Written by Dennis Osadebe
When I was 6 years old, I created the Super Nintendo II, Gameboy Super Advanced & Nintendo 65 with paper and crayons. I wanted to know if or how it could look better, feel different, perhaps. I have always been obsessed with what's new, what’s next, what can be improved. My parents never got it. This fascination for creating, recreating, discovering new thinking has al- ways been a drive for me.
Upon moving backing in November 2013 and practising art, I realised I had to find myself artistically. In order to do this, I had to decide on what I wanted for my art or else I would conform. I knew I wanted it to stand out, I wanted to use my art to speak to my generation, but most importantly, I knew I wanted my art to retain the sense of the 6-year-old inventive and progressive Dennis.
These ideas and state of mind led me to push for the Neo African movement in visual art in Nigeria and beyond. What is Neo Africa? It is more than a term, it is an idea. It is a New African mentality. So first as Africans we need to understand it before anyone from outside does. So i’ll lay out some rules (fun rules, promise).
Rule 1 - Refer to a country in Africa and not Africa itself
For example Dennis Osadebe is a fantastic Contemporary African Artist (WRONG)
Correction: Dennis Osadebe is a fantastic Contemporary Artist from Nigeria. (thanks for the complement)
We need to realise that the more we box ourselves, outsiders will continue to box us in with expectations of what African art should be. It sounds simplistic but change actually begins from within.
Rule 2 - Call an art work a theme of art that it is and not the country or, in many cases, a continent’s art.
For example: This is a fantastic piece of Contemporary African Art (WRONG)
Correction: This is a fantastic piece of Contemporary Art.
It’s the words that shape the mentality of the viewers so if we approach art from such a narrative, chances are our fellow contemporary artists will be forced to create art that is “African” inspired. Approach art from a global view.
The predefined ideas of what ‘African’ art is and what is accepted as ‘African’ art constricts the creativity of many ‘African’aArtists as well as the viewers and collectors of these artworks. We need artists expressing themselves with their true raw inspiration. That is what will lead to groundbreaking works and longevity.
We need to look at the work for itself and not think nationality, the same way the artist paints from a blank canvas, allow the viewer to paint the artist from a blank canvas.
Neo Africa is fresh, it has a moral fury, an energy of vibrancy behind it. The Namsa Leuba Cocktail series (as seen above) embodies everything Neo African, Bubu Ogisi’s SS17 collection inspired by the people of the Itsekiri tribe in Warri is everything Neo African, the Midichi paintings where he captures childhood superstars from Mike Tyson to Micheal Jackson, Bruce Lee (!), NEO AFRICAN.
Neo Africa is an ideology about reimagining Africa. It is also the character of the 21st century artist who is energetic, provocative and progressive. It is full of soul, personality and hope. Neo Africa is an attitude, it’s a reality, it is the now reality.
I’ll sum this article up with the most powerful thing I read before I started this journey into Neo Africaness:
“Every work of art is the child of its age and, in many cases, the mother of our emotions. It follows that each period of culture produces an art of its own which can never be repeated. Efforts to revive the art-principles of the past will at best produce an art that is still-born.
It is impossible for us to live and feel, as did the ancient Greeks. In the same way those who strive to follow the Greek methods in sculpture achieve only a similarity of form, the work remaining soulless for all time.
Such imitation is mere aping. Externally the monkey completely resembles a human being; he will sit holding a book in front of his nose, and turn over the pages with a thoughtful aspect, but his actions have for him no real meaning.”
Wassily Kandinsky - Concerning The Spiritual In Art