24 May Towards Beauty – Abiodun Olaku

You might not see a link between the Niger Delta landscape and the Argungu festival in the North. But then you’re not Abiodun Olaku.

Olaku is obviously one of the country’s most respected artists. He has earned his reputation the hard way or maybe the beautiful way, judging by his paintings. Olaku has worked consistently for over 30 years, patiently creating these canvases with detail and care: layer after layer of colour gently and carefully applied to canvas, every detail fussed over.

He worked as a cultural officer between 1982 and 1989 after graduating from the Yaba College of Technology art school. By 1989 he had made up his mind to practise art full-time.

Since then, he has charmed us with the streaks of light floating in his Lagos nightscape paintings and the lazy swirl of dust as his Durbar riders hurtle forward. He has made markets a little more seductive, night-time more romantic and Eyos more inspiring.

Olaku captures reality, but that’s not what makes him stand out. He is brilliant because he captures the emotions beneath the reality. His painting tug at our memories, our fantasies, our dreams.

The artwork, ‘Towards Argungi’, details the journey to the Argungi festival. Many artists are fascinated by the festival itself. Olaku might be as well, but he chooses to focus on the journey. He paints the fishermen and spectators from various villages converging as they walk towards the river – a mass movement of people. This is the Argungi festival as a unifying event bringing people from a variety of places together. It is a story about togetherness and the beauty of the people as one with their surroundings.

In the artwork ‘’The Source (Delta series)’, he tells another story about surroundings. He explores the Niger Delta landscape – ravaged, desolate and forbidding. This is the place where gas is flared, and creeks are clogged. Olaku recognises all of these difficulties, yet in this series of paintings he emphasizes the strength, resilience and enduring beauty of the landscape rather than its deterioration.

It is night-time. It is still. Peaceful. In all the chaos there is still beauty and peace and warmth. There will always be beauty whether it’s in the North as people head to the Argungi festival or in the South at night, by the river. There will always be beauty in the world and Olaku will find and hopefully pass it on to us.

Dozie Igweze