Obidike Okafor about the exhibition 'The Progress of Love'
A journey of self examination
'The Progress of Love' at the CCA Lagos successfully and critically engages with the subject of love as a concept and changing narration in contemporary African art
17. February 2013
The women sit naked with their legs spread wide, urging the viewer to hit them or to love them. A few meters away, an installation of over 20 penises in different sizes seems to mock the request “It’s a man’s world, we choose what we want”. These are the reflections of Valerie Oka’s presentation in the multifaceted exhibition titled ‘The Progress of Love’.
The Centre of Contemporary Art (CCA) in Lagos collaborates with The Menil Collection, Houston to explore the changing modes and meanings of love, using performance, installation, video and photography. The project is co-organized by Bisi Silva, director of the Centre for Contemporary Art in Lagos, and Kristina Van Dyke, former curator for collections and research at the Menil Collection. The exhibition will be mounted at both venues as well at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts in St. Louis. The presentation at the CCA looks at the question or problem of love through the artistic practice of performance artists Jelili Atiku and Wura-Natasha Ogunji, installations and drawings by Temitayo Ogunbiyi and Valérie Oka, or the moving images of Zanele Muholi, Andrew Esiebo and Adaora Nwandu. The presentations will also be complimented by discussions and a final exhibition where all the works will be brought together.
So how do you measure or understand love? What is deemed as the appropriate way of showing love? Is love a right or must it be earned? The presentations for ‘The Progress of Love’ begin to unfold with Valerie Oka’s drawings, installations, video, and performance installation. Women are the centerpiece of Oka’s visual feast, as the gallery space is overrun with multiple images and silhouettes of naked women, depicting the physical and psychological traumas caused by rejection, pain, and violence but also love, passion and joy of human interactions. Africans’ conservative nature gets some arty indigestion at this exhibition where Valerie Oka’s emphasis on sensual intimacy is too much for an audience that is still adjusting to global trends: this project is a journey of self-examination, raising questions about love and individualism.
The exhibition progresses with a performance by Wura-Natasha Ogunji titled ‘A tortoise walks majestically on the window ledges’, where she uses her body to fill in details about her history. The performance is followed in quick succession by a two-part performance by Jelili Atiku called ‘A Part of Me is Missing’, where he enacts a eulogy to the dead as if they were present. From performance the exhibition switches to screenings of Zanele Muholi’s award-winning documentary ‘Difficult Love’ (2010), with co-director Peter Goldsmid, Andrew Esiebo’s multimedia work ‘Living Queer African’ (2007), Adaora Nwandu’s ‘Say My Name’ and an installation by Temitayo Ogunbiyi. In ‘Difficult Love’, Muholi turns the camera on the lives of a homeless couple living under the bridge, a transgendered traditional healer, a lesbian single mother, as well as on the artist in a candid portrayal of their everyday realities. In ‘Living Queer African’, Andrew Esiebo documents the daily life of a young Cameroonian who struggles with his identities of being African and gay in France. Adaora Nwandu tells a contemporary love story in ‘Say My Name’, dealing with conflicting feelings about masculinity, sexuality, race, self-definition and love. Temitayo Ogunbiyi explores love as relayed through text messaging, perhaps one of the most popular forms of contemporary communication, especially in Lagos.
Many Africans are conservative about their feelings, as culture places feelings in a box. But the exhibition ‘The Progress of Love’ hits the right notes as it does not only provide a voice for love themes and reminds viewers that love is an important ingredient in human interactions. It also manages to tackle issues that are either seen as taboo or are talked about in hushed tones – like sexuality and gender violence.
‘The Progress of Love’, 13 October 2012 – 27 January 2013, CCA Lagos , www.ccalagos.org