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Self Portrait

Museum Link:

Source Link:

Date Minted: March 19, 2020

Artist Description: A self portrait of the artist, Osinachi as he pays a tribute to his Igbo heritage.

CohentheWriter’s Commentary:

God, Osinachi’s Self Portrait is beautiful. The colors so rich. The spatial orientation so clever. The technique unmatched. Osinachi has carved out for himself an individual visual style that’s inarguably unique. His images seem to exist at the very edge of the physical, as if made from felt that’s been plastered on canvas, perhaps a nod to his self-styled lack of formal training. His characters lack faces, but never emotion. In fact, every surface drips with emotion. All the minute emotions of a life, you can feel them in the colors and in all the small choices — a hat is positioned just so, the chin cast downward like this. Osinachi’s subject, himself, is presented here without eyes. And yet, he doesn’t lack a direct line of sight, nor all the inflection of an eyebrow. 

Osinachi’s Self Portrait places the artist in the center of the piece, stuck atop a incongruently pink background, almost as if the artist’s form has been lifted from a separate image, flicked through art-space, and landed here, atop an electric pink overlay at seeming odds with the mostly-muted color palette which composes Osinachi’s figure proper. As is the case in nearly all his works, facial nuances have been erased here, all except for peach lips, a slightly extended nose, a suggestion of an forehead. In Osinachi’s work, skin is never black —Osinachi has Igbo Nigerian heritage— but rather a color that might best be described at “static,” a kind of greyscale made of barely-visible dots and lines of black and grey and white, like a TV tuned to a dead channel. Osinachi has a chinstrap beard descending around the crest of his face. Osinachi has a well-positioned red hat set slightly askew. Osinachi wears a gold and glitchy cape, or perhaps it’s a quilt, imprinted with individual images: eyes and shapes, birds and stylistic clouds and tree branches, fish and flowers and fowls. In this cape, I see Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss. Elsewhere, I see no obvious influence. I see only Osinachi. 

Osinachi notes that this piece “pays a tribute to his Igbo heritage.” Many images herein, like those styled on his cape, are presumably Igbo in origin, however, because the Igbo people are so sprawling and so long-historied, and because Igbo art is generally understood to be hyper-local, it’s hard for someone like me —neither Nigerian nor well-educated— place any overarching system of identification on these images. Perhaps they are markers of Osinachi’s own history, local identifiers common to his youth, his individual understanding of Igbo ancestry and culture, their flora and fauna. 

In these caped images —gold and red and brown and black— there is communion, or an attempt at communion, with the natural world, a natural world which, in its inherent primordialism, link the artist’s identity with the epic history of the Igbo people, a people whose ancestry dates back to 3500 BC. Osinachi cloaks himself in his history, a specific choice which strikes me as vital. It is not tattooed on his skin, for instance, nor is it the background upon which his figure sits. It is an article of clothing, something to be placed over him, over his skin, covering him entirely when he so chooses, or cast off at his discretion. Notice, too, how the cape is uncertain, fuzzy, seeming to “glitch” as we stare at it, buzzing in and out of clarity. Could that, too, be a suggestion of Osinachi’s relationship with his heritage, either his own inability to understand it fully, or the inability of an observer to understand its wide, enormous meaning? 

Osinachi looks back at us, over his shoulder, his eye-less gaze needing to travel over his cloak before arriving at the image’s surface, it’s fourth wall, us. It’s impossible to separate the artist from his history; it’s impossible to separate his gaze towards the observer from the peripheral sight of his ancestry. 

Positioning in self-portraiture is always interesting, and Osinachi neither captures himself facing us, nor facing himself. He is turned away —from the world? From the observer’s eye? From the judgment and attempted examination of pieces like this? He captures himself reticent, coy even. A face looking backward, captured without eyes, without overt expression, a self-portrait stripped of its personal identification. What markers of identity Osinachi removes from himself, he replaces with accessories. The hat. The cape. The chinstrap beard. All things which can be repositioned and replaced and removed at his desire. If there is a “self” captured here, it is one that is secondary to the way that self is presenting. Perhaps that’s the point: that there is no Osinachi, and if there is, there’s no way to capture him; we can only ever see the Osinachi of the moment, the Osinachi with this hat, this hat positioned like this, this cape, this cape laid over with these symbols, this iteration of beard, this position of face. To capture a differently-styled Osinachi is to capture a different Osinachi altogether. Clearly, Self Portrait seems to suggest an importance of clothing. Elsewhere in his oeuvre, Osinachi does not shy away from nudity, though such pieces —Dave and Resignation— arrive later in his artistry. Here, Osinachi chooses, however, to capture himself not just fully-clothed, but with his form consumed by clothing. There is no arm or torso we can see. Nothing but half a face, an ear, a mouth. Osinachi has created a Self Portrait where he himself is almost completely absent.

What we make of the man comes entirely from choices of his mind: the colors, the arrangement, the clothing, the secondary detail of the textiles. He captures himself, but he does nothing to dispel his mystery. This is not Van Gogh staring straight at us, ready for examination and dissection. This is a meditation on a different kind of identity. It’s the artist capturing how much of himself is left when all outward markers of physical identity have been removed. And what are we left with? A mind. A history. A desire. A choice to marry the three and find something entirely novel within them. 

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