Something funny is happening on a U Street corridor building.
A mural with two people who appear to be laughing is taking shape on an exterior wall of the Paul Laurence Dunbar Apartments at 15th and U streets NW.
The six-story mural had outlines of a man, a woman and possibly a piano keyboard on a light blue background early this afternoon. The sketches take up less than a quarter of the space set aside for the artwork.
It isn’t clear yet what artist Aniekan Udofia plans to do next with the mural. He has stayed mum about his intentions for the project and wasn’t at the mural when Borderstan visited it today.
A building near the U Street Corridor is getting a mini makeover.
A new mural is being painted on the side of Bohemian Caverns (2001 11th St. NW) opposite U Street NW. The club says its old mural, which prominently depicted Miles Davis, was painted over on Wednesday.
— Aniekan Udofia (@sketch272000) September 11, 2015
As of early Monday afternoon, the mural featured several musicians, many around a swirling, floating row of piano keys.
From Eliza French. Follow her on Twitter @elizaenbref; email her at eliza[AT]borderstan.com.
Aniekan Udofia moved back to DC to pursue a career as an artist after living in Nigeria for most of his life.
As a young man, he worked mostly in colored pencil and pen illustration. He remembers studying the technique of an artist in his Nigerian village of Uwo and trying to master his style. He would also look at the political caricatures in newspapers and studying how the image mimicked the editorial content. Not surprisingly, Udofia tries to incorporate an element of social commentary in his art.
At the beginning of his career, Udofia worked mostly as an illustrator for magazines. His other early works were mostly hip-hop portraits that translated lyrics into images. He got his big break in 2005, when he and over 20 other artists were commissioned to work on an advertorial mural for the TLC show, “Miami Ink.”
The payment from the commission made him realize he could finally turn art into a viable career.
He continued to work on a large-scale projects and made a name for himself in the local arts scene working on public art murals, like the George Washington mural at 15th and U Streets NW and the Duke Ellington at 2121 Ward Court NW.
Udofia finds these public works fulfilling because of the opportunity for feedback from the neighborhood about his work. Passers-by can see the painting process, ask questions and interact with the artist and the work. For him, the high visibility for these murals is “refreshing.”
Udofia says that securing offers for these murals has been more that just luck.
After he moved to the area, he “was immediately attracted to the art community.” He started building a circle of friends when he was out at events or even just playing basketball in the park. “Since then, same people and same circle have been helpful in getting jobs. …Over the years building the relationship has been great for me.”
Earlier this year, Udofia exhibited his works in a solo show, “The Village B-boy” at Lamont Bishop Gallery. His latest project is “The Sickness,” a series that deals with different issues important to the artist. Currently, in “The Sickness 4: Reloaded,” Udofia is trying to “study the mind and how it works” when confronted with “violence, motivation, inspiration,” etc., and so on. Udofia also hopes to combine works from past works and series in a comprehensive exhibit.
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.