Guest post by Dozie Igweze.
There’s a constant debate about whether art should be self-explanatory, able to speak to the viewer without comment or explanation from the artist or whether it should be a puzzle that the artist’s comments help solve. On the one hand, the work of art is complete dialogue with the viewer, its message self-evident. On the other hand, the artist, the artwork and the viewer come together to create the total picture. I’m never quite sure which is right. Both, probably, depending on the artist and his ideas. Looking at Duke Asidere’s works always reminds me of this puzzle. With his works one almost always feels that there is much more to it than what the eyes can see—and there usually is. The first Asidere I saw was a riverscape with a canoe. As soon as I saw it the thought came to mind: there had to be a message behind this.
The canoe and its surrounding were stripped bare—only the essential was in the picture. There was no attempt to create depth. The picture was almost cubist in its compression of space. It certainly wasn’t a visual delight. But, as I eventually learnt, Asidere’s works are not easy to digest. They are an acquired taste and like many acquired tastes are likely to give deeper satisfaction with time.
Asidere finished from Ahmadu Bello University with a first class in art. He went on to do his Masters there before going on to lecture at The Federal Polytechnic, Auchi where he spent many years. As with many artists affiliated to different schools, it’s hard to know where to place him. If one had to place Asidere in any school it would have to be firmly in Zaria. His style and the philosophy behind his works are firmly rooted in the ideas that developed during Gani Odutokun’s period in Zaria. Categorizing Asidere would be wrong though. His work just like the man is what it is—not necessarily tied to any one thing, not dependent on any association for its existence. Just different. His armless women of a few years ago seemed strange, almost helpless. Maybe there was an underlying theme of a generation of women wanting to break free but hampered by a society refusing to give them freedom. Much later he would go on to create a series of faces each one strangely haunted; expressionless, yet deeply expressive. They told different stories yet they all seemed to tell the same story—lost people, lost causes, lost ideas. Loss, over and over.
My favourite Asidere work is titled Some Leaders Think. It’s a small pencil sketch, a gift from the artist. It is a face drawn with a lot of fluid pencil strokes all interwoven. It gives you the impression of brain cells linking together to create effective thought, yet the eyes in the picture seem vacant, hopeless. You’re not quite sure if it’s a story about leaders elsewhere thinking or our leaders not thinking—or both. Hopefully you take it for what it is—a work by an artist that thinks and wants you to think.