Some visual artists believe that having many of their works in circulation undermines the financial values of the works. To curb that, they reduce the number of works they produce and release into the art market.  One artist that disagrees with that view is Tola Wewe, who has in his artistic career and life, churned out more than a thousand works.

Discussing his upcoming exhibition recently with selected senior arts journalist at the Signature Restaurants of Thought Pyramid Art Centre, Norman Williams Street, Ikoyi, Lagos, Tola Wewe disclosed that he has painted thousands of artworks.

The exhibition, which opens 4.00 p.m. on October 22 and runs till November 21, 2022, “is going to be a retrospective exhibition,” says Wewe.  It will show some of his works from 1983 till date. “With this exhibition, I believe the audience will be able to see how I have been able to move thematically from one point to the other. And I am sure the audience will be able to project where I am going to. It is titled “Metamodern Vision: A Retrospective Exhibition of Tola Wewe’s Works”. A renowned professor of artistry who also is a practicing artist and founding member of Ona Movement, Professor Moyo Okediji, has also written a book which will be launched on this same day…Most of the works that will be on show are also in the book. The Gallery of exhibition is Thought Pyramid Art Centre,” Wewe said.

Although Tola has not held an exhibition for about four years, he said his works come to Lagos and other parts of the world regularly from Ondo, his hometown where he presently resides and works from. “I had shows outside the country – Nairobi, London, France, United States, etc. I had a show with this same Thought Pyramid four years ago in Abuja.”

Does Tola Wewe still paint? “I paint regularly, and that’s all I do. I think I will only stop painting when I die.”

The concept of Metamodern

The title of the exhibition, “Metamodern Vision: A Retrospective Exhibition of Tola Wewe’s Works”, was derived from the concept of Metamodern, coined by Moyo Okediji, Professor of Art History at the University of Texas, Austin, who is also the author of the book, Metamodern Vision of Tola Wewe.

In a complex, and near abstract unbundling of the concept of metamodern in which he situated Tola’s works, Professor Okediji writes:

“With this book, The Metamodern Vision of Tola Wewe, I use metamodernism to explore the work of a single artist. Readers will discover the use of analytic discussive tools, transcending modernist lenses, in the interpretation of Wewe’s work. These include myths, dreams, songs, poetry and a spirituality that explore territories of the mysterious and metaphysical in the creative process and interpretive program of Wewe’s work.

There is also a spiritual dimension to the metamodern concept: “Particularly striking is the use of Ifa divination devices by Wewe before and after making his work,” Okediji writes. “Wewe opens up the world of the unknown and the unknowable with his paintings. It is a world in which the modernist frame of man cannot traverse. It is therefore not only appropriate, but absolutely necessary to tease out meaning from Wewe’s work with the archeological tools of metamodernism.”

In the introduction of the book, Prof. Okediji describes an artistic restlessness and dissatisfaction which possessed him and Tola Wewe as artists during their early days at the University of Ife in the late 1970s when Okediji was a young lecturer of art while Wewe was a fresher:

“We did not like the art we were doing. We did not like the art anybody was doing. We wanted to do things differently, but we didn’t know exactly what we wanted…. We questioned everything and everyone, but we didn’t know what question to pose to ourselves…. We didn’t understand where we were going, or how to get there, but we knew we were not satisfied with where we were.”

The author tries to explain their dissatisfaction and restlessness thus:

“Little did we realize that what really needed fixing was not so much art as real life. Our dissatisfaction emanated from the life around us more than from the making of art. The angst that drove us came from the sociological voids within which we lived, a space in which we did not find any foothold.”

Subconsciously, the two young artists were haunted by the impending gloom of bloodshed hanging like a dark cloud over the country – the horrible war into which they were born and raised; a war which was called ‘civil’ in an effort to conceal its macabre and horror:

“But it was not just us. It was an experience that enveloped the entire country. Nigeria was then experiencing a slow but certain transition into a hostile trap for the tens of millions of its citizens. It was not a condition that art could fix. But the only tool we had was what we studied at school – painting, drawing, sculpting, performance and installation.”

Having been born into the war and shaped by it and its corrosive aftermath, one would have expected the themes of Tola Wewe’s works to revolve around the images of that war. Strangely, that did not happen. Rather, Tola Wewe’s thematic preoccupations, according to Wewe himself, were erotic female anatomy and the folklores of his culture, which can truly be seen dripping from almost all his works.