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Akintobi explores African art with fabrics in solo US exhibition


A solo exhibition that reveals an end to the way US based Nigerian painter, Akintayo Akintobi approaches his art in the past is ongoing at South River Art Studio, 1300 Fleetwood Dr SE, Atlanta, GA, USA. The historic event which started on October 6, will end on November 3.

The exhibition entitled “The End of The Beginning”, is a watershed for the artist who graduated with a degree in Fine Arts from the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, Nigeria. It is significant and a turning point in the artist’s career of over a decade of practice in the visual art space.

The artist, who is currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree in Studio Art at East Tennessee State University, USA disclosed that he had been painting since he was seven years old, and about a decade ago, he turned professional.

Sharing his journey of exploring African art, Akintobi said. “I explore African art using symbols, patterns, and fabrics particularly to Africans in my works through abstract and surrealistic lens. I combine these with lines, shapes and figures to tell stories or teach life lessons from an African perspective.”

On the historical relevance of the theme to African-American people and Nigerians in particular, Akintobi noted: “The End of the Beginning” focuses primarily on human existence, adding “It features an assortment of paintings about the birth and death of people, the commencement and termination of things, friendships, relationships, jobs, and everything we experience in life.

“It equally talks about man’s ability to design his life and determine the beginnings and end of his experiences.

“African-Americans and Nigerians are a people with a long history of hardships and survivals. For them, anything that has a beginning has an end. They rode with this mantra against slave trade, and they won. Now, as racism, abuse, and discrimination are on the rise, these works are a reminder to all black people that they can win again. All they need do is determination to end it.”

He also spoke on philosophical themes that drive his art. “Many philosophical themes drive my works but the ones that often spur me into creative pursuits are themes on family, identity, love, and perception. I love how families, friends, and communities intercept in people’s lives and it inspires me greatly. I love that you can describe a person as someone’s child, friend, partner, or a native of a place. It’s beautiful when you have relational strings attached to you, and it is painful when you have none; I paint for both circumstances.”

The artist says he often wonders how people think. He notes that It is this curiosity that birthed his constant distortion of game pieces in some of his works. “It perfectly captures my awe, curiosity, and tireless research into the human mind,” he perceives.

The exhibition, which is bringing the artist to a point of transition marking the end of one phase and the start of another, is created in five series. They are portrait, family, friendship, human-animal, and abstract series. He explains. “These series talk about the beginning of our lives as humans, the support we get from family, the love of friends, the loyalty of pets, and the end of our lives. And they were inspired by my observation of human life and relationships. I think it’s beautiful how humans relate with one another, animals, and the environment.”

When asked about the exhibition he had participated in, either as group, joint and solo, he replied: “I have participated in some exhibitions in the United States of America and Nigeria. I was part of ‘Con-figuration’ at William King Museum, Abingdon, Virginia, and ‘Holla If You See Me’ at The Kansas African American Museum, Kansas City in 2023. In 2022, I was at ‘The Black Gaze’ at Tipton Gallery, Johnson City, TN and ‘Striped Down’ at Vestige Concept Gallery, Pittsburg, Pennsylvania and ‘60 Years of Artists’ Days’ at Oduduwa Hall basement, Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife, Nigeria in 2021.”

He revealed that all the art pieces on parade on this exhibition promote African culture, especially the Yoruba culture. “As is my habit in most of my works, I input patterns of the Adire Eleko fabric (a fabric associated with the Yoruba people of Abeokuta, Ogun State). I also added some motif from the Ife people’s Onaism’.

“Most of them have weighty cultural meanings and added sentimental value to the paintings. By their mere presence connotative positioning, I hope people can see beauty of Yoruba and Africans at large.”

Highlighting the decade journey as a visual artist and how it influences his art, Akintobi shared two of such influences. “The first highlight for me is my improved understanding of art. I have come to know art as something beyond hobby, a job or a mere combination of colours. I now know art as an outlet of deep expression, as a book of history, and as a place for mystery and secrets.

“The second one is that the concept, meaning, and appeal of my works resonate with people from various part of the world. I’ m glad I can use art as a universal language. These, and the entirety of my career as a visual artist have made me a deeper thinker. I no longer look at the things as they ordinarily appear. I now question positioning, usage, meaning, and the existence or non-existence of things. Art, mine and others, have changed me beautifully.”

At the end of this exhibition which will unveil 14 colourful artworks borne out of deep thinking, Akintobi hopes that they achieve the same effect on everyone who attends. “I also hope that these works with their Nigerian motif and symbols reveal the beauty of Nigeria to the world. The narrative about Nigeria is unpleasant and bothersome and I hope to change it one painting at a time,” he enthused, even as he added. “This belief stems from the fact that after studying these works during my preparations, I thought more consciously and deeply about them.”

On the curator, he said. “The exhibition is curated by South River Art Studios. It is an art gallery and studio in Atlanta. I met the studio/gallery management while working on a floor mural with an artist friend. They saw my work, loved it, and offered me the opportunity of an exhibition.

“The works that particularly pulled them into my craft are those with game pieces; they expressed their admiration for my use of game pieces to express human situations and emotions. Now, we are here.”

Asked for the new materials on board the exhibition’s works he stated that. “Before now, I used acrylic for most of my works. Now, I introduced satin paint to the materials used for creating these works. I used it alone or combined it with acrylic paint for some works. I also added locally-woven mats to my materials. To perfectly execute one of my visions, I used local mat for an abstract painting.”

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