Kainebi Osahenye is soft spoken, self-effacing but prodigiously talented. Usually not the tallest man in the room, he however produces huge works that demand that you stand and pay attention. That has come to be a defining feature of his works whether oil on canvas, metal on board or conceptual pieces fashioned out of wood and metal and even mirrors.
His works, in their continuing excursion into the world of found objects as well as their engagement with environmental concerns anchored inexorably on the over-arching themes of transience and permanence, waste and reclamation, straddle in many ways the boundary between art and physics.
These concerns and engagements are evident in his new body of work presented under the handle “ALL IS NOT LOST”, a solo exhibition opening November 28, 2021 at the National Museum.
Taking this writer round his expansive home studio in mainland Lagos, Kainebi considers the question of girth and scale with a twinkle in his eyes.
“Most of these works will not be sold, I know but there is a quote by Jeff Koons which I like. It goes something like “the primary intention is to make sure that the work exists.”
In that sense, Mr. Oshenye’s works seem to the discerning interrogator to be that fabled Whitmanian “songs to myself” and this verse seems to capture what they appear to aim for.
I exist as I am, that is enough,
If no other in the world be aware I sit content,
And if each and all be aware I sit content.
The new works in the collection offer up something old and yet new especially in his presentation of eyes that seem to not just interrogate but to also accuse. The eyes are at once looking and yet unlooking. The voyeuristic imperative is present but it is not a monologue. In engaging with the work, the audience will also be engaging with the eyes in what becomes an interactive dialogue. The eyes, in that sense, are watching, accusing and implicating.
In past iterations especially the 2014 “Face me, I face you” which ran at the National Musuem, the works featured lots of cut out eyes in a haunting series of collages. This time the eyes are subtler, made from the cut out top of cans and in using discarded cans as covers for his boards and recharge cards as confetti, Mr. Osahenye is judge and jury holding us complicit for the state of our environment.
But it is not all accusation because the conceptual pieces in the exhibition are actually speaking to the artist’s regenerative ability; they are testaments to waste and reclamation. By burning and flattening discarded cans, Kainebi Osahenye engages in an artistic alchemy of sorts because once refined, as it were by fire, and then flattened inside out many of the cans turn to gold.
Two of the pieces, “Becoming Gold” and the triptych “Golden” with its accents of gold bear testimony to this. “Golden” is clearly the stand out piece in the collection and the one most likely to be snapped up first by a collector.
“Braggado” is a large piece. A stylized bust of a man with raised shoulders and made from metal on board, it is a comment on our laissez-faire attitude toward environmental degradation. Garbed in a suit made of discarded tins that degrade the environment, the man in the work “still dey carry shoulder” says the Goldsmith College trained artist with a chuckle.
“Fall” is another large piece made of the same materials, metal on board and riffing on the same sentiments. It shows two humanoid images. One is sunk and above it seems to be a representation of its soul which is unable to ascend because it is bound to the earth by waste. The ropes represent the ties that bind.
Conceptual art pieces can be problematic because well, they are conceptual and open, many times to the artist’s whims. But in the two conceptual pieces in this exhibition, Kainebi Osahenye continues with his exploration around waste to wealth while bidding the viewer to engage and participate.
The two pieces that make up “Take a Stand” come in the shape of two boxes standing on four cement blocks. One is metallic grey while the other is golden. In engaging with the works the viewer is compelled to see not into the work but underneath it and that is where the interaction happens.
With the other set of three boxes, the viewer experiences something completely different. The boxes are sitting on the floor with the hundreds of eyes staring at you. In staring back you are drawn to the boxes and curiosity will make you take a peek inside. The optical experience is jarring and often requires a second and third look.
As you engage with those two sets of boxes, another line from the same Walt Whitman poem comes to mind “You will hardly know who I am or what I mean.”
But that is the essence of good art, the ability to slowly unfurl itself to the engaged viewer in whorls and whorls of unfolding wonder. See Kainebi Osahenye’s solo exhibition “ALL IS NOT LOST” for the sense of wonder it will no doubt evoke in you.
***“ALL IS NOT LOST” runs from November 28, 2021 to December 10, 2021 at the National Musuem Onikan.