John Madu and Ousmane Niang: when art redraws the cards of power

For this new exhibition, “Figures of power”, the Afikaris gallery, in the Marais district of Paris, has chosen two artists with very different pictorial universes, the Nigerian John Madu and the Senegalese Ousmane Niang. Both use art as a way to rethink the world. “Whatever the era or geography, the uprisings in the world testify to a certain challenge to power, a break with the established order, a need for change in harmony with the evolution of mentalities and society itself. In echo, art carries the voice of these movements in their multiplicity,” explains Michaëla Hadji-Minaglou, manager of the gallery.

The Senegalese Ousmane Niang examines the relationship between the dominant and the dominated, in a universe close to the pointillists. The characters are animals with human postures playing a score. Nigeria’s John Madu, on the other hand, overturns the clichés of male-female domination and launches a debate on identity. He has fun deconstructing stereotypes about gender, social class, or origin. The woman, with the appearance of Grace Jones, takes a dominant or protective attitude, plays the codes of the masculine while the man displays his sensitivity.

The pointillism of Ousmane Niang

In his “Card Game” series, Ousmane Niang replaces figures, especially kings, with anthropomorphic, powerful, and strong animals, which dominate other animals, wild or domestic. Nothing is set in stone in the struggle for power. From one painting to another, positions can be reversed in the image of the struggle for power.

© Provided by Le Point Ousmane Niang, “Card Games”, 2021, Acrylic on canvas, 140×140 cm – Courtesy: Afikaris © Afikaris

“I wanted to break away from the traditional playing card pattern. From there appeared this reinterpretation of its composition. Thus, in my works, the characters extract themselves from the map that is found in the background. My approach is political and evokes power games,” he explains. In his other paintings, Ousmane Niang addresses scenes of everyday life, meals, baths. His inspiration comes from his observations and his wanderings through the streets of Dakar. His favorite animal is undoubtedly the bird, which represents the symbol of freedom because free to fly and free to swim …Ousmane Niang, “Card Games”, 2021, Acrylic on canvas, 200×160 cm – Courtesy: Afikaris © Afikaris

Pointillism is not just a technique for the painter that conceptualizes each point as a problem or a social conflict and points it in to the point a solution considered. The feathers that flap on the painting represent the bad side of man. The artist challenges the viewer, invites him to reflect. At the age of 31, the young painter, who lives and works in Dakar, intends to alert African leaders to the domination of the Western world and restore confidence to the younger generation. Very sensitive to the movements of Senegalese youth, which found themselves in the streets of the capital last March, it passes to them the message of fighting to change society.

The Question of Identity at John Madu

The visual artist John Madu, too, challenges society. Born in Lagos in 1983, where he lives and works, he questions gender. In his paintings, he mocks stereotypes to better divert them and question identity. Freeing himself from social norms, he plays the unexpected: a man at the fascinating break, a young man who gently breathes a sunflower or a young woman wearing a Gainsbourg-like tee-shirt, “Make love” who takes the pose leaning in front of a counter, a “Corona” beer next to her.

© Provided by Le Point John Madu, “A song for Maness”, 2021, Acrylic on canvas, 121×121 cm – Courtesy: Afikaris © Afikaris

John Madu also takes us into a visual universe dotted with nods to Nigerian youth and references to both pop culture and the great names in art history. Vincent Van Gogh’s sunflowers are invited in a large format “Sunflower and Man”. In his painting “The Kiss”, the couple, the golden and black colors, and the patterns of the clothes recall the work of Gustave Klimt, the kiss. John Madu, “Charles’s Party”, 2021, Acrylic on canvas, 152×121 cm – Courtesy: Afikaris © Afikaris

On the other hand, the roles between men and women are reversed. It is she who takes the lead, the man seems almost shy. In the canvas “Bromance in battle”, on the shorts of one of the two boxers, John Madu slipped a small character of Keith Haring. The artist continues to question the question of identity and deconstruct social norms.

The concept of bromance describing a very strong friendship between two men, without sexual aspect, is questioned by the artist who opposes two boxers in a ring, a sport that meets the male stereotype, but one wears pink gloves, a color traditionally reserved for women, and the word “bread” (pain) is inscribed on it.

© Provided by Le Point John Madu, “Sunflowers and man”, 2021, Acrylic on canvas, 121×121 cm – Courtesy: Afikaris © Afikaris

Taking his friends as models, the artist transcribes a snapshot of the young Nigerian generation, imbued with world culture. “My art cannot be reduced to a new Africa or has new African trends. Art is not stereotyped. (…) My art is influenced by universal factors because the world has become small and we are also affected by what affects other parts of the world. ” deciphers John Madu.

Both artists give a critical reading of society. By reinterpreting great works of modern art, by upsetting stereotypes, John Madu is transmitting power to women. Adopting the symbolism of the game and anthropomorphic figures, Ousmane Niang, for his part, looks at the struggle for power and invites commitment. “I want to introduce young people to research and creation so that they do not just become consumers,” says Ousmane Niang.

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