Contemporary Art from Nigeria. (Arts and Culture)

Article excerpt

African contemporary artists have so often in the past fought an almost impossible battle to have their work taken seriously on the world stage. Critical judgement has too often been clouded by cultural misconceptions, which help form an impenetrable barrier through which few African artists have emerged.

However, recent years have seen a gradual shift in attitude in the West and many Sub-Saharan artists are now finding their work exhibited in some of the world's most celebrated galleries.

London's October Gallery in conjunction with the Nigerian High Commission recently mounted one of the best group shows of Nigerian art in many years. Titled "Contemporary Art from Nigeria", the show is both a celebration of 40 years of Nigerian independence as well as a welcome showcase for the work of many of the country's living legends.

According to the Gallery's artistic director, Elizabeth Lelouschek: "Over the last decade, there has been a kind of awakening in the West to contemporary African artists. The huge success of "Africa 95", which showcased the work of artists from all over the continent, gave a huge boost to African artists. That event in many ways helped to create a genuine interest in the West for African art and that interest has grown. For us, this trend has allowed us to develop a strong relationship with many of the artists who appear in the show. And I feel that this relationship has been crucial in helping us to raise the public profile of their work."

Some of the artists featured in the exhibition include stalwarts of the Nigerian contemporary art scene -- such as Bruce Onobrakpeya, Tunde Odunlade and the indomitable Twin Seven-Seven.

Taken together, their work helps to illustrate the vast diversity of Nigerian contemporary art. Their pieces range from the almost dreamlike surrealism of Bruce Onobrakpeya's Dance in the Bush of the Ghost series, to the quiet beauty of Taya Quaye's Married Couple, and the disturbing Beast Rider by Twin Seven-Seven.

Each painter's style is unique and their only common link is their ability to view the world in an entirely different way. A quality which artist Emmanuel Jegede, whose work also appears in the exhibition, feels is very much an integral part of Nigerian life.

"I think that we are a very visual people," he says. "We see our environment in a very unique way. This has enabled the country to continue to produce many of the continent's greatest artists."

Nigeria's artistic legacy dates back thousands of years. The earliest known Nigerian sculptures are thought to have been produced around 900 BC by the mysterious Nok Kingdom. …