Remember The Future
Curated by Joseph Gergel
In Dennis Osadebe’s new series of mixed media canvases, men and women of various professions are dressed in spacesuits. Using bright, bold colours and a flattened picture plane, the scenes are at once surreal and absurd, the space suits designed with intricate patterns of Ankara fabric and the background formed through amorphous colour blots. Osadebe’s figures suggest a dystopian future, where daily lives are carried out amidst a radical change of our planet.
While the scenes are depicted through a fantastical lens, clearly rooted in fiction, Osadebe’s project points to a very real institution, that of Nigeria’s burgeoning space program. Nigeria developed the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) in 2001 and has since launched five satellites into space. Osadebe begins with a single premise: what will Nigeria’s future look like? The result is not about technical precision or accuracy, but one that adopts the domain of “space” as a conceptual metaphor, questioning the role and impact of technology in our everyday lives.
Central to Osadebe’s imagined narrative is the symbol of the helmet, a reoccurring visual element that binds the diverse characters together. In one sense, the helmet is a form of protective gear, shielding the harmful effects of the outside environment. The helmet creates a sense of anonymity, disguising the identity of its user. There is also an inherent sense of isolation associated with the helmet, which parallels the isolation created by our technologies.
As the technologies of our world advance and offer a new level of global connectivity, they also transform our experience and the way we interact with others. We become detached and enter a virtual environment, blocking many of our basic senses. Osadebe points to a fundamental transformation of our sense of self through the forces of technology, one that situates the individual in the cloud; floating, weightless and without a point of origin.
Ultimately, Osadebe’s space age characters suggest a new type of spirituality as they search for connectivity, bound by the technologies of our digital age. In this futuristic vision of the world, we are closer than ever before, yet still so far away.
Osadebe’s style shares more of an affinity with pop art and graffiti culture than with traditional African art, yet his themes reflect on the Nigerian experience and issues of power, class and gender. His artworks explore economic instabilities such as the importation of goods in Nigeria, from refined oil to foreign designed fabrics produced for a local market. There are preachers, judges, military officers and businessmen, all going about their daily functions while adorning a space helmet. He speaks to social disparity in the country, portraying the “unhappy lords” sitting in leisure. He also looks at the history of corruption in Nigeria, depicting its civic, religious and military leaders blindly ruling behind a metal screen.
* Joseph Gergel is an independent curator and writer based in Lagos, Nigeria.