Landscape and miners are part of a long-term body of work by Abraham Onoriode Oghobase which presents a study of the Jos Plateau region, in north-central Nigeria. This work, which consists of several sub-series, reveals layers of human involvement in the unique topography and history of Jos, with its vast grasslands and volcanic rock formations, now indelibly scarred by human exploitative pursuits, from the past and present.
Mining diagrams from the 1912 text-book, entitled Rand Metallurgical Practice: Designed as a “working Tool” and Practical Guide for Metallurgists Upon the Witwatersrand and Other Similar Fields (London, C. Griffin Limited), are superimposed on photographs, taken by the artist, of the Jos landscape and the men who mine it. The miners look straight at the camera, with a direct unflinching gaze, as they stand alone facing an overwhelming emptiness. Superimposed, the twentieth century technical drawings provide an illustrated guide to the natural resource exploitation, and serve as a testament of the Western imperialist pursuits across the African continent, from the Witwatersrand ridge, in South Africa, to the Jos Plateau, in Nigeria. The diagrams and drawings seem to weigh down on the African workers, as they continue their local parasitic version of their predecessors’ colonial exploitation of their land.
In his artistic practice, Oghobase often explores identity in relation to socio-economic and historic geographies. As he says: “I’m constantly looking for things that will add multiple layers, and give my ideas a robust understanding of something. The image is not enough for these layers, which is why I naturally worked with installations and objects. Almost like dabbling in anthropology, in a way.”
His work which often meditates on the African postcolonial condition, mobilises the poetics of spectral imagery and the textures of delicate archival materials to reveal repressed layers of affect, behind dominant and objectivised historical narratives. Oghobase’s photographs also document the environmental destitution at the Jos Plateau. In each photo, the miner’s body almost blends in with the earth they excavate, and dig into in search mainly of tin. Ponds and gullies leave the Plateau pockmarked. Abandoned rail tracks that have descended to disuse are rusting away.
By unraveling narratives around power structures and ecological destruction in his emotive landscapes, Oghobase subtly lays open how the extraction of natural resources and violence shaped the geography and our understanding of his native continent until today. At the same time, his juxtaposition of past and present in a single photograph, points to a more layered composition of historical and political forces.
Through these series, the human-earth analogy becomes more poignant than ever. Being as communion. How to co-exist with the land we inhabit, how to imagine new ways of interaction that are not based solely on manipulation, excavation, extraction. Is collective existence―such as the one described in the Gaia Hypothesis, where planet Earth is also a single living organism, just like the human body―the way forward? A symbiotic rather than a perpetual exploitative relationship? Will we remain onlookers or will we shift our ways of being to a more in-tune way of living with our surroundings and others?