No Preservatives: Conversations about Conservation

No Preservatives | Looking Back to Nigeria: Ben Osaghae’s Critical Observations [Part III]


Ben Osaghae in his Lagos Studio. Photo by Richard McCoy.

*Ed. Note: This is the third post in a five-part series by Richard McCoy on the art and artists he encountered during a recent trip to Nigeria. Here are links to Part I and Part II.

Before travelling to Nigeria, I had known of a number of artists living around Lagos from Indianapolis friends who have been collecting contemporary Nigerian art during their time living and working there. Among their favorite and most collected artists was Ben Osaghae.

Ben was born in Benin City, the capital of the Edo State and studied painting at Auchi Polytechnic college. He has taught painting in Nigerian universities but has since retired from this work to focus solely on his painting.

At once thoughtful and light hearted, he’s just as likely to tell you something very serious and important as to come with a quick and light laugh about his observations.

Ben Osaghae. "Prey and Predator," 2011. Oil and acrylic on canvas. Courtesy the artist.

I want to show the point of view of the participant of a police check point and the observer driving by. Both at the same time. I don’t worry about making my paintings ‘naturalistic,’ rather I want them to be descriptive. — Ben Osaghae

In Ben's Studio. Photo by Richard McCoy.

Ben lives on the north side of Lagos, near the city’s airport. His studio, which is part of his home, is filled with recent paintings from 2011 and 2012. His paintings and drawings, which are all created from memory, explore everyday events and incidents around Lagos. With vivid colors, the imagery in his works become fractured windows into what everyone experiences and sees on the streets and places around the city. Windows that open onto scenes that have been carefully crafted to tell specific stories.

Ben Osaghae. "Oil Addicts," 2011. Oil and acrylic on canvas with newsprint. Courtesy the artist.

Ben Osaghae. "The Sound of Silence," 2012. Oil and acrylic on canvas. Courtesy the artist.

The titles of my paintings are very important as they allow me to poeticize the work and add another level of meaning. Of course my paintings have a narrative; I’m telling stories in my own idiom. I want to show the complicated web in which politics and business are interwoven in Nigeria. — Ben Osaghae

Untitled sketch (2012) in Ben Osaghae's studio.

His working method often involves first making sketches on large, horizontal sheets of paper with ink and pencil. Paintings are realized first with washes of acrylic paint which is laid down in blocks of color to generally start framing an image. His canvases range in size and between square and rectilinear. Once the acrylic layer dries, he begins working with oils and occasionally adds scraps of newsprint.

It would be too simple to say that Osaghae’s paintings are commentaries or observations on life in Nigeria; clearly his works have a critical message that is speaking directly to Nigeria’s political, social, and economic issues. They can be at once beautiful and full of life and at the same time troubling and dark realities of an often troubling event.

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