Man and Machine: The Art of Kelani Abass
Obidike Okafor | AfricanColours.com
The views of any engineer about machines might just change with the new offerings Kelani Abass has been showing, at the Omenka Gallery in Ikoyi, Lagos. In his second solo exhibition titled “Man and Machine” Abass takes viewers on a roll through a new body of work that involves gears wheels, colours, print and stories told through machines. Kelani Abass, was born in 1979 and has been a full time studio artist since graduating from YABATECH in 2007. His works explore human figures and mythology, the best Painting student in 2007 at YABATECH has featured in about 16 group shows.
Abass worked in his father’s printing press throughout his primary school and secondary school. He grew his creative side and worked the machines while at the press until he left for Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, in 2002 to study art. “It is fascinating to observe the way machines operate as different parts, to achieve a common goal. This informs my thinking and ideas, and thus inspires my art in this direction. Most of my early works seem to fall within the Naturalistic figurative genre, they reflects socio-political and economic realities of the Nation, creating a platform for my new works, which evolves more metaphoric in nature” Abass says about his new works
Man and machine (Politics of Godfatherism)
His new paintings, drawings and sound installation are indeed a metaphor he uses to describe how machines make work easier. Some of the paintings and drawings are divided in series there is the “Man and machine series” were he lays emphasis on the way by which wheels, as singular units, propel movement in machines, all working together to achieve a common end result, and the “Illusion” series were the digital camera as a machine inspire these set of drawings. “This (Man and machine series) illustratively reflects the basic need for individuals to work together as one, with combinative and compensative efforts, to achieve their objectives. We need one another to survive as a team, with synergetic efforts to make our dreams, visions, goals and aspirations, as a common people, come true. I also use patches of red, green and orange following the traffic light system in some of the works to show when to move, when to stop and when to get ready” he said.
According to the artist, the “Illusions” series are drawings based on photographic reproduction, with the help of processes like enlargement or slow motion, processes controlled by machines that capture images which escape natural vision. These works wake the mind to the realities of time and space, the way the past is brought into the future by stored images, then tomorrow which we base the whole of our existence never really exists. “We must learn to stop seeing something which is actually not there, conquer illusion then we will know reality, once we can see behind the curtain of illusion and find the true reality, we can only transcend the illusion of being a physical thing to a spiritual entity” Abass says.
Man and Machine I
When “Man and machine” opens a different side of this multimedia artist will be seen as the pieces on display are a complete departure from his solo “Paradigm shift”. Normally there is always the fear of the new but Abass is comfortable with where he is going to as an artist. “While in school you have to do what your lecturer wants you to do. The school system does not allow freedom and it affects your creativity. My first solo exhibition ‘Paradigm shift’ was a combination of what I learnt in school and what I had learnt on my own. Moving into conceptual works allows me to say more using non conventional ways of working,” he explained.
The winner of the Caterina de Medici painting competition organised as part of the Black Heritage Festival, Lagos in 2010, will have 25 works set up with sounds made by various machines while at work will provide the ambience; bringing the paintings and drawings to life. The work entitled Man and machine (Baba Ijebu), is done on a grey back ground and has lotto numbers covering certain parts of the surface with two wheels being held by a spool, and as seen on the lotto boards of the popular Baba Ijebu some of the numbers are circled.
“This work shows how we allow machines decide our future. I asked the young people who play the lotto in front of my house questions about how the lotto works and they told me that the machine picks the winning number” Abass said about Man and machine (Baba Ijebu).
In Man and Machine (I) the general composition is dominantly grey on two panels that are held together by emblems of technology (gears, wheels), with city outlines dancing long the edges of the canvass. In the composition entitled Man and machine (Politics of Godfatherism), the work is done on two joined canvasses that are bonded by a cluster of wheels and gear systems connected by a spool. On two ends of the gears are black and white small portraits of a past head of state. On the lower part of the canvass are groups of people, representing the populace. The background has a hue closer to neutral gray with patches of red, blue and green on the edges.
Man and Machine, (Baba Ijebu)
Man and Machine IV (Politics of God fatherism), talks about the way past leaders still remain relevant in determining who rules the country,” Abass said. In the composition entitled Tussle (a diptych), a plane is broken into two equal segments connected by a rope, at the end of each spool are arms tugging the rope, with patches of red, blue, green and yellow forming a hedge around the arms. In Man and Machine (Peace) is made up of three panels with a an arm is turning the handle on one of the gears while a white dove sits on top of the connecting wheel on the third panel.
Man and Machine (Time past), Man and Machine (synergy) and Man and Machine (Governance and Entrepreneur) follow the same orientation with gears, wheels, spindles and hands. Done in acrylic, oil, charcoal and paper collage that hint at the story of printing, and the colours used also mimic paper. The images in Illusions series look more like hazy photographs. The distorted pictures of a child’s face, an adult’s face and a blurred image of a child drinking water are a part of this body of work.
Machines save time, with the print technology being one of the first to use machines the artist takes advantage of this experience to discuss themes in terms of concepts. “I want to use this exhibition to show people new ways of doing art. I also want to educate people about printing and machines. It is difficult at times as an artist to represent ideas especially when combining art and engineering” Abass said.
Man and Machine, Time
The body of work is an undeniable love and attachment to the trade of printing. Childhood experiences as a machine operator and his creative process, is what he uses as a tool to discuss important themes. For those who have been to a press and seen how noisy and chaotic it can be, “Man and Machine” could just bring out the beauty found in the entire hullabaloo. For those who have never been to a printing press in their lifetimes, the exhibitions will not only provide the sights but the sounds to make the viewer appreciate how machines have made things easier, and the beauty seen in every gear, every wheel and every other machine that has come into existence.
Abass requires us to look at how new inventions have been born out of hard work, the painter says the works are a reminder to us of how far we have come as a people and how far we can go as we continue to discover new things.
To appreciate machines more one has to be able to see them in action. Abass plans on taking his works to the next level after this exhibition, by making them animated. “There is a South African William Kentridge who does animation and video drawings, that is the level and direction my works are going to” Abass said with a smile.