The artist, Bernard Ajarb Ategwa, is currently showing his first solo in Nigeria at the Pacers Gallery. Titled, Marketscapes, the show ends November 30.
The scenes from Ategwa’s works are common and familiar. They include, food vendors, drinks, electronics, hairstyles and others.
Ategwa brings all these scenes and more through his skilled brushstrokes and mastery of colour, which he has deployed to interrogate the scenes.
Oranges, pinks, yellows, blues, and greens convey the garrulousness of these markets, exemplified by the hawkers hustling ferociously for the day’s wages. Pushing items to pedestrians. Nothing is off limits in Ategwa’s Marketscapes.
Through these works, Ategwa demands humanity from them. Even faceless, the women demand viewers’ gaze, exploding from the inside with rich hues. What may be regarded as garish in the real world becomes an exhibition of originality.
The series offer a comprehensive memorial of humanity, lending some necessary permanence to lives that are forgotten as soon as transactions ends.
Ategwa has through this works created dignity, where there was only chaos, style, where there was only fashion and Legacy, where there was only the promise of the day.
His works offer stories and lessons on humanity, on poverty, and on choice. In the real world, the marketplace hustlers are as interchangeable as the goods and services they hawk, but in Ategwa’s work, they are immortal.
Ategwa’s painting style is based on complex line drawings on canvas, which are executed free-hand. They imply a movement and momentum reflective of his rapidly transforming city. Moving between the taxi stands, newsagents, bars, roadside markets, hair salons, and citizens in fleeting moments of respite, the artist offers snapshots of everyday life. With a unique use of line and colour, Ategwa weaves together these urban scenes, sounds and smells to create a rich sensory immersion. “As we pan through the tableaux, each painting adds a line to a larger story which is unfolding in real-time,” he says.
Having the privilege of dual nationalities, Nigeria and Cameroun, Ategwa says all the scenes from his works were inspired by the market beside his studio in Duala, but knowing the scenes are also similar to any other market in Africa.
Having had a dozen shows, Ategwa points to the Woman in the Window, where he was the youngest and only black artists showing alongside masters, as one that he holds fondest. The show held in London.
He encourages young artists to take advantage of the labour of older African artists. “I can say categorically that Africa is there already and can hold their own anywhere in the world, you only need to be focus, passionate and do new things then, surely one day you will get there.”