Alimi Adewale stands out among the new generation of artists rising up through the art world in Nigeria.
Not because he is breaking new ground in technique or subject matter- unlike many of his peers he has
not embraced the contemporary trends of the so-called ‘post-modern’ art world, the world of mixed
media and abstracted states of reality. ‘I just want to paint’, he says to me with a wistful look.
Nor is it because he has anything overtly political to say about the current state of Nigeria or indeed the
art world within it. His paintings speak more to memories than future worlds, to everyday life and
people than to than grand ideas or political statements- images in passing, loves, things that give life its
texture and beauty.
So what is it that makes his work so special? In the first instance I think it is just pure aesthetics at work.
Alimi may have avoided the post-modern turn, but he has embraced the more traditional forms and
techniques with a passion and love that one can help but fall for. Alimi’s love of colour comes through
every painting- the hues, the tones, the layers of riches, the layers of life. But he is as comfortable with
the vibrancy of Lagos carnival scenes as he is in Black and White, for it is play between the different
tones in his work that really sets a picture alight. Light. That is key. Many of his pieces shine, again
reminding us of the life within.
As the name of a recent exhibition indicates, Alimi reaches for the sublime- a beauty he says that takes
us beyond the everyday that allows us to dream and survive. As such, he tells us that his art is not
political. But this is where I see a line between the artist and his audience.
To me Alimi’s work speaks to many things beyond pure aesthetics. In fact, what draws me to his work is
the very beauty he finds in the everyday, not beyond it. His recent series- ‘anonymous’- reflections and
images of men and women that make up the faces in Lagos streets, or indeed the streets themselves
where people live, eat, love, dance and survive, reflect the beauty that is all around us- even in what
might be seem to others as the most congested and dirty of cities. Lagos is beautiful. Nigerian’s are
Alimi’s work reflects and celebrates this. It is clear he loves those he reflects, and in turn we
love them too. The woman with a red scarf that sits in my living room looks out at me every day-
something about her sooths and calms me as I leave for the day; she is beautiful, it is true, but she also
exudes an inner strength and presence that makes me love her more and more each day.
In the current context where there are few positive reflections of Nigeria and Nigerian’s, let alone of the
African Mega city of Lagos- the love of the city and the people that shines through Alimi’s work may very
well work at a much deeper level of politics than his more direct counterparts.
So what makes Alimi stand apart? He might tell you it is about beauty, colour, draftsmenship and light.
Perhaps it is. For me it is about the love and the life that shine through and beyond the images.
Senior Social Development Specialist World Bank & Art Critic
34, Limpopo Street Maitama Abuja
June 9, 2012