Art: The last Nigerian Orphan

by Tahir Sherriff

Spanish Art Competition 2013
Spanish Art Competition 2013

In a small self-contained universe, where everyone knows everyone else, there can be no greater shock, than encountering a total stranger.

This was my exact feeling when I beheld the numerous art pieces of an unknown artist hidden deep within the ancient city of Zaria. Gazing at several art pieces by the artist Sor Sen, it occurred to me, one must not exit the world to appreciate the full splendour of the heavens. Perhaps I over-estimate because I know too little of art my mind asks, to this I simply answer, who is the true judge of art?

Well known, it is a good principle in science not to believe any ‘fact’ however well attested, until it fits into some accepted frame of reference. Art however, has a distinctive capacity to shatter frames of reference, and force the construction of a new one. This is what artist Sen Sor has constantly achieved, with esteemed recognition from the National Gallery of Art, and over 6 international awards to testify.

I cannot essentially say what it is about his paintings which draws me to the conclusion that is bears the touch of a genius, except that they reflect a level of creativity I had concluded was lost to Nigerians, especially when one considers the hordes of un-skilled graduates that our ‘warehouses’ produce each year, beyond that, if nothing else, then I beg to hang on the sheer force of will that it would take to accomplish each one of the pieces. To me they dwindle on the borderline between extreme creativity and extreme madness.

The feeling of ecstasy I derive in the face of such creativity is also often accompanied with it a profound sense of loss. A realization of how much neglect has been accorded the world of art in Nigeria, and of the sheer lack of passion to which such approach has driven us. Sometimes I wish that I had studied psychology; then perhaps I may properly understand the parameters of our mass delusion. How a country could harbour such duality, how individuals of the same origin and time can be at such cross-purposes as to their ability to contribute to their self and their society?

Listening to a scientist explain the capacity of the brain; describing it as being able to carry out a dazzling array of complex mental processes every second, as the functioning of a hundred thousand million neurons in constant synaptic communication, geared to generating and regulating our sensations and perceptions on reason, thoughts, emotions and mental images, all I could hear was the word miracle.

For me, spending over two decades within the borders of Nigeria, it is self-evident that nothing short of a miracle of the mind is capable of generating such creativity in such depravity. Even Sor as he is popularly referred to perhaps understood that to thrive, one had to escape the rush, the madness, and the corruption that is everyday living in the popular cities of Nigeria to a life of utter simplicity in the quietness of northern Nigeria.

More than that, unlike politics and engineering which have somehow found their places in the history pages of Nigeria art is very much the replica of an abandoned child, banished away from the equation of daily living. But like an uncelebrated mother, or an unknown father it yet remains, a powerful force in shaping a society in the challenge against the uncertainties of life. Simply put, there is no life without art. Or better still, on a personal note, a new way of life, with Sen Art.

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