bridge is both romantic and chilling”.
8.     Smugglers Notch (2005) Mud on water colour on paper “My guide at the Vermount Studio Centre showed me a towering mountainous view of which smugglers use as a gateway to importing illicit spirits to the US and Canada. Mud appeared to me as the most appropriate medium to capture the mystery and enchanting landscape.
9.     Wasted I (1995) Enamel on canvas 84cm x 100cm. In this series, I attempt to capture man’s destructive activities. Here, one contemplates on how humanity wastes things and even itself, sometimes the flower branch is a prayer for life.
10.                         The Beatification of spillage (2006/2007) 80cm x 100cm - acrylic and enamel on canvas. “This is a sad satire about the story of nil with an attempt to re-tell a beautiful and through the windows of hopes Coded motifs were used to explore the phenomenon.
11.                         Delicate Landscape: 910 Journals of Nsukka (2008) water colour on paper 76.2cm x 56.5cm “In my one-year sabbatical at UNN, Nsukka, I had the luxury of meditating on nature. The fragile nature of the city’s topography compelled me to produce this “diary” of the encounters I had. Each 2cm painting represents a story”.
12.                         Prophecy (1993) acrylic on canvas 80cm x 102cm. “In this work, I think of the paradox of death and life. The seed dies to live. The human population grows by/through its own transition. The forest loses its ‘Iroko’ trees for younger Irokos to take their place. The sky presides over all these”.
13.                         Man and Environment (1997) Water colour on paper, 56cm x 76cm. “My thesis on man and his relationship with the environment at the moment is best expressed with a skeleton holding a dagger and a leaf.”

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