By PAUL LASTER, September 2021
Boldly capturing anxious characterizations of troubled souls in his textured, fabric-collaged, acrylic and charcoal layered canvases, which are expressively composed with washes of overlapping colors, impasto brushwork and punctuated with elements of spray-paint, Nigerian artist Bob-Nosa brutally exposes the dark side of humanity in his deliriously delightful, provocative paintings.
Born Bob-Nosa Uwagboe in Benin City in 1974, he grew up in a time when there was a large exodus of young people from Nigeria because they had lost hope in the country’s economic and political systems. The artist was 15 years old when students in his hometown rioted against the Structural Adjustment Program, which had been imposed by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. The economic austerity plan implemented by the Nigerian government caused financial hardship and a deterioration of the normal standard of living, which led to civil unrest and police oppression.
As a youth, Bob-Nosa was more interested in crafts that fine art—customizing tote bags and backpacks with scraps of fabric, which is a collage technique that he still employs on the surface of his canvases, and illustrating sign boards with scriptures for his church, which has transformed into scrawled texts in his current paintings. His other love was music, particularly the songs of such anti-apartheid, Pan-African activist musicians as Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti and Jamaican reggae star Bob Marley, both of whom helped inspired his own activism through art.
Prior to entering college to study art, Bob-Nosa stayed in an artist’s studio, where he apprenticed to learn techniques for making art and lessons on how to maneuver through the local art scene. He worked there for three years and readied himself for school, where he proved to be ahead of the pack. It had been six years since he finished secondary school, but he now knew exactly what he wanted to do—he wanted to use his art as a weapon against the forces of oppression, including police officers, government officials, businessmen, reckless youths and criminals.
Once he completed his training, Bob-Nosa worked experimentally and took risks with his art. Setting up his own studio in Lagos, which is dubbed Protest Art Studio, he found that the choice of materials played a major role in how he artistically expressed his beliefs and his desire to create change. Utilizing acrylic, spray paint crayon, charcoal and found materials he created protest art that directly addressed the social injustices and evil corruption plaguing Nigerian society. Making protest art, he worked quickly. Every action called for a reaction, where he had to think fast and move fast—just like protesters in the street.
With the knowledge he had learned as an apprentice, he set about trying to change the local art scene. He knew that he was on the right path, but when he started others didn’t want to follow. He was told that people wouldn’t want to buy this type of art, that it was too rebellious and that he should make something more decorative, but he persisted. He didn’t worry about sales. He had a strong willpower. He went all the way. And once he gained success, he began to make an impact on the next generation of artists.
When galleries rejected his work, he turned to social media as a tool to push his message. He got his first big break in 2009, when his paintings were featured in the group exhibition “The Last Picture Show V.I.” at the Maison du Parti in Cameroon. The show received critical acclaim, which followed the artist back to Lagos, where his opportunities to exhibit increased year by year. In 2019 he had his first solo show abroad, at OOA Gallery in Barcelona, where his work is once again being featured.
Paintings for his solo show “Police Brutality” at OOA Gallery in Barcelona include the 2017 canvas Chained in Immorality, which depicts a corrupt uniform man with his pants around his ankles bound to two prostitutes, who are symbols of his debased lifestyle, that he is both sadly ensnared by and monstrously perpetuating. In the 2020 painting Gross Misconduct the immoral uniform man is drunk on the job, swinging a bottle of beer in one hand while wielding a fist on the other. In two recent paintings of uniform men, the artist uses a red X to cancel the corrupt characters, with Abuse of Human Right showing crooked cops trampling a protester underfoot and Bad Man singling out a uniform man, while turning the tables to make him the target.
The victims of the abuse are also the subject of Bob-Nosa’s wildly expressive, fearless brushwork. The 2019 canvas Wounded Patriot shows a bloodied, bandaged and bound protester still standing strong against a blackened sky. The 2020 painting Boy in Detention portrays a frightened youth arrested and imprisoned with other innocent men waiting for their poor families to spend their hard-earned cash to bail them out of jail so that the shady police will have more money for partying. And, capturing something that the artist wishes would happen more often, the canvas 3 Brave Men, also from 2020, depicts a group of bystanders who are willing to speak up, to stand up for what they believe in, unafraid of the system, and risking the loss of life to demonstrate for human rights—just like Bob-Nosa does with every painting he courageously creates. WM
Paul Laster is a writer, editor, curator, artist and lecturer. He’s a contributing editor at ArtAsiaPacific and Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art and writer for Time Out New York, Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, Galerie Magazine, Sculpture, Art & Object, Cultured, Architectural Digest, Garage, Surface, Ocula, Observer, ArtPulse, Conceptual Fine Arts and Glasstire. He was the founding editor of Artkrush, started The Daily Beast’s art section, and was art editor of Russell Simmons’ OneWorld Magazine, as well as a curator at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, now MoMA PS1.
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