By Emezie Chinedu Henry
Life after here, especially in this clime, sounds like the least of worries of most individuals particularly youth who are immersed in hard drug addiction and all forms of societal ills due largely to unemployment.
Their preoccupation is definitely far from what happens after their sojourn on earth and so, the solo exhibition of contemporary Nigerian artist, Ameh Egwuh where he contemplates the afterlife, leaves most viewers struggling to decode the philosophical underpinnings of the exhibits.
“Fantasies of The Other Side” being the title of the show which opened on October 17, at Rele Art Gallery Onikan, Lagos, is the second instalment of the painter’s two-part meditation on death and the afterlife.
After the young painter’s impressive outing- ‘Life After Life’ in Los Angeles early this year, where he engaged his audience in a visual dialogue on mortality and transcendence, the amazing works in ‘Fantasies of the Other Side’ offer imaginative considerations on the afterlife.
In the works, Egwuh creates surreal landscapes and new realms, from lush greens to sandy dunes, presenting vivid scenes of his idea of a new life overflowing with metaphorical imagery and expressionless figures. He imagines new worlds rooted in varied beliefs of the afterlife across several cultures while exploring ideas of reincarnation, ancestral veneration and nothingness by juxtaposing memory with continuity, the living and the dead.
Consequently, the painter artistically moves the conversation beyond initial considerations on mortality, into transcendence and subsequent immortality. Although the artist acknowledged fears about his subject matter in the show that runs till November 27, one interesting thing is his boldness to imagine the afterlife not as a singular place of darkness or narrative but as ‘a happy space’; a place that continues the story, even after death. “I really can’t tell how the afterlife looks like, that is why in this exhibition, the works are like a fantasy, they are how I want the afterlife to look like”, he said. This he presents through the use of bright colours and spatial composition which positions his characters in serene and fantasy spaces.
The figures are shown in relaxed poses lost in the immediacy of the moment. Also, the apple, a constant feature used as an installation in the body of work, the artist explained, symbolises love thereby amplifying the theme of love in the exhibition.
Egwuh’s reference of family photographs also grounds the work in the personal, an act of remembrance and veneration. In ‘Still with You’, the artist explained, “This is like me creating a supernatural space. In this painting you have my elder brother, and my dad, (my dad is late), and so it’s a blend of the world of the living and the dead. It is a metaphysical space not like the actual space. I believe my dad is still with us, even though he is not here physically. We can still reach out to him and he listens to us,’’ he explained.
If there is one thing humans are afraid of, it is death; believing it is a place of darkness. But, Egwu does not consider the theme of death as dark, as evident in his works. He does not also like the concept of judgement after death even as a Christian.
I’m always scared of what will happen when we die…The whole idea of this exhibition is to eliminate the idea that the afterlife is dark. I don’t want to have a dark experience in the afterlife. I want the afterlife to be happy. That is why every single painting you see here is like, I try to eliminate the concept of hell in it, but a happy space. When you walk into this space, you don’t feel like you have come to see paintings that are about death. The idea of the show is to eliminate that fear,’’ he stated.
Another piece titled ‘Infinite Rest’, showing a young man in a relaxed mood on a floating surface while at peace with animals, is in sync with the exhibition’s theme. “It’s like resting in peace; more like having fun in the spiritual realm”, he said.
And so are other pieces; ‘A Perfect Circle (Rebirth), ‘Communion of Ancestors,’ ‘Absolute Peace and Quietness,’ ‘Infinite Rest I & II.’
A graduate of Fine and Applied Art from Delta State University, Abraka, Delta State, Ameh Egwu began his career as an artist in 2017. His participation in the inaugural edition of Rele Arts Foundation’s Young Contemporaries boots camp marked his selection in 2020 as part of the group. He started developing his works fuelled by fantasies and, in 2020, Egwuh’s work was shown at FNB Art Joburg and South South Veza. His debut solo titled ‘Life After Life’ opened at Rele Gallery in Los Angeles in April 2021.