The pop art movement, which came to the fore in the 50s and 60s, was born in direct response to the rigidity of artistry, and inspired, as the name suggests, by commercial and popular culture. This was a broadly conceived artistic nod to the commodity-driven values of the postwar era, often featuring commonplace objects as subject matter or forming part of the work. Today, the resilient style continues to provide political commentary, with African artists marrying traditional concepts and contemporary approaches to produce a remarkable, and essential narrative surrounding viewpoints that are often stifled in their respective nations.
In Nigeria, three artists, Williams Chechet, Dennis Osadebe, and Deborah Segun, defined by their vivid iconography, have emerged to lead the pop art reawakening. Collectively, they have breached cultural as well as artistic boundaries, setting the pace for this genre within Nigeria. Their art illustrates their stark realities through the playful and experimental use of technique, media, and most especially, color.
From Chechet’s exploration of Hausa folklore to Osadebe’s colorful African mask motifs, and Segun’s interrogation of how society views the female physique, pop art is thriving through the works of these talented Nigerians. Read on to discover the mavens behind this indigenous postmodernist movement.
Williams Chechet was born in Kano and raised in Kaduna, where he studied industrial design at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. His art uses Hausa iconography to explore the intertextualities of contemporary Nigerian civilization. Chechet creates a world steered by popular culture and the exploration of his heritage, making art that Omenka Gallery notes is “reminiscent of the work of artist Roy Lichtenstein,” a leading figure in the American new art movement in the 60s.
Take Chechet’s digital composition from his 2017 ‘Hyperflux’ series, Her Worth II, as an example: The image is an appropriation of Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Diptych and juxtaposes a portrait of a Black girl with kinky hair. The piece symbolizes conflicting beauty ideals, challenging society’s ingrained, albeit problematic, standards of beauty. The painting is largely in grayscale and disrupted by Monroe’s chromatic cutout, typical of the wanton color play that Chechet is known for. Such deliberate and evocative imagery sets his portraiture apart and makes his work distinctive.
Chechet’s techniques call forth art that creates new pieces from the old. From manipulated Renaissance-era paintings to the faces of African presidents on currencies, the borders in Chechet’s world are undefined and the elements he collages span conflicting hypotheses. His works show a reality where borrowing is not only glorified but expected. Through his art, Chechet appears to make the statement that Africa does not, and has never existed in isolation from the rest of the world.
Lagos-based Dennis Osadebe is an artist and sculptor, who incorporates both physical and digital techniques into his pieces. He is best known for using acrylic paint, as well as digitally reproducing his work. Osadebe’s use of highly pigmented colors to create minimalist, yet expressive compositions showcase his expertise in playing with space, imagery, and movement. He achieves a contrast by highlighting mundane aspects of our day-to-day against certain cultural symbols (such as the traditional Yoruba mask or West African fabrics) and details.
Despite his meticulous use of bright colors, Osadebe’s pieces express a stillness. And for all his precision, Osadebe does not draw faces; instead, he replaces them with ancestral masks as a recurring theme. Such distinct creative choices thread Osadebe’s cultural heritage through his work and give his art a “Neo-African” feel.
It’s this contrast that often imbues Osadebe’s compositions with an aura of whimsy. He subtly acknowledges his Nigerian upbringing through his works, but more so his unique style and process, which has rendered them pivotal in conversations surrounding afro-futurism and themes of surrealism. His work exists as a resilient response to the perceived limitations surrounding African Art. From his use of technology as a new medium for art creation to the vibrant backgrounds and silhouettes, which remain reflective of his experiences, Osadebe’s work is, according to Saatchi Art, “modern, bright, expressive and provocative”.
We’re Soaring, Flying, 2019. Photo: @dennisosadebe
The Pledge, 2018. Photo: via @dennisosadebe
Money Glory, 2018. Photo: via @dennisosadebe
Deborah Fiyinfoluwa Segun is a Nigerian multidisciplinary artist currently based in Lagos, Nigeria whose works reflect her eccentric approach to portraiture through unique compositions. She initially studied fashion design at Polimoda in Florence, before taking up painting full-time. Describing her work as a “mix between cubism and abstraction,” Segun notes that she “takes a playful, purist approach to her work by focusing on form rather than detail, through the use of different artistic and sometimes unconventional mediums.”
Her emphasis on lines and exaggerated shapes does not minimize her color choices, instead, it is this combination that makes her work so distinctive. The voluptuous female form often inspires Segun’s art, with the central figures in her paintings depicting African women of varying proportions and poses. Saatchi Art explains: “The inspiration behind her works stem from her personal and shared experiences as a woman, as well as observations of any given space she occupies at a time.”
Rather than objectifying them, the use of dimensions combined with Segun’s inspired choices of shades communicate the calm, resilient, and reserved aesthetic of her stoic subjects. Her use of earth tones, mellow hues, and slow, deliberate, curves blend to create an ethereal visual experience.
Alone with My Thoughts, 2020. Photo: via @deborahsegun
Trauma Bonding, 2020. Photo: via @deborahsegun
Being Free, 2020. Photo: via @deborahsegun
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