We caught up with Neo African Artist Dennis Osadebe to discover what is Neo Africa? plus why we need to be challenging the term "African art".
What are you working on at the moment?
So currently, I'm working on new and exciting products to be dropped on my website. I'm also working on a new exhibition happening in New York soon. It's an unconventional type of project and I'm excited to see how it pans out (don't think i'm allowed to say much about it now)
Look forward to seeing it once its dropped, what's your working process – ideation to final piece?
A lot of the time, the process starts with identifying what is occupying my mind at that moment in time. Then actually laying it out. When I paint I never select the colour scheme, I start with a base colour which is usually the strongest colour in the piece. As the piece grows, I am constantly responding to the colours until the piece is completed. For it to be considered finished, It really has to posses the type of energy that I want to share with the world before I believe anyone else can connect with it.
Your understanding of colour is brilliant. Space, astronauts and anti-gravity seem to be recurring themes is this intentional?
Thank you. The themes from my past series (time travel and gravity) share the same concept of time and space. The theme of space and astronauts, however is a more recent theme, which started coming together earlier last year, after I heard the news of Nigeria planning a space programme. The news sparked my curiosity because it was about the future of Nigeria and I researched on it and this inspired the body of works. It was exciting because I thought I could use the future of Nigeria as a tool for social commentary about the past and many other social issues faced in the country. So i would say this new themes are natural progression from my older themes.
What present social issues are you most focused on?
My recent body of works are more focused around the issues of corruption, our heavy reliance on importation from our everyday fabrics that identify our culture to oil that is being produced by us, poor governance, technology and the role it plays in our everyday life.
You are expressing both social and political issues how is your work received in Nigeria?
It's received well actually, better than anyone can imagine. You know sometimes it's nice to see Nigerians in space for a change.
My works are quite different, it's progressive, it symbolises change and the thing with change is that it is a force which cannot be stopped. There will be resistors but positive change will always win.
Now I'm sure you are asked this question a million times but how would you define ‘Neo Africa’?
Haha, I'm happy people are starting a dialogue around the ideology. Neo Africa embraces the idea of deconstructing the notion of contemporary "African" art and questions what exactly this means. When we call art, ‘African art’ it creates an expectation - that the artist will create something ‘African’ and for the collector to collect something ‘African” and for the institution to be ‘African’. This limits the artist in the sense of creating and Neo Africa wants to break out of that box and out of the expectations projected on to us as creators, as artists on the continent.
It seeks to reflect on the radical diversity of contemporary art from a global perspective. I believe that this philosophy applies to my works because of my approach to art.
I think this needs to be communicated to institutions and contemporaries as I only too often hear 'this African artist' or as you mentioned collectors discussing 'African Art' do you believe it is the duty of artists to be educating collectors, institutions etc.?
It is important we start having these conversations now! What exactly is African Art? Who is exactly an African artist? For art in a whole continent to be limited to one term "Africa" Art, it's not doing it justice. I believe that link between artist and collector is one in which they educate each other and everyone has a role to play in this. The duty also lies in art institutions/establishments in the African continent to educate the people, but to educate them they need to understand it first. Which I don't think is the case at the moment.
I would love to bring this to light more through a larger discussion.
Yes! It is also the duty of journalists focused in the arts in African continent to educate the people about this. It's an idea that needs the whole stakeholders to be actively involved in.
Are there any other artists who have embraced the ideology and / or are actively calling themselves Neo African artists?
Yes! there is a collective in Nigeria called Bantu who comprise of different types of artists from musicians to writers, painters and photographers who are focused on pushing the Neo African ideology and are producing fantastic stuff. We worked earlier in 2013 and we've been vibing about possibilities for the future. There are also a few curators who have enquired about Neo Africa and it's possibilities. The end goal is to build a collective of people focused on pushing the message of Neo Africa.