Seth Godin, the American author, once said that “Optimism is the most important human trait, because it allows us to evolve our ideas, to improve our situation, and to hope for a better tomorrow.” Juliet Ezenwa Maja-Pearce’s exhibition is an example of this principle in action. Take a look at her all white oils and mixed media works, the canvases with uncontrolled splatter of paint, and the bright coloured floating women. As a whole, this show is almost as uplifting as Ben Enwonwu’s Nigerian Symphony (1963-64). In a sense, both are expressions of belief in a better tomorrow.
Pearce’s use of brilliant colours plus simplified subject matter does not come as a surprise. She had apprenticed with Sam Ovraiti, the most expressive Nigerian water colourist and a key member of the Auchi School, after graduating from Bendel State University (now Delta State University) in 1990. In explaining her relationship with art on her website, the Lagos based artist, who was born in Benin City in 1968, says, “My art comes from a very happy place. I am as happy as a sand girl when I am creating art. Whenever I encounter challenges relating to both life and art, I simply take my lemons and make lemonade.” It was therefore conceivable that when faced with a writer’s block due to the various problems of the Nigerian economy, she would clean out her mind (the white works), go back to the beginning (the paint splattered canvases) and soar above the troubles (the floating women); looking optimistically to the future. Aptly named ‘Beyond 2018’, the exhibition is a canvas by canvas tutorial of rising above present problems and looking forward to a brighter future.
In addition to these pieces, some masks and other works, the show contains three polychromatic works depicting masquerades titled The Maiden Masquerades (Dancing Girls) 1, 2, 3. This is a subject and style Pearce has visited severally. The works echoes Ben Enwonwu’s Ogolo series. But Pearce’s masquerades are nimbly females in colourful fields of what seems to be flowers. They are not dressed but their bodies are covered in vibrant body paint and designs. Notwithstanding the bland location, I think this exhibition is worth your time. I can actually say the hopeful tone of the works had me in an upbeat mood by the time I was leaving. Let it do the same to you.
Beyond 2018 Exhibition is at National Museum, Onikan, Lagos through August 30 (tomorrow).