DozieArts is pleased to present "ATITI : stories rarely told, faces rarely seen, voices rarely heard", an exhibition of new paintings by Joseph Eze, curated by Vincent Ugokwe.
The Nigerian artist Joseph Eze (b. 1975) defines the times we are living in as 'the age of barrage'; visual culture deconstructed and reconstructed by the internet, physical and psychological borders collapsing inwards, individual and collective identities fractured, defended and bloodily fought over. The word 'Atiti' means 'waste' in the Igbo language and yet Eze's vision is electric rather than pessimistic. In these paintings the artist grapples directly with the darkness and despair of waste, examining the lives and stories of those trapped and discarded at the bottom of social, economic and technological structures. In doing so he asks challenging, crucial questions of this moment in human history.
Joseph Eze's large scale works use complex formal processes of collage, painting, layering and fusion, both of materials and of ideas. In his Lagos studio the artist gathers fragments of discarded magazines, newspapers, bar codes from drinks cans, plastic flip flops, water purification sachets... the familiar 'banal, plentiful, cheap' consumer waste that is fast choking and contaminating the environment both in Africa and globally. This detritus is then painstakingly taken apart and re-assembled into his paintings, creating a mysterious and disturbing interplay of reality and fantasy, banality and meaning. The depth of layering in the paintings means that they seem to physically move and mutate before the viewer's eyes.
My excitement lies in conquering surfaces', Eze writes, and thus in 'Ojemba' an exhausted painted woman bears a deconstructed 'Ghana-must-go' bag on her head while apparently swarmed by crudely copied stickers and labels with cheerful messages such as 'CUBA' and 'Bon Vogage!'. In the monumental painting 'Construction Site' a Nigerian woman in a stiff Elizabethan dress and ruff and swarmed by cherubic babies seems to levitate ecstatically into the sky... and yet the artist has scrawled the word 'vertigo' across the scene in marker pen with shocking crudeness - like street graffiti, aimless or urgent. In 'We are not from here We are from the Sun' (a work made with the creative restraints of lack of available waste materials during the pandemic lockdowns) the classical shadows of a woman's face are beautifully constructed from fragments of text, then counter-intuitively superimposed over again with rough images that seem like early sketches. Joseph Eze's paintings force the viewer to constantly question what they are looking at - what is the 'authentic' surface of a work? Are symbols taken from consumer goods or memes now of the same significance as culture or history? Is waste art or is art waste?
'ATITI' provides no consoling false answers; Joseph Eze's courage and vision in addressing the artistic and social crises of our time is energizing and vital.