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A look at Duke Asidere’s paintings

No doubt, Duke Asidere has paid his dues as one of Nigeria’s most talented contemporary artists. If you are a keen follower of the artist, you will observe that there is something so refreshingly cerebral about his works.

For over 25 years, he has boldly commented on Nigeria’s socio-political landscape through his artistic works presented in a variety of genres including pencil, engravings, oil and acrylic, pastels, and collage.

His works engage contemporary African politics. Through visual metaphors, the artist comments on the everyday human drama that surrounds him from political, social, psychological to cultural. Furthermore, he adds an element of surprise to his sketches of human drama by infusing them with irony and humour.

Asidere’s broad oeuvre ranges from headless or limbless figures and faces of strangely hybrid beings to densely populated urban landscapes, accentuated with thick strokes of vivid colour. He has recently turned to car enamel paint, which he applies with a spray gun to produce emotionally charged works that retain figurative subject matter, and at the same time emphasize abstract qualities. Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of Asidere’s style is his simplicity of form and expressive line, which he achieves with an economy of means.

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He calls his highly textured black canvas with a few specks of color “one man, one generator”, an unflinching portrayal of the totally absurd lack of electricity plaguing one of the world’s largest oil producing nations. His drawing of the market woman selling tomatoes with dollar price doodles scribbled in the shadows is a wry commentary on Nigeria’s runaway exchange rates and galloping inflation apparently asphyxiating even the sale of locally grown produce.

“Duke looks at painting from the lens similar to that of many older masters. This is the lens of simplicity – the lens of sincerity,” wrote the famous Nigerian artist, Gani Odutokun (1946-1995) who mentored Asidere while teaching at Ahmadu Bello University. “Duke possesses the kind of sincerity that has brought enormous recognition to artists (such as abstract expressionists like Philip Guston& De Kooning). These are artists who feel the urge to say something and will not like to be inhibited no matter how unpalatable to the society or what they might have to say. They will not create even a square centimeter of a picture just to please. But paint they will, to express an inner urgency. Duke belongs to this fold.”

One of his remarkable solo exhibitions in 2016, which was tagged “Mental Space”, was Asidere’s external response to an internal, multi-layered landscape of deep thought, questions, and critique.

“Through his drawings, he challenges us to reflect on a constantly changing political context, in which he highlights the crazy and controversial excesses in our lives with bold, often humorous poignancy”, Sandra Mbanefo Obiago, the curator of the exhibition, explained.

Asidere was born in Lagos in 1961. He obtained a Bachelor’s degree with First Class Honours in Fine Arts (painting) from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in 1988, and a Masters of Fine Arts in painting in 1990 from the same university. He taught painting, drawing and art history at the Federal Auchi Polytechnic for five years.

Asidere is within reach. His works are in galleries, while he participates in one joint exhibition or the other. However, the best place to see him is in his studio. He is well-exhibited in Nigeria and abroad and is a member of the Society of Nigerian Artists.

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