The works in Aniekan Udofia’s “The Village B-boy” at Lamont Bishop Gallery provide vivid glimpses of a vibrant fusion of cultures. From 1982 to 1999 (age 7 to 24), Udofia lived with his family in Uyo, Nigeria. American hip-hop pervaded the culture there, where the sounds, symbols, and style that characterized the genre blended with the patterns of village life. The music and culture of hip-hop, so far removed from their urban American origins, struck a resonant chord within the community of Uyo.
You can see “The Village B-boy” tonight, February 8, from 6 to 9 pm at Lamont Bishop Gallery during the Shaw Art Walk, or Thursday through Sunday during the gallery’s normal hours. The gallery is at 1314 9th Street NW.
All around the gallery walls, the faces of that community stare back at you — waving, smiling, holding cassettes, listening to boom boxes, wearing baseball caps. Udofia’s approach includes subtly coded symbolism that underscores the synchronicity between African village life and American hip-hop culture, and also a bold aesthetic of contrast that highlights the dissonance between the two.
Many of the characters are young boys, girls, and women of varying ages. The young boys and girls playfully mimic the fashion and gestures of hip-hop artists and begin to inhabit the empowered, invincible persona projected by them.
Udofia’s technique itself adopts elements the visual vocabulary of graffiti art. His signature appears on almost every work like the tags on a graffiti wall and the application of paint on the canvas often simulates spray paint.
At times, the recurring motif of transparent cassettes floating in the background can seem disjointed from the lively figures in the foreground. At its best, this visual mash-up provokes the viewer to consider how the music’s purely sonic presence began to change the material and physical reality of Uyo.
In “Ngozi,” a mother carrying her baby on her back smiles confidently back at the viewer, flashing the peace symbol as the ubiquitous cassettes sail in the air behind her. The music, the work seems to suggest, is there with her in spirit, rendering her momentarily impervious to the burdens of motherhood.
In “Mama Said Knock You Out,” a weathered old woman stares knowingly out of the canvas. Her brightly patterned headscarf and the simple shelter in the background evoke traditional village life, and heighten the incongruity with the woman’s T-shirt emblazoned with the iconic LL Cool J Lyrics. Here, hip-hop’s influence is visually present, but the woman is likely unaware of her shirt’s message and its context.
The exhibition also includes smaller scale works, like “Hard Boy,” “Hard Girl,” “Friendly Boy” and “Friendly Girl,” that show the transformative potential of the hip-hop culture.