Dennis Osadebe

‘Neo Africa’, says Osadebe, offers a way to break out of that box (of the term 'African Art') and out of the expectations projected onto creators as artists from Africa.

—  Dennis Osadebe's quote about his theme on "Nigerian artist Dennis Osadebe on isolation, the future and African art", by Lindsay Samson on Design Indaba. 2018.

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Desire. 2018. Image courtesy from HAUSEN

Dennis is a mixed media artist whose work revolves around dismantling preconceived notions of what African art is “supposed” to be. Under the coined term Neo-Africa, there is an intentional juxtaposition of techniques, themes, and icons to present viewers with a reimagined view of Africa. In Dennis’ hands, art emanating from the continent refuses to be exoticized through the Western gaze and stuck in the colonialist narrative. Instead, it fully acknowledges the influence of an increasingly globalized society, where education, experience and ambitions are not bound by borders. It also highlights the accomplishments by the diaspora, which has had a hand in leading change in culture and technology.

Dennis' practice often takes a playful perspective towards icons, whether it be famous artworks or cultural symbols, in order to question and provoke thoughts from the viewer. His approach reframes them using pop culture references and then draws a through-line to his cultural roots.  We also see this juxtaposition within his crafts — combining digital print with acrylic painting to create a new form of post-pop art that seamlessly blends the new and the old. And within the pop of colors and crisp lines you can easily spot recurring symbols that allude to his roots from the mask inspired by features of traditional Yoruba mask design, to intricate patterns and narratives.

 In the foreground of “A Quick Getaway,” you see a scene based on a photograph of Dennis’ father after getting his first bike as a teenager, further grounding the work in his personal heritage and story.

In the triptych “The Transparent Trend,” Dennis reframes Magritte’s “The Son of Man” to talk about the hidden cost of labor behind visually apparent trends and culture. Using an example from his childhood, Dennis replaces the apple with a gel sandal. In doing so, the viewer is asked to consider this ubiquitous item and its relationship to ourselves and the connection between. As an object familiar to many people’s childhoods it is immediately recognizable and yet the memories it recalls and in where it is created. This then serves to highlight the distances between the object and ourselves, which asks us to reflect on the truly global nature of our world today.

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Home Alone. 2018. Image from artist's website.

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