SOAS University of London


Thursday 20 January - Saturday 25 March 2000

Due to popular demand this exhibition will be open on the following Saturdays - 4th, 11th, 18th and 25th March.


Accident & Design is a tribute to the life and work of Gani Odutokun. It is ironic that his vision and personal achievements in design should have ended through a tragic oscillation in a horrific motor vehicle accident in February 1995. Gani Odutokun was one of the most talented and inspirational artists to come out of Nigeria in the 20th century. His death meant the loss of one of Africa's leading practitioners of art. He was the head of the Fine Art Department at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and the national Vice President of the Society of Nigerian Artists. Throughout his time at the University, firstly, as a student, and then as a teacher, he tremendously affected the way in which art was perceived and conveyed. Consequently he influenced students, artists, collectors and the general public in relating to art, visually and philosophically.

This exhibition provides a platform to present the dynamics of change and variety in style, form, content, colours and materials that constituted the art of Gani Odutokun. In addition, the exhibition is expected to clearly illustrate the significance of his contribution to the course of the visual arts in Nigeria. The theme is enhanced further through the exhibition of works by a number of artists from Ahmadu Bello University who considered Gani Odutokun to be a mentor and influence in their work and also in their lives. Their works are a testimony to the ongoing contributions that the Zaria Art School has made to the development of the Nigerian contemporary art scene.

For too long the growth of modern African art has been bathed to its detriment in the continuous discourse of the traditional arts of Africa. In recent years, this discourse has extended somewhat reluctantly to the influence that Africa's traditional arts have had on western modernists. This has resulted in the continuous re-enforcement of a romanticized and potentially prejudiced image of Africa where concepts such as "tribalism" and "primitivism" are still being perpetuated in contemporary exhibitions, thus implying that the continent has remained stagnant since the decline of the traditional arts. The post modernist experience could not be relevant to the African artist! Not only is this outdated but unreflective of the realities within Africa and especially within Nigeria. African artists have continuously remained outside the discourse and literature on world contemporary art, and it is up to them to turn the tide of change and correct it. It was with this conviction that this project was embarked upon, which would concentrate on the visual arts by giving the artists the opportunity to voice their concerns and realities in their own words without bias, patronisation, manipulation or contamination.

The reality is that Africa's encounter with the other, its assimilation of alien techniques, materials, forms and ideas have resulted in a creativity that needs to be recognised and celebrated. The crosscurrents culminated in an extremely complex modification of idioms that existed already in Africa but in different forms. Deterministic structures and fragmented interpretations can no longer be used to box the modern African artists. The direct influence of African art in changing the course of Western art, as we know it today is undisputed. All cultures of the world have borrowed from each other, causing a dynamic of better understanding and appreciation. The issue of the identity of an artist as being of African descent as against the work being recognised as such in content, form and sensitivity, should not be an issue of compromise as has for so long been the belief. Gani's artistic rendering of "Dialogue with Mona Lisa" where he depicts the Mona Lisa carving the forms of a sculpture from the Niger Delta, whilst the sculpture paints her, is a strong commentary on the dichotomy between the art of Africa on Europe and vice-versa.

The audience's participation is paramount to the success of this journey. We ask the viewers to suspend their fixed ideas of what African art should or should not be; with all the loaded connotations and presuppositions, to walk in and confront the creative impulses presented as art first and foremost and then appreciate that the art is created by Nigerian artists. This is a platform for those artists privileged to be part of this project, to express and show their art as they wish it to be expressed and exhibited.