Fanning the Flames of History— ‘The Esuzu Series’ by Isaac Emokpae
My mother often tells me “There is nothing new under the sun”, but I find this maxim holds no water when it comes to power of the creative mind.
With all that has come before, there are still people who innovate, souls who open the world to their perspectives, and those who create fascinating views—and I never tire of getting a glimpse into their world.
So, when Isaac Emokpae invited me to come down to the Red Door Gallery in Victoria Island, to check out his exhibition, what else could I do but jump at the chance?
Isaac is an insightful, multi-faceted visual artist, whose approach to art is based broadly on the principle of duality. He studied visual arts under the tutelage of Professor Abayomi Barber at the University of Lagos, where he honed his skills as a painter, his style leaning towards expressionism and surrealism.
As an artist, he has immersed himself in the knowledge and rich history of his culture, and like me, he mourns the loss of the wisdom and majesty of some of our old ways. Juxtaposed with his firmly rooted belief in Christianity, it is no wonder duality speaks to him as a topic.
In his own words: “I am a painter, photographer, and poet and whenever I illustrate, the forms and colours I work with are my primary vehicles of expression. Most of my work are abstract expressionism and I often treat my style as a second tier in my mode of expression. Basically, if the message suits abstract expressionism that is what I’ll revert to. The same goes for realism and surrealism, respectively.
My work process starts with written personal introspection based on a single topic, either an emotion or a concept i.e. joy or victory, hate or freedom. Once I have channelled my ideas as writings, poems or a musing, I paint it in whatever style best suits the ﬁnal vision.
Apparently, most of my conclusions are best expressed in nonrepresentational forms of expression, as I am moved to express the relationship between emotions and the human soul.”
‘The Ezuzu Series’ is Issac’s creative expression inspired by the humble hand fan (ezuzu is the Edo word for ‘fan’). In African cultures through the ages, the hand fan has always been a necessary accessory of the African lifestyle.
The hot, humid environs of our dense tropical forests, meant that sometimes, the only relief to be had was the soothing self-made breeze. As with any accessory, it soon became more than just a practical tool, and soon these items became symbols for power and royalty. The two exquisitely decorated hand fans found among the possessions of King Tutankhamen, show how far back this culture of gilded and embellished hand fans goes.
Isaac draws inspiration that runs the gamut, inspired by the most elaborate forms, to the humble newspaper bent, twisted, and put to work. If you ask, you will learn about how he was inspired by aerial views of our ancestral villages and how the patterns of the homes and structures defied logic with the mathematical accuracy of the distances between them and the shapes they created The collection is bold, colourful, deceptively simple on first viewing; further reflection allows for an appreciation for the genius execution of spatial awareness. Some of these pieces he has had to create, working backwards to get the final result. It takes about two weeks to complete a piece and most of that time he jokes, it seems he is just staring into space as he works out how to implement his vision.
Issac’s work is what I understand art to be at its core: it should first move you with its beauty, then cause you to ask questions.
See some of his artworks below..