Critics’ Picks


Abraham Oghobase

Angels and Muse
5 Sumbo Jubowu St Ikoyi
April 22–June 18, 2018

Abraham Oghobase is making an understatement. In “No Matter Who You Are,” an exhibition of photographs shot from 2007 to 2016, a story unfolds tentatively at first, with careful restraint. The artist is showing something by barely telling anything.

Oghobase is his own subject in these mostly monochrome images. We see him suspended over skyscapes, against an azure sky; washed into seascapes, in a cascade of frothy waves; soaring above land and over a bushy shoreline. At first glance, the works are easily mistaken as ones of mere beauty, of man imprinted in nature. But look again. This is a story with sky, land, and water as the canvas. This is a story where Oghobase wields the universal elements of nature to relay specific human conditions. In Kono Beach Revival, 2016, he rises over a beach polluted with oil, blood, and capital greed, a hat trick of blights synonymous with Nigeria’s Niger Delta, where the country’s oil was discovered. All the fish at the beach are dead. No memories are made there either. Yet it appears Oghobase sees revival as a possibility. Redemption even?

Perhaps to rein in the imagery’s optimism, a recorded speech by the late Ken Saro-Wiwa consumes the room, in part of a video installation titled Ken’s Smoking Pipe, 2016. Saro-Wiwa was a ferocious environmental activist and was executed by the state on contentious charges of murder. Many believe the crime that prompted his hanging was simpler: resistance.

Oghobase is intent on painstaking subtlety, on the idea that the consequential can be communicated in the poetry of the mundane. That the suspension of disbelief occasions a suspension of self. Ultimately, the marriage of material and hue bears emotional weight that Oghobase calls on us to carry. He has. He does. Still, he rises.