Aura of Life at the Intersection of Death

Sabo Kpade
MFA GAC 2021

This spring Sabo Kpade joined v.1’s editorial staff with a special charge: to bring new styles and a new spirit of writing about art and design to our pages. Sabo, a longtime critic for Okay Africa, Media Diversified, Guardian newspapers (Nigeria), and contemporary &, has been mentoring several writers this semester, including Max Fertik (see p. XXX). In this critical writing of his own, Sabo shares his response to Professor Bolaji Campbell’s recent assignment: to write a “Stylnalysis” or “style analysis” of a chosen work, to focus on its visual or design elements (line, color, texture, etc.) and to let extended close looking lead the way to interpretation. Sabo welcomes pitches, inquiries, and conversations about art and design writing—including approaches from analytical to narrative, critical to creative, in writing and in sound—for v.1 anytime (reach him at—eds.

Alimi Adewale, Soul of a Country I, 2021, acrylic on wood,  60 x 28 x 30 cm

Soul of a Country I is a figurative portrait made from ekki wood. It features a long and cylindrical neck that is non-naturalistic but brings a necessary postural elegance when viewed from every side. The neck is slimmer in width compared to the head, which brings the face into full focus by emphasizing the power of its geometrical structures. The long and sturdy neck also adds bulk to the head. This increase in length and weight is a practical way to give balance to the heavier weight of the head, given the thickness of the wood.

Care has been taken to stylize the hairstyle on Soul of a Country I into a rounded shape. It takes the form of hair that has been relaxed and assumes the curve of the head. The short, vertical ridges that run across and between the base of the hairline and forehead break the monotony of the chip pattern from the face to the head—these vertical ridges add geometrical texture to the overall visual plane of the head.

The wide plane of the forehead brings an openness and serenity to the architectonics of Soul of a Country I. The forehead is the least decorated and therefore least dramatic surface area. Caught between the purple-brown of the hair and the white lower half of the face, the black paint on the forehead is brighter than it otherwise would be, if bracketed by darker colors. This brightness, however muted, adds to the expansiveness of the face in the way that bright colors make a small room appear larger.

This expansiveness is sharply broken by the deep grooves of the eye sockets. These steep slants into the wood surface compress the visual plane and reduce its access to light, inviting a closer look at the bony cavity of the facial skeleton to make out how the eyes are built. No indication of eyebrows has been made, and the eyelids are open. The eyeballs are visible, and what in reality is a spherical organ has been cut into the oval shape as defined by the close curve of upper and lower eyelids. The eyeballs have not been carved or decorated, so as to give a realistic depiction of the blacks and whites of the eyeballs.

The sectional use of multiple colors across the physiognomy on Soul of a Country I emboldens the visual field and heightens the pleasure of looking. Literalist observations of the nose, mouth, ears, and eyes are deemphasized. A viewer is likely to pay closer attention to the block of white paint on the lower half of a face against the black in the upper half, which is pressed in by the purple-brown of the stylized hair. All three colors are actioned by the brown base of the ekki wood. The artist’s depiction of anatomy is more successful than his understanding of the underlying network of muscle and bone. This is either a shortcoming of the artist’s skill or, more likely, a disinterest in verisimilitude of the human form.

No marked emotion is shown on the face. The impassiveness may be due to the hardness of wood, which does not lend the material an easy manipulation of emotional states. The jawline is long and straight from the chin to the cheekbone where, after a slight curve, the straight line continues across the forehead and to the hairline. This long and straight jawline flattens out the cheeks on Soul of a Country I, as does the exaggerated gap between the nose and the upper lip. The depressed cheeks, long jawline, and oval impression of the eyes make Soul of a Country I seem emaciated. This pseudo-naturalistic approach gives it an otherworldliness: a strong aura of life at the intersection with death or transcendence into a spirit realm.