Last night I went down to the opening of artist Onyema Offoedu-Okeke’s new show at arc Gallery. A barge in Tottenham Hale is perhaps not the first place you’d look for contemporary art from Nigeria, but in fact this is just the latest edition of arc‘s ongoing programme specialising in contemporary art from Africa and the African diaspora, and in particular Nigeria. Since opening its gangplank in mid-2009, this tiny space has hosted the work of Uchay Joel Chima, Lemi Ghariokwu and Nyemike Onwuka, among others, as well as a variety of cultural and educational events.
Offoedu-Okeke’s show brings together works on canvas and sketches in biro, all exploring what it means to bear a load with the head, whether in a physical, intellectual or spiritual sense, and often all three together. Loads borne include a bag of cement, water, a generator, and, alarmingly, a chainsaw; collectively, the works exude a real sense of the exertions of everyday life, although this is neither celebrated nor sentimentalised. The paintings are vibrant and skillfully done, but for me it was the drawings, and especially Cloud over me (Labourer’s Dream) which really struck a chord: faced with the back of the bearer’s head, we are left to draw our own conclusions about the nature of the labour, and the tangled dream world it has inspired.
The show continues until 6th October.
Barge Belle, Hale Wharf, Ferry Lane, Tottenham, London