Ivory Tower Art? Not for this man Diang’a
Many artists are accused of living in ivory towers where they fiercely cultivate high sounding notions that are out of touch with reality.
In their high flown pursuit of aesthetics, individuality, form and content, it is alleged that they become specialized fools, self-styled priests in pursuit of lofty even non-existent congregation. This has meant that most of their rituals, in the way of exhibitions, remain irrelevant to the broad spectrum of society.
If there is validity to these accusations, they certainly do not apply to John Diang’a Obasu – teacher, playwright, award-winning teachers’ colleges drama producer, sculptor, painter, family man and proud founder and owner, since 1978, of the KAERA’s Esiepala Cultural Center housed in his Majituland home of Maseno (majitu is a Swahili term for ogres).
Diang’a is a truly well-rounded man of culture and his exhibition of sculptors and prints at the Gallery Watatu bear this outright.
Drawing inspiration from folk tales, Diang’a went on to concoct all manner of ogre. From “Mother Ogre” through “Thoughtful Ogre” Diang’a was able to portray himself as a creative artist who uses past tale stories to create an intriguing “ogre.”
The Ogre Man does this as he continues to make social commentary. In so doing, the artist uses a “curious bled of the beautiful and not so beautiful in his compositions.”
“Mother Ogre”, for example, is an interesting marriage of a monstrous hand or talon, complete with mother’s breasts. It is a swan-cum-snake monster swallowing an egg in which a frightened child squirms.
There is violence all round as the little one swing precariously in the mouth of the ogre; the lower limbs of the child are also the post haste swinging of the breasts of the monster. There is fire spewing from the belly of the earth too, urging on the beast.
Is it that mother’s protection can also be viewed as the gobbling up of the individual in the child? Yes. As is typical of Diang’a, every accent must somehow be counter-balanced, a crest needs the trough to define it.
And so all this violence is deliberately mellowed down with the series of dots and lines (characteristic of his prints) raining vertically and collecting in a shallow pool of … water, perhaps?
The artist’s sense of balance is further demonstrated by his use of colour (mostly orange, blue, white and black) to contrast with the black and white prints. The emotional effect of such colour pieces as “Rest” – a bull resting –is quite strong.