A passion for painting Argungu: As far as the Eyes can see
“All those who have bothered to know the country Nigeria are indeed blessed and grateful to God for a gift of this lifetime.” Mike Omoighe
I first came across Moses Oghagbon’sArgungu series in 2003 shortly after he returned from the National Youths Service Corps. The winds of destiny had blown and his call up letter to serve his father land posted him to Kebbi state where his karmic ties with the people and culture of Argungu was yet to unfold. When he was a student in the famous Yaba Art School, his outstanding brilliant palette was already established. He wasa dedicated, focused, and extremely quiet student,with strongly endowed power of imagination, observation and a penchant for poetic naturalistic photo finish drawings and paintings.At graduation, the overall reflective impression of him was that of a young man equipped with a rare sophisticated creative energy, talent and passion for studio art practice in painting. He already displayed an extremely distinctive inclination for landscapes and figurative compositional ability both in content and contextual issues of his environment. Most of his expressive works already proclaimed him yet another outstandingtypical product of the ‘Yaba Art School’.The Yaba art school being the first in Nigeria has an impressive roll call of art legends like Yusuf Grillo, Erhabor Emokpae (RIP), Jerome Elaiho, Victor Uwaifo, Layi Balogun (RIP), Ola Oloidi as well as Dele Jegede to mention but a few.There are however, remarkable apparent differences in individual attitudes, technique and colour qualities among graduates with similarities in their works. The differences and similarities are perhaps noticeable when works are exhibited together. For example, Abiodun Olaku’s calm poetic sunset of Ebute-Ero Lagos, by the Lagoon, Titilayo Omoighe’s Gumel landscapes,(Kano now Jigawa state), Bimbo Adenugba’s Lagos Streets at night, Kelani Abass landscapes from Kebbi/ Ojota at night and Moses Oghagbon’s warm colourful Kebbi sunsets are all from the Yaba art but with apparent differential attitudes.
The Yaba Art School in service to the Nigerian nation for over seventy years, profile an impressive staff strength that can be called upon asprofessional exhibiting studio art practice Artistsand teachers. Yusuf Grillo, Vivian Osemwiegie, Kolade Oshonowo, Dele Jegede, Tony Jones, Mama Ogunlesi, Funso Jenkins, Paul Igbanugo, Pa Owojuigbe, Mike Omoighe, Rukeme Noserime, Olu Amoda, Bernard Aina, Max Carrena, Raquib Bashorun, Anthony Ogunde, Kunle Adeyemi, Titilayo Omoighe, Adeola Balogun, Aderinsoye Aladegbongbe,Odun Orimolade, Stella Awoh Mofunayan, Shade Thompson and Omoligho Udenta. We fondly remember and appreciate the services rendered by the following fallen foundation heroes’ team players of the Yaba art school 1953- 2017:Paul Mount, Isiaka Osunde (RIP), J. A. Agbabiaka (RIP), Ben Osawe (RIP), Irein Wangboje (RIP), Ifakite Oshiga (RIP), Bola Nicol (RIP),Carew (RIP), Henry Abiola (RIP),Godstime Nwaji (RIP),
The above named artists since 1953 till date have contributed immensely to building the Great Yaba Art School and the Society of Nigerian Artist, (Lagos and National) through their studio Art practice and teaching, helping the younger generations in their efforts to realize their full potential.
As Far as the Eyes Can See
The visual anthropological studies and documentation of the cultural value of the “Argungu Emirate’’and beyond testifies to Oghagbon’s dedication to his chosen carrier and genuine spirit of nationalism amidst all odds. He is a great Yabite, whose dedicated visual art research into the rich cultural value and heritage of the Argungu and Zuru Emirates of Kebbi state are being presented to Nigerians, Africans and the world at large in this solo art exhibition. The art scene today like a swing of pendulum is remarkably, overwhelmingly and technically driftedfrom the draughtsman ship of Leonardo Davinci’s/Michael Angelo’s 15th century in hierarchical structure of learning Art from life drawing classes, crafts and skills. Since the “provocative paintings” in Paris that gave birth to ‘the Fauves’ (French for wild beasts) exhibition 1905, the art world has witnessed artists going out of the conventional art practice to express themselves with brilliant colours and simplified shapes in paintings. Ogbagbon’s paintings of Art festivals and landscapes reflect the environmental influence of brilliant lively colours depicting the high pitch sunlight in northern Nigeria- Kebbi, Sokoto, Kano, Katsina and other parts.This severe high temperature generates unbearable hostilities to plants, animals and other life forms which are beyond the imagination of the average Southerners. Though sunset sceneries can be very Durbar-like colourful, such intense brilliant colours also express the artist’s personal feelings about social and cultural life of Northern Nigeria. For example, a pastel painting on Ingres paper titled “Peaceful Moment” is perhaps a metaphoric communication in red scheme with lemon yellow, orange, violet sky and silhouetted figures in brilliant red and white contrastedby a dark horizon as background. Oghagbon is a super-naturalistic painter with grain photography finish that clearly illustrates the preferred luminous bright coloured textile fashion culture of the people as evidenced in Experience ii, Collective Effortii, Memories of Argungu I and Life is Beautiful VI.
However, Common Goal ii, Memories of Argungu ii, Common Goal i, Joy, Inner Drive and Divine Return strikes a vivid remembrance of his affinity with the legendry Oshinowoism in the Yaba Art School. The cool tempered tamed earth colours of Seun Sogunro, Olaku’s sunset mood over the Lagos/Lagoon series and Peter Ukah’s Makoko Lagos exploration,all takes their bearing from the Yaba art school’s tradition.African Pride is a brownish colour scheme mixed media paintingthat exists in a loneclass among several other works. It combines lineal natural, abstraction and surrealism in a mixed media style conjuring spiritual connotations capable of attracting multiple interpretations in meaning. It cuts across abstract expressionism, ina contrasting coloured effect on geometric scarified turbaned head with eye balls generating active optical sensibilities. These latest works from Oghagbon’s anthropological studies in Argungu Emirate, Zuru Emirate and environs, display an understanding of monotonous increase in his narratives. His seeming familiar scenes and subject matter have multifarious, multivalent not too obvious expressions that are gradual but progressive in nature,which requires careful observation and understanding to decipher the inherent cultural communication codes. The visual open text communication of the tribal marks/the scarifications on the face, turbaning and hairdo with ornaments for example requires a cultural reading and understanding like every literature.
The cultural norms of the people of Kebbiand indeed other statesin the North are different from the Western, Eastern or South-South Nigeria in all ramifications ranging from thecontent and contextual issue involved in festival themes, costumes for performance and cuisines are all coded messages. To the outsider/uninitiated from another society, the performance materials and artare often seen as mere decorative designs in colorful attires for entertainment. Between 1988– 1992, I was highlyprivileged to have done a similar anthropological study across the country Nigeria, from the whole Southern statesthrough all middle belt states to North central states (Katsina, the then Kano state, Hadeja, up to Portiscum.). I enjoyed the self sponsored project and the unimaginable hospitality of everyone I met across the country Nigeria. My special acknowledgment of the Oba of Benin, Enijies’ of Opoji and Irrua, Edo state,the Emirs of Kano and Daura, The then Governor of Kano state, Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, Alhaji Maitama Sule, History and culture Bureau Kano (Alhaji Bature and HajiaKatume Gana)and all my Fulani friends along the ‘Journey’s thru’ the savannah- As Far as the Eye can See’ project. Myspecial highlight is the minute study of thedifferent ways each locality in the north rapped/tied and packaged their Sere/Suya/Balngo.It is an amazingly different art skill to behold. Next time you buy ‘Suya’ pay special attention to the way it is rapped.Wudil was however my favourite across the country. Hence the seeming resemblance in cultural traits among different societies must not be taken for granted. From the turbaning of the hierarchies of leadership to the common man on the street, there are distinct differences to those who know the cultures. . In African Pride, the brownish/maroon colour with dark spots on the knotted turban tied around the head brings to mind Oghagbon’s unique technique of treating the Argungu multitude fishermen competing for the biggest catch of the day – memories of Argungun I and II. He achieves the painting of the multitude fishermen effortlessly using coded signs and symbols familiar to the conventional fishing method, materials and shapes of object used in the community. The holistic treatment of the crowds of fishermen and audience are achieved using the old technique of modeling with light and shade to portray the calabash pots, fishing nets and the human figures scanning for the biggest fish in the grey brownish body of water flowing from river ‘Rima’.
Analysis and critical deliberations are therefore necessary and significant towards ability to read and understand visual arts in our polarized modern society in Africa. Artists are perhaps the best to provide the decoder for reading their coded visual communication. The Argungu fishing festival is a tourist destination listed in Nigeria’s cultural directory, acultural destination like the Yankari games reserve, the Durbar Homage to the Emirs, the Igbo Yam Festivals, the Igue festival of the great Benin Kingdom, and several others. However, the Nigerian nation security network is a task that must be done for cultural, economic and political stability. Or how do we explain the fact that great leader like former governor of the old Kano emirate passed on due to insecurity in the nation.I salute your courage, strong cultural interest and bold decision to help document the cultural heritage of the Argungu fishing festival and other areas of your anthropological study.Like the primordial biblical Moses you are poised among others determined and resolved to lead in the most needed documentation of this country’s cultural heritage and legacies as nothing lasts forever.
Congratulations Moses Oghagbon. Happy viewing!!!
Mike Omoighe, (1990) Journey’s Thru’ the Savannah: As Far as the Eye can See. A solo Art Exhibition Brochure- Didi Museum Lagos.
The National Arts and Culture Directory, a Compilation of NACD at the Presidency, Abuja Nigeria- Online.
Titilayo Kolawole, (1990) Northern Landscapes Kano. A solo Art exhibition Brochure- Alliance Françoise Kano.
Personal contact with Moses Oghagbon- Interview sessions
Mike Omoighe Ph.D.
Chief Lecturer/Director Academic Planning at Yaba College of Technology, Yaba, Lagos.
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