Solomon Irein Wangboje (The Road Is Long)
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The Road Is Long by Solomon Irein Wangboje
20 x 12 inches, woodcut, 1964
A native of Sabongida Ora in Edo State, Nigerian modernist Solomon Irein Wangboje was one of the earliest graduates of the Zaria Art Department, and denotes the beginnings of the institution. "Zaria" has since become synonymous with a significant new direction in the history of contemporary Nigerian art, with the formation of the Zaria Arts Society in 1958, whose members included Uche Okeke, Demas Nwoko, Bruce Onobrakpeya and Yusuf Grillo. The Society sought to reconsider the relationship between academic Western art and indigenous art traditions, calling for the merging of Western artistic techniques and local inspirations, often environmental. Their accompanying theory of Natural Synthesis became pivotal to the development of contemporary art in Nigeria and the Art Society strove to give Zaria the ideological, nationalistic direction it lacked, in contrast to the imposed colonialist educational agenda. Though associated with Zaria and loosely with the Society, Wangboje represents an earlier period, before Zaria had this specific ideological direction, though he was instrumental in its future. Wangboje is considered one of the first modern printmakers in Nigeria, but his interest in printmaking was more technical than conceptual. The unobtrusive use of readily available scenes and humanscapes, such as workmen, milk-selling maidens and quotidian subject matter "heighten the desired appreciation of medium and technique, and celebrate form. Thus, his themes or subject matter are as far ranging as his formal presentation...If Wangboje appears to lack stylistic direction it is possibly because the Zaria of his time stressed the striving for technical mastery of medium and process over and above any profound inquiry into questions of artistic identity and formal style." (Okeke-Agulu 89-90) Though Wangboje became an accomplished woodcut artist and a pioneer of contemporary printmaking, he has written extensively on Nigerian art education, distinguishing himself as an innovative educator. Preferring to allow his art to speak through his students rather than his exhibitions, during his retirement he set up arts workshops outside of the university, remaining committed to education until his death in 1998. His works are noted for their rich colors and bold lines, and his silkscreens display an extraordinary depth in spite of the medium's two-dimensional limitations. His woodcuts illustrate popular books on Nigeria art folklore and myth. In this particular work, the warm tones and the angle of the musician’s head and hands express the energy of drumming performances, which punctuate everyday and ceremonial occasions in towns and villages throughout Africa. Okeke-Agulu, Chika. 2012. "The Zaria Art School: From Wangboje to Okpe." Ezumeezu: Essays on Nigeria Art and Architecture. Glassboro, NJ: Goldline & Jacobs, pp. 88-102.
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