Notable in the history of Nigerian contemporary art are artists who use different media to push art into the consciousness of the public. Here is Archie Abia, who uses bone collage to make art.
Fate positioned artist Godwin Archie Abia on a good pedestal when others were grappling in the field of art. As one of the shining lights in the Lagos art scene, he started exhibiting his art works in early 1980s, when many artists who are thriving alongside with him today have not even thought about becoming an artist.
Then, at the Didi museum Lagos, Abia’s paintings often glow for collectors.
Like the biblical Saul, he suddenly took a detour when all seemed to be opening for a bigger art career, not that he stopped painting but he became more closer to God believing he should be spreading the good news of God’s salvation through his art.
However, what is interesting is not so much what the painter does since then but what he said has become his fulfillment, according to a born-again Abia, who operates from his Ikeja Win Arc gallery and newly opened Baruwa Estate studio.
“I feel that without God, life has no meaning. I decided to be closer to God since then because I think; He has showed mercy on me. All I owe Him is tell the whole world about Him, through my art,” he said.
Doing any kind of paintings had to stop for Abia, as he churned out art works that glorifies God. Apart from that, he delved into metal works, some of the recent being a commissioned monumental gate of the Nigerian Ports Authority in Apapa, Lagos.
“Yes, I may not have all the money or name but I am a happy man and I will not regret my decision to make God the first in my art. Because without Him we are nothing,” he stated.
Indeed, his mediums of art are unique. Produced from bone collage, Abia often attributes his source of inspiration and talent to God, considering that he did not study art in school. “I never had the opportunity to go to any art school but God has been my instructor.’’
Since bursting into the art scene, Abia has never looked back even as he is doing his work without blowing his whistle. He believed he has achieved what others have.
A visit to his Baruwa Estate, which also serves as his new studio, Abia is surrounded with various sizes of his framed works as well as ongoing works. It was an interesting place as walking into the quite compound is like that walking into a warm embrace of colours. Some of the art works are simply new experiments while others still retain his well-known bone collage identity.
The artist who looks very cheerful sees himself as the proof of the saying that God does not forsake anyone who comes to Him. “My life is a testimony of God’s grace and mercy. That is why I will worship with everything I have and I will continue so till the rest of my life,” he reasoned.
Abia, the Eket, Akwa Ibom State-born artist, who said that most of his works were achieved by recycling waste working with the bone collage trait, added that artists who opt to work in recycling wastes are also welcome. According to him, he elevated the medium of bone collage from mere craft level to mainstream arts as he incorporated other materials like sand, sawdust and colours to appease the eyes.
As an artist, Abia has also experimented and produced notable works for private and public collections.
He noted that the greatest challenge facing the Nigerian visual arts is lack of support on the part of cooperate organisations, governments and even the well-established local artists to help the up-and-coming ones in incentives and career direction.
Bone collage painting which Abia is known for is rare type of art. The artist sources his materials from a heap of dumped cow horn in Lagos or other places. With careful approach he sorts out bone and start using them to produce good painting. After the production of the works, it looks very attractive and could be seem to look like an imported foreign material. Abia is the only exponent of bone painting which he has pioneered for more than two decades. He said the medium represents one of the best materials for any artist to work with.