A painted portrait tends to have one primary purpose: to accurately represent a human subject. In a modern context, and in the work of Matthew Eguavoen, the medium is much more adventurous and free from any rule. Matthew, for example, paints colorful figurative works which he uses to tell stories of society, economics and politics.
Matthew is a contemporary artist from Edo State who currently lives in the city of Lagos, Nigeria. Prior to becoming a full-time artist, Matthew attended the University of Port Harcourt and earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering for civil and structural engineering. Indeed, unlike his more creative pursuits today, Matthew decided to pursue his passion for the arts through his own studies. And now you’ll find the artist in his studio, stretching the canvas on a stretcher, trimming it, letting it dry, and then finally printing out his ideas. When painting, he often refers to an image he got before staining the canvas with diluted Burnt Sienna acrylic paint, letting it dry again, and adding layers.
“I use my work to address societal, economic and political perspectives through the complex intersectionality that Nigerians and Africa in general face in different facets of life,” he told Creative Boom. “The constraint of societal ideology on life, on human existence and survival; it’s my own little way of contributing to the society in which I find myself. “
Did We Really Leave The Plantation is a piece that fully represents Matthew’s philosophy. In this work, a subject relaxes on a chair, adorned with golden sunglasses, a scarf and a plush jacket. “It’s a play that questions the effect of slavery on the mental state of Africans,” says Matthew. “Planting in this context is relative; it represents religion, traditions and societal values, as Africans are still strongly influenced and bound by values introduced by Westerners hundreds of years ago. It makes me personally want to question our emancipation.
In another painting titled Womanhood, Matthew questions the role of gender – an ever-changing societal construct. In particular, it examines how gender is “constantly evolving” and how “biological sex” is conceived as “two distinct realms”. To represent these ideas, he painted a female subject sitting quietly but sternly before his gaze; she wears feminine flowers that pair well with the bouquet on the right and the pink curtains hanging on the left. He adds: “I often wonder about the nature of femininity. What does it mean to be a woman? We no longer have a sense of what it means to be a woman through a set of physical characteristics or personality traits, nor through societal roles. But if being a woman is not determined by these dimensions, is there another element that is shared by all women? “
Matthew’s work voluntarily raises many questions for the viewer, but also, it is a way for him to approach the subjects which fascinate him or also provoke him. “I hope that my work will spark conversations among my generation to better move my country – Nigeria and Africa as a whole – forward. And not only will fuel these conversations, but I also hope that from these conversations , we start to actually act people and make our differences go away. “