Following is an inventory of universal themes in Nya’s work and a critical analysis that aims to disclose how his interpretation of each distinct theme varies with the work of notable African contemporary artists and a distinguished group of critically acclaimed European and American artists working in different genres.
In Nya’s work, the theme of fatherhood is visually discoursed from its spiritual source and hence original precept with the intention of underscoring the amaranthine obligations intrinsically weaved in the duties and roles of a Father.
“male’s pleasurable sport of exporting semen and occasionally nurturing the resultant fruit with food, clothes, shelter and a series of traditional words and actions and expecting a positive return on his investment.”
In the painting’s preparatory notes, he explicates the core meaning of the word, “Father” by tracing its source and intrinsic root from the imperishable and unalterable constitution of Heaven or the Word of the living God – The Bible. He then lists the following “revelatory words” that elucidate the purpose of a father;
By clearly establishing a Father as “the foundation,” the artist has rejected this world’s philosophy that views fathers as the head of the home and places the entire responsibility of administering a household in the hands of women whilst seeing men only as financial providers and supreme disciplinarians.
The massive arm covered in earth and ashes, the impressive hand guarding the measuring instruments, the garment comprised of promises and the impenetrable light surrounding the faceless, genderless and nameless figure in “The Progenitor of Purpose,” reflect the ineffable passion, serenity and elation of the following lines taken from the verse that accompanies the heavily textured composition;
In my Father…
I see my vision
I birth my work
I kindle my light
I cremate my fear
I receive my favor
I perceive my ideal
I discover my value
I find my legitimacy
I possess my power
I mature my passion
I obtain my freedom
I unearth my purpose
I assume my authority
I pursue my assignment
I comprehend my identity
I discern the imperishable value of my inestimable inheritance…
After carefully studying Nya’s oodles of pages of preparatory notes and sketches, ensued by analyzing key works in his oeuvre portraying themes related to fatherhood; it becomes apparent that the capitalization of the letter ‘F’ in his discourse on ‘Fatherhood’ is an indication that the artist is alluding to his Heavenly Father.
In the meritorious linocuts of the Namibian contemporary artist, John Ndevasia Muafangejo (1943-1987), fathers are portrayed in their typically recognized African roles, e.g. herdsmen, church leaders, farmers, hunters, ceremonial conductors and political leaders whereas women are depicted as primary caretakers of the home.
Other African contemporary artists who depict traditional roles of fatherhood in their distinct works include the Zimbabwean born and now London-based artist, Marc Standing, the Nigerian painter, musician and sculptor, Prince Taiwo Olaniyi Oyewale-Toyeje Oyelale Osuntoki (1944 – 2011) and the Soweto-born artist, Nkosana Dominic Tshabangu.
In the phantasmagoric works of the American painter, John Biggers (1924 – 2001), fathers are depicted as spiritual gurus and sages of the family who hear directly from God whilst women are portrayed as enforcers and diligent custodians of order in the home.
In his 1997 painting “Family Circle,” Biggers portrays a polygamist as the official emissary between his family and God, whilst his two wives, rendered in identical clothes, perhaps as a sign of loyalty and obedience, stand in reverence behind their praying husband. The artist renders the son in an identical kneeling posture as his father, neatly tucked behind the two women.
Even though every work by Nya’ alludes to theme of “Fatherhood” in multifariously subtle ways, one piece that perhaps stands out and epitomizes the artist’s revelatory comprehension of a Father is “Blueprint of Grace” (74 x 27 inches, 187.96 x 68.58 cm, 2006).
To appreciate the eminence of “Blueprint of Grace” and reverentially comprehend why “Fatherhood” is a critically universal theme in Nya’s works, it is vital to pause and articulate the initial conception, incubation, maturation and birth of the painting.
In essence, Nya’ began to compose the spiritual alphabet for “Blueprint of Grace” when he was about 6 years old. In his painting notes, Nya’ narrates a parable of how occasionally before supper in his native land of Zimbabwe, a certain mother would sit her son down in her bedroom and metaphorically pull up letters from an old envelope with stamps from various nations.
Before reading a portion of one of the peculiar letters, the mother, whom Nya’ described in his biography as “the embodiment of Grace, the paragon of Agape Love and the indisputable testament of the joy of gratitude,” would charge her son;
“I want you to open your heart and carefully listen as I read to you these important letters from your Father. You must meditate and obey all His words in order for you to be successful in all your ways.”
Despite his excitement, Nya’ describes how the young boy secretly wondered in his heart why the handwriting in every letter resembled her mother’s peculiar handwriting.
What the boy also found amazing about these letters, which in essence are the subject of “Blueprint of Grace” is how each letter seemed relevant to what he was going through and, in most cases, thinking in the secret chambers of his heart. At times, a part of the letter would warn him of imminent danger while another letter would advise him on the path to take, more like orchestrating a divine plan for him to follow.
Aside from alluding to what he was going through, what the boy also found astounding and perhaps encouraged him to remember the contents in each letter was how his father, who had left them (divorced his mother) when he was two years old seemed to know everything about him. In his notes, Nya’ mentions how through the letters, the Father would teach the boy the unsurpassable value of faith, purpose and vision.
The Father would also tell the young boy about their blood covenant which He constantly described as imperishable and unfailing. In fact, the subject of blood was very regular in the letters as the Father explained in great imagery how His perfect seed of greatness and perfect blood was naturally in his (the boy′s) DNA hence he was immune to diseases, failure, frustration and the spirit of fear, strife, hatred, depression, anger and bitterness that seemed to dominate and control his peers who were also being raised by “single mothers.”
The Father also told the young boy how His fondest will was for him to grow up healthy and become prosperous in everything he focused his mind and diligently dedicated his spirit, soul and body to accomplish. This is alluded to in “Blueprint of Grace” through the thin lines that represent the destiny of discipline and the fruit of faithfulness, gentleness, goodness, peace, temperance and patience a son can only receive from the seed of His Father.
In one of the letters that the mother frequently read, The Father stated that His reason for leaving the boy was so that He could live inside him. Though this was difficult for the young boy to understand, he believed it and would try to express it in his drawings and watercolor sketches. When his friends and teachers asked him where his father was and why they never saw him like other fathers, Nya′ stated how the young boy would always smile and with joy, conviction and keen alacrity, boldly say,
“He is inside me, He left, so that He could be with me and in me all the time.”
Even though this might have sounded very strange, crazy and perhaps foolish to say the least, Nya’ explains how the boy did not care as he was convinced of His Father's permanent residence inside him through his feeling of invincibility and boldness when he needed it; but most importantly, because of the profound letters read to him by his mother. When any external and internal voice would rouse him to doubt, Nya’ expressed how the young boy would pause and ponder; “if His Father were not inside Him, then why did he often feel His presence and how did He seem to know everything about him as evinced in the letters?”
However, when the young boy was about 12 years old, his mother handed him a black worn-out book he immediately recognized. This is the black book with frail pages and with some words written in red and her mother’s scribbled notes on the margins that he saw her read every morning. As she handed him the black leather-covered book, with tears rolling down her cheeks, she said to him;
“son, this book contains all the letters from your Father, read these letters before you sleep and when you wake up, keep the letters in your heart, and speak only your Father's words, especially when you are afraid and don’t know what to do, for in your Father's Word lies all the answers to life.”
In narrating this story in his biography, Nya’ concludes by saying;
“It was only when I became a man, that I fully comprehended that all these years, my mother was helping me to nurture an intimate relationship with my Lord and Savior, my King, my Mentor and abiding Father - Jesus Christ.”
Technically distinguished by its strict graphic regularity, a severe formal restraint and an impalpable sublimity, “Blueprint of Grace” uses the artist’s ingenious and ineffably laborious method of singly indenting letters on carefully prepared canvas using wires, needles and thread and occasionally copious amounts of delicately mixed pastes; a technique he began as a young boy and has gradually honed. The graphic clarity of Nya’s rhythmical marks, accentuated by a combination of symmetric gestures and an inconspicuous palette establishes a fluid lyrical elegance and a painterly language that solely expresses the transcendental and anomalous elements.
Comprised of dove creams that graduate into saffron whites and ebullient shades of gold, the piece is a semi-chromatic composition whose sublime, subtle and refined palette connotes the ethereal mirth, immeasurable peace and abiding love that engulfs one’s consummate being in the presence of “The Father.”
The use of lamb’s blood to partially blanket the words on the heart of the picture plane makes it unambiguous that the painting is alluding to the sacrificial and steadfast love of an Omnipresent, Omnipotent and Omniscient Father who had already designed a plan to bring His beloved children back into His rich inheritance long before they transgressed. The Father, whose forgiving nature and supreme deity, as portrayed by the snow-white and variant shades of gold is a paragon of immortal, immutable, irrevocable and inexplicable purity.
Primarily, Nya′ discourses the theme of fatherhood by focusing on the purpose of a father, alluding his functions to that of a truly anointed leader who sets the vision, provides the requisite resources, inspires potential and diurnally assesses progress in line with clearly delineated objectives rooted in purpose and protected by prayer.
He then mirrors the mortal image of an earthly father to that of our heavenly Father, thereby asserting that a physical father's ability to know his purpose and perform his functions is inherently dependent on the quality of his personal relationship with his Omniscient, Omnipotent and Omnipresent heavenly Father.
Another eminent subject that is ubiquitous in Nya’s oeuvre is the theme of freedom. However, unlike a hoard of contemporary artists, specifically British contemporary artists e.g. Jake and Dinos Chapman, Gillian Wearing and Tracey Emin who portray freedom as a narcissist license to indulge in unadulterated pleasure and every imaginable lascivious escapade, in Nya’s work, freedom is equated with responsibility.
To begin with, Nya′ portrays freedom as the power of the mind and will to choose between clear alternatives, either God or the devil, good or evil, faith or fear, son-ship or membership, grace or religion, divine law or ritual law, natural law or man-made laws, freedom or bondage.
However, when Man declared independence from his Creator through disobedience as represented by the scarred earth abounding with thistles, broken glass, animal dung and shards of metal towards the foot of the composition, he forfeited his freedom and instead concocted his own notions of freedom inspired by the spirit of fear.
Series I, Divine Inspiration, Nya’ 2004. Courtesy of Seed Gallery, New York
Mandate of Dominion
Solely aimed at gratifying his carnal senses and glorifying self, fallen Man's notion of freedom revels in the dearth of work and glorifies in the mundane routine of a job. As the flourishing leaves of a rootless tree in the series of sketches for the painting depict, freedom in the world system connote the retirement from responsibility, the dearth of self-government, the release from external controls and the unequivocal right for Man to do as he pleases, when he pleases, how he pleases and with whomever he pleases.
Described in his notes as the only ingress to abundance, it is the ancient scarlet key lodged in the keyhole in the middle of the canvas that is serving to explicate the meaning and person of true freedom. As the deluge of carefully selected old and New Covenant words surrounding, upholding and making the door on which the hole and key are resting, the key to freedom is knowledge, and the key to knowledge is Truth and the source of Truth is God.
In other words, it is the knowledge of what Jesus – He who is the personification of the source of all Truth- has obtained for Mankind through his work of redemption that gives any person who receives and believes in Him his freedom, dominion or the unabridged power to reign supernaturally on earth.
The artist concludes the two-and-a-half-page thesis for the painting with the ensuing words;
In his margin annotations accompanying the preparatory drawings for “Genesis of Eternity,” Nya’ also asserts that freedom cannot be given by another human being, but rather, it is an internal revelation that is only discovered when a person revelatory knows his “identity” in Christ and discovers his purpose in life, thereby is liberated from the purgatory of conformity.
The highlighted word “identity” is inseparable from freedom and hence important to underscore. In essence, authority is the legal right to use power. It is the lawful or unimpeded power to act and the permission to release responsibility. In his painting notes and as alluded to by the ash-covered scroll cascading towards the roof of the composition, authority is the right for every citizen of Heaven to exercise power on the colony of the earth through alignment with constitutional power or the irrevocable and unchanging Constitution of Heaven –The Word of God. This, therefore, implies that true freedom can only exist when Man has been duly authorized to exercise the power conferred upon Him by the original government with legal ownership of the colony of earth, Heaven.
To that end, the seamless blending of celestial blues, royal gold and scarlet hues in the painting depicts the descending of Heaven to earth in the person of Jesus to confer upon Man the power he had lost through sin by His redemptive work that reunified the commonwealth of Heaven back to earth. As depicted by the torn sackcloth, burnt cloth and lacerated paper throughout the canvas, Jesus tore the veil that separated Heaven and earth or Man from God by shedding His own blood depicted by the crimson shades across the entire composition and rich scarlet hue next to the scroll from whence the light illuminating the composition is emanating.
By instituting the Word of God as the only syllabus assigned to mentor, educate and train Man for freedom, Nya’s intention is to reiterate his revelatory assertion that freedom is not given by Man nor is it deliverance, independence or a religious theory. Freedom is and will always be every Man's choice to renew his mind with the imperishable truth, knowledge, wisdom, faith and power of God’s Word that reveals to him who he is, where he is from, why he was created, what he is supposed to be doing, where he is going and how to get there.
In “War Doctor” (52 x 42 inches, 132.8 x 106.6 cm, 2003) the minimally portrayed scarred warrior kneeling at the altar of thanksgiving and offering tribute and heartfelt hymns of praise upon his victorious return from battle alludes to two key essential elements of freedom unique to Nya’s oeuvre.
Foremost, as the innumerable scars alluded to by the wire stitches, scotch tape and torn metal on the warrior’s face and around him suggest, only a Man with an abiding revelation of how much Christ paid for His freedom is willing to face the enemies to his inheritance of freedom by faith until he emerges a victor. In other words, despite the innumerable adversities to his calling and weapons formed against him, because he knows who he is in Christ, where he came from, why he is on earth and where he is going, the purpose-filled and vision led warrior abides in an eternal season of work, joy, purpose, vision and gratitude.
Furthermore, as the strict symmetry, refined line, disciplined palette and distinct shapes throughout the composition suggest that freedom is granted within the law of delegation or a framework of order and in accordance with one’s divine assignment or calling in life. Put differently, freedom is character, maturity, guardianship, stability and duty. It is being liable, answerable or chargeable and accountable for one’s unique gift, calling and or purpose.
Concisely, true redemption granted freedom is "the discipline and the efficient management of time, energy and resources in the pursuit of your divine assignment" as alluded to in the composition by the ingenious use of discarded material and economic yet superlative use of color and space.
By equating freedom with responsibility and heralding the two as inseparable, Nya′ renders the prevailing worldly notions of freedom as primarily “the absence of oppression and a right to satisfy carnal pleasures,” especially as illustrated by a throng of contemporary artists as fallacious, perilous and outright diabolic.
To that end, the horde of kaleidoscopic images of people reveling in carousing, wild orgies and other acts of self-indulgence as in the work of the Mozambican painter, Louis Mecque (1966 – 1998) is in direct contrast with the semi-abstract and didactic work of Nya′ which promotes self-government and warns against the ills of internal decadence.
He states that independence and deliverance are the release from the oppressor, but freedom is the deliverance from oppression. Therefore, a human being can be independent and delivered but not free. He also states that the power of the oppressor is the maintenance of ignorance.
For this reason, the independent or delivered person ought to be extensively trained, guided and groomed for freedom until he comprehends through revelation knowledge that true freedom cannot be given by Man, for it is a personal discovery of one’s unique gift, inestimable worth, identity and image and character in God.
In “Mburuchusi,” (60 x 36 inches, 152.4 x 91.44 cm 1999), the solemnly depicted faces covered in blood represent the sorrow, stagnation, frustration, misery, despondency, dejection, discouragement, despair, hopelessness, purposelessness and inexplicable anguish of Man when the spirit of fear has veiled him from discovering his authority, power and freedom. In essence, the grim faces depict a people, community or citizenry under the manipulative, corrupt, short-sighted, confused, visionless, oppressive and brutal ruler-ship of world governmental systems.
Literally, ‘mburuchusi’ is a term for a process by which an ever-tightening strip of bark tied around a bull’s testicles during the summer gradually tightens in winter and eventually castrates the animal by cutting off its ‘semen delivery channel’ thereby making the bull impotent, docile and angry enough to pull a plough for unbearable hours.
As a visual commentary to the brutal corrupt regimes and poor governance in distinguished parts of Africa, Europe and the world at large, the bull becomes a metaphor for the bitter faced people, whose mask-like faces and muzzled lips overlap rhythmically. The burlesque treatment of the painting’s subject, amalgamated with the iniquitous imagery is evocative of the work of important contemporary artists, for example, Joël Mpah Dooh (Cameroon) and Chiko Chikonzero Chazunguza, (Zimbabwe) and the American artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960 –1988).
By pegging the mouths of the faces with concrete nails, discarded metal, dried twigs and rusted bottle tops, Nya’s intention is to emphasize that fear is a spirit that robs Man of his identity hence strips him of his freedom, authority and power thereby reducing him to a timid and barbaric neurotic with no control, even over his own words.
However, the earth mixed with dabs of lamb’s blood and deep crimson and scarlet hues flowing down the nucleus of the composition represents the price that was paid to purchase Mankind from the slave market of fear and restored to him the leadership position he had lost through his forefather’s (Adam) declaration of independence from the ideal government the Creator had granted humanity to righteously dominate, subdue and replenish the colony of earth.
In “Spiritual Purifiers” (60 x 41 inches, 87.5 x 85 cm, 2003) Nya’ attributes the perennial woes in the world, particularly the dearth of true leaders as inherently linked to an identity crisis that births a gross misconception of freedom.
According to the artist, identity is not merely a mental comprehension of a Man's pedigree or a pompous oration of his achievements, titles and ancestral lineage, but rather, a result of character birthed by the revelation that he was created in the exact image and character of God. Nya′ then defines character as the fruit of freedom and the aggregate embodiment of the inestimable virtues of trustworthiness, sacrifice, principles, responsibility, respect, honor, compassion and righteousness.
Executed in two continents over four years, “Spiritual Purifiers” figuratively depicts this world’s systems of government as a king whose ignorance of the purpose of his authority and power renders him utterly blind to the inestimable and imperishable worth of his domain. Consequently, he debases himself to a vagabond despot, a restless wanderer, a perennial complainer, a covetous buffoon and an irresponsible potentate severely plagued with the jaundice of impatience, the cancer of covetousness, the gall of greed and the bile of ignorance and doubt.
The square smeared with cow dung close to the mouth of the lugubriously depicted king alludes to this world’s loss of unity fundamentally steered by the cancerous words of fear incubated, maturated and professed by a hoard of leaders particularly from the world of politics and religion in order to prolong their visionless reigns while perennially propagating a myopic sense of patriotism, national security, identity, authority and freedom steeped in geographical, religious, tribal, racial, political and ancestral linkages.
By disfiguring and arranging various elements in the composition in a burlesque manner, most notably the African drum, a Roman spear, and the face clad in tree twigs representing this earth’s continents, the artist’s intention is to portray how the lack of identity births the misconception of freedom and the dearth of leadership in a society, country and community leading to infighting, strife and divisions based on race, religion, tribal lines, gender and ethnic backgrounds.
Despite the harrowing mood, intensified by the scattered ashes and severed body parts strewn around the canvas that conjure up abominable memories of pagan worship, human trafficking, religious and voodoo ceremonies and ancestral worship, “Spiritual Purifiers” is an important reminder that Man was created to reign and have dominion. However, when he is ignorant of his royal lineage and identity as a “son of God” hence an ambassador, priest and king on earth, his divine inheritance granted by his redemption becomes a religious cliché.
As the strewn body parts depict, a carnal lifestyle of worshipping his own body and other humans he deems “important” now becomes his existence and impotent philosophies, ideologies and theologies from depraved religions, vile educational systems and sterile political leaders and ephemeral influencers from different fields become the source of his concepts of freedom.
In a sobering work that can be described as a “sad profile of the naturally incurable wounds of colonization, slavery and oppression,” “The Babylonian Shepherd” (60 x 36 inches (152.4 x 91.44 cm, 2002) describes how the spirit of fear which births, incubates, matures and sponsors every act, form and system of human domination, control and manipulation is also the same spirit that perpetuates the misconception of ‘deliverance’ as freedom and heralds capitalism and democracy as God’s perfect and ideal form of system and government.
In essence, and as alluded to by the chains detached from the anchor on the legs of the figures, deliverance connotes rescue or liberation and being set free from bondage or a physical state of confinement, subjugation, servitude and slavery. However, deliverance is not freedom and deliverance does not always escort Man to freedom. In fact, while deliverance is the physical release from the chains of the oppressor, freedom is the release from the spirit of oppression.
This, therefore, implies that deliverance is an instant act of untying the fetters of oppression; but freedom is a progressive and deliberate act. It is a laborious, persevering and structured process. By definition, true freedom is a clearly defined, detailed and extensively researched step-by-step, page by page and chapter-by-chapter process and plan of growth and development that is sustainable, implementable, accountable, traceable and documentable.
In select words pertaining to freedom in his Kingdom Lexicon, Nya’ explicates how when any Man has been delivered or set free from any kind of oppression, be it spiritual, physical or mental, he is obviously euphoric, elated and jubilant beyond words. However, that is not freedom. The delivered person is yet to be transformed in the spirit of his mind and to be renewed in his belief system or way of thinking.
Although he might have physically relocated or changed his location, his position, title, social pedigree, economic status, associations, lifestyle and even his name, his mind is still the same. He still has a bondage mentality or still thinks exactly the way he was programed and conditioned to think by his oppressor.
As alluded to by the remnants of discarded metal comprising the heads of the figures, his real essence - his mind- is still controlled by the same spirit of fear that motivated his oppressor to enslave, manipulate, colonize and oppress him. To that end, his behavior, diurnal conversation, posture, habits and itinerary still resemble an oppressed human being as further depicted in the work by the sackcloth garment, ashes and dead branches dressing the figures.
Intrinsically woven into the fabric of Nya’s paintings is the theme of work. However, the artist rejects the generally approved notion that has devalued the divine glory of work with what he considers “pernicious platitudes.” These are words in several English dictionaries and everyday vernacular that equate work with “toiling; slaving; a job; laboring” and stereotypical expressions like: working to survive; just hustling; earning a living; making a living; wiling up time; clocking in and clocking out; putting food on the table.
In “Redeemer of Dreams,” (41 x 31 inches, 104.14 x 78.74 cm, 2005) Nya’ traces the roots of the word “work” in primarily the book of Genesis and upon completing his research, he scribed the following phrases in his painting notes and sketches that preceded the piece;
By capitalizing the words, Become, Reveal, Fulfill, Manifest, Discover and Dominion, Nya’s intention is to establish how work precedes creation, unveiled creation and established creation. In other words, before God began the beginning, work already existed in Him and when He called things into being, work, by His Spirit formed what He said.
“God, Work and Faith (His Word) are inseparable, for Faith and Work were in Him and with Him from the beginning and His Word has within it the power, capacity or work to manifest when Man hears, receives and obeys it.”
As the old and rusty suitcase handle and zipper towards the foot of the painting suggest, it is only when Man gets a grip on his life and settles down to earnestly thirst and diligently quest to discover his divine purpose in life can he begin to confidently journey or work towards his glorious destiny. In other words, work is the journey to every human being's destiny and without work, every destiny remains hidden or padlocked, zipped up and or buried in the tomb of toiling, the grave of jobbing, the mortuary of survival and the cemetery of mere existence where complainers, scoffers, gossipers, murderers of dreams and assassinators of visions abide.
On the other hand, the dilapidated, sweat-corroded and decaying state of the suitcase handle also alludes to the soporific, mind-numbing, dignity and honor-stripping nature of jobbing or merely clocking in and clocking out without a vision, just hustling without a destiny, making a living without purpose and putting food on the table while oblivious to one’s divine assignment.
In essence, the handle is a metaphor for a Man's life. With every passing day, he is drawing closer to his departure from earth and unless he decides to “meditate” and discover the keys to unlock the unique gift inside him, he is destined to toil or to be used and abused by the world system until he dilapidates, wears out or retires from adding value to humanity.
By definition, meditating implies training, calming or emptying the mind, often by achieving an altered state through focusing on a single object. This, therefore, means that true meditation is a process that involves clearing whatever was in one's mind and focussing on a distinguished object, subject, person or deity until the mind is mind or until the process of transforming or renewing the mind is initiated and doggedly pursued.
Choice or the power to choose, another important theme that sublimely echoes through the fabric of Nya’s oeuvre is key in meditation. For example, someone can choose to meditate on a deity, be it a demigod, sun god, Celtic deity or Japanese, Roman, Greek, Anglo Saxon, Persian, Hindu, Egyptian or Chinese deity. Man can also choose to meditate on a desist guru, revered prophet, a god of voodoo cults, a philosopher’s words, nature, the universe, a celebrity or whatever he or she decides to settle his mind on.
Nevertheless, the fading old English text and the script above the bridge dividing the composition suggest that any kind of meditation without the Word of God in a Man's heart is futile. It is an utterly useless and stale exercise that only cajoles his flesh but leaves the very “thing” he seeks to satisfy -his spirit- starved, diseased, weak and dying. It is important to pause and emphasize that this is not an indictment of the plenteous of religions, gazillions of gods and trillions of spirits of human beings evoke and consciously or unconsciously meditate on in our desperate search for power, meaning and purpose for life.
However, it goes without saying that spending time feeding one’s spirit with the food that created it – God’s Spirit Word - is a much more reasonable, sound and profitable proposition and investment than focusing one’s precious mind on the demanding gods of religion, impotent philosophies authored by mere mortals and cultic deities that are never satisfied.
As the showers of light cascading from the roof of the painting depict, meditating on the Word of God is the root, birthplace and beginning point for revelation and it is revelation that inspires Man to change his posture, attitude and focus by transforming him to become a world changer through discovering his unique gift. In other words, when any Man is illuminated by revelation, essentially the revelation of who he is in Christ, why he was created and where he is going, he is empowered to dominate in any community, country and field of assignment as depicted by the light extinguishing the darkness thereby exposing the opulent text and door beneath the callous texture.
The golden light washing away the debris and exposing The Word is also a testament to how meditating on the Word of God day and night empowers and authorizes Man to flourish and be fruitful and profitable in his life as well as secure his vitality, ideas, ingenuity and work from withering. Put differently, revelation or the working knowledge of The Truth is what retains a Man's value by ascertaining that he prudently uses the tool of work to stretch his imagination and begin to take steps towards his glorious destiny with confidence and boldness.
While it is meditation on The Spirit or Word of God that reveals to Man his identity, purpose and divine assignment thereby setting him free from the quandaries of banal existence, it is engaging the principles in the Word as he diligently works to develop and serve his gift to humanity that ensures his posterity as depicted by the hinges. In essence it is only through work or becoming a slave to his gift that Man can open doors for his future and live an inheritance for his children and unborn generations.
Conclusively, and perhaps more importantly, as the discarded metal, rags and sackcloth covered in a rubble at the foot of the painting suggests it was the work of Christ, His unreserved passion for Mankind and unwillingness to give in to his flesh that redeemed humanity from the depths of poverty and quandary of sin.
Now, as the bridge deluged in snow white suggests, Jesus’ work of redemption, His sacrificial work represented by the rich scarlet and purple hues amidst the debris has now given every human being a choice. He can choose to remain at the bottom of the barrel where toiling, jobbing, sorrow, decadence, stagnation, religion and resignation from life resides or allow Grace to open the door to Life that ushers him into a realm where revelation of his true worth abides, his work resides, joy abounds and provision for his assignment is guaranteed.
In a series of paintings consummated soon after “Redeemer of Dreams,” Nya’s theme on work is developed by tying work with the words that form the cornerstone of his oeuvre, namely faith, vision and purpose.
In “Escort of Wisdom” 74 x 38 inches (187.96 x 96.52 cm, 2004) knowledge and planning are expressed as the key work that initiate a vision and the wisdom of God working in the visionary as the irresistible, incontestable and unconquerable force that delivers every divine assignment to its glorious destiny.
As suggested by the thick blanket of opulent hues of royal gold and redemptive crimsons powerfully cascading from the roof of the painting until the entire canvas is flooded with resplendent light, every vision given to Man by God is guaranteed a constant supply of wisdom from Heaven. This wisdom, solely responsible for uncovering the words arranged in the shape of a tablet that metamorphoses into a bridge is the omnipotent fuel thrusting the vision forward and destroying every opposition to it as alluded to by the charcoal debris giving way to The Word buried underneath it.
Aside from alluding to the indispensability of the work of acquiring knowledge, planning and fervently seeking wisdom, the tablet metamorphosing into a bridge also depicts how God’s commands link or connect Man to the manifestation of the unique work He created him to accomplish. In fact, it is obedience to His Word that enables and facilitates the vision to remain on a course where wisdom naturally finds it thereby causing it to come to fruition as suggested by the distinguished words whose stainless-steel structure is partially visible.
Furthermore, obedience to God’s Word is the birthplace of true work, the beginning of total dependence on Him, and the wellspring of ultimate independence from the opinions of the world. This is depicted in the composition by the seamless merging of His Word and the coded numbers alluding to the indispensable role of planning, knowledge, strategy and focus in developing one’s work in order to fulfill his divine assignment.
Ultimately, as suggested by the disparate levels upon which The Word is established, obedience is the divine stairway that ascertains the delivery of every divine assignment to its predestined position of honor. This implies that as the wisdom from above richly descends and drenches the divine vision, the obedient visionary is perennially elevated and upon entering each dimension, he is ushered into yet another realm of wisdom as represented by the ever-increasing light in distinguished parts of the canvas.
Numerous African contemporary artists, including the gifted Namibian, Shiya Karuseb, Neo Matome from Botswana, the South African photographer, Zwelethu Mthetwa and the legendary African iconic artist, Gerard Sekoto (1913-1993) have included the theme of ‘work’ in their paintings and photographs.
But whilst the aforementioned artists refer to the theme by either portraying people in the physical act of working or Africans in search of a job; Nya’s spiritual approach to the subject is revelatory and hence nonpareil. It is rooted in the fundamental thread that makes Man a powerful and peculiar specie: the fact that he was created in the likeness of His creator and therefore possess God’s essential nature, in particular, the ability to imagine and speak things into existence.
After gaining independence, a score of African nations commissioned Asian, European and subsequently indigenous artists to carve impressive bronze and metal sculptures portraying men and women laboring in various disciplines. These gigantic sculptures that adorn several African cities which include Accra, Harare, Maputo, Cairo, Lomé and Dar Es Salaam were and are still intended to encourage citizens to “work hard” for their country. They are also enduring symbols of sovereignty and potent emblems that proclaim that the means of production are in the hands of the masses.
However, when one reverts to Nya’s aforementioned definitions of freedom and work, it is unequivocal that despite gaining independence, the meaning of work to most human beings can be defined as the following;
“A struggle to find whatever one considers a decent job, to labor hard, to earn a decent wage, to feed your family, dwelling in the deceived hope that your children’s lives would be better and continuously irk out an existence until you either prematurely die a fragile, feeble, frustrated, diseased and bitter Man.”
Nya’ sees this traditional and world manufactured tenet of work as erroneous, and defines it as “toiling and under the curse.”
In his deliberately cumbersome and bizarre 1995 mixed media work entitled “Apartheid Laboratory,” the South African contemporary artist communicates his message by attaching found materials and relics from the Apartheid era. He affixes objects that include hospital drips, hunting arrows, a prosthetic leg, a one-way street sign, broken car parts, radio antennas and a measuring tape.
The construction of the thought-provoking piece suggests that Bester started the artwork at a certain point and just kept adding disparate elements as he found them, a perfect analogy for the diabolic tactics of the repressive South African government, which “thoughtfully” yet haphazardly enforced supplementary legislation to perpetuate the diabolic system of apartheid.
By abandoning the common manner of portraying apartheid, e.g. depicting Africans in chains as in the photographs of Ernest Cole (1940-1990), or anguished drawings that expressed black pain as in the work of the prolific African contemporary artist, Julian Motau (1948-1968), William Bester’s sculpture is akin to Nya’s work in its cerebral, didactic and imaginary approach.
To comprehend the inexplicably glorious and inconceivable wonder of work, Nya’ began his research for the x-rays by carefully studying and reverentially meditating upon the following words that God first spoke to Man;
“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
With these words, “the very first words God spoke to Mankind” - the very first words a human ever heard - the first words his physical ears captured - the first words his internal hearing mechanism took in - the first words his spirit embraced – God divinely entrusted work with everything Man was going to undertake on earth.
In essence, by commanding this specie He created in his image – Man – who comes in 2 models, male and female to “be fruitful,” God was granting or conferring to him the immutable authority, unadulterated power and infrangible capacity to create, to be productive, to be beneficial, profitable and continuously abound, prosper and succeed.
As depicted by the five golden rings bonded to the figure’s bosom, within every human there is a seed brimming with potential, a peculiar seed that differentiates every Man on earth. An inimitable seed destined to recreate the world of Heaven in the area and field of calling he was divinely assigned to cultivate, dominate and subdue. An opulent and unmatchable seed whose discovery brings with it untold joy, undeniable contentment and absolute satisfaction – it is this seed or “unique gift” which God was referring to when He ordered Man to “be fruitful.”
Work – primarily represented in the x-ray by the dominant, fearless and sturdily impressive fingerless hand and heavily soiled arm of the figure is the key for Man to be fruitful. Stated differently, in order for Man to discover, develop and mature the seed or gift his Creator mandated him to bring out of him and into the world, He gave him a tool or servant called – work- to diligently deploy.
However, as portrayed by The Word and coded numbers tattooed on the bicep of the oversized arm, in order to deploy work successfully, Man has to ascertain that his hand moves in sync or at the direction or command of The Word that commanded him to be fruitful.
Nya’s use of a fingerless and genderless arm to represent work is telling. To begin with, the arm represents how every human being has a distinct purpose on earth and hence is obligated to discover his gift and pursue his work.
Secondly, by rendering the hands of the nameless and race-less figure with no distinct fingers but more like a one-size-fits-all skinless glove, Nya’s intention was is to depict how work is a universal Truth which every human being cannot escape from, be exempted from or retire from.
As the aforementioned first words God spoke to Man “BE FRUITFUL” suggests, work banishes all competition by exposing jealousy, covetousness, bitterness and anger for what they truly are, agents of fear sent to remove your attention on your gift and idolize other people. As alluded to by the five rings symbolizing every Man's unique gift, peculiar calling and or assignment, every human being was created to discover his gift and run his own race in his own lane. In other words, the discovery of one’s gift and pursuit of his work is the death of comparison and the birth of ingenuity, true entrepreneurship and enduring value.
The rings representing work's unique gift also represent how work is the purpose for Man’s existence on earth and the vehicle requisite for the manifestation of God’s purpose or His will and intention on earth.
In essence, the first thing God gave Man was work. He did not tell him to pray, worship, sing and dance or offer sacrifices, he told him ‘to work.’ While the former is primarily a result of the fall of Mankind and is indispensable and undoubtedly profitable when put in its right place, work was and is God’s first and only priority for humanity.
The highlighted phrase ‘to work’ is important to distinguish for at its core, it means to develop into…, to be transformed…, to evolve…, to arrive…, to ripen…and to become what you were created to be.
Work is therefore the process or method, the practice, the transaction, the course or the ultimate action of releasing the seed or “unique gift” inside every human being. And since the unique gift was given by God, who is Love, and the means to release it – work – was also given by Love, it becomes apparent that work is fulfilling or accomplishing the purpose of Love - God’s perfect will.
Foremost, unlike a job, work is not a physical place one goes to, reports to for duty or clock in when he gets in, clocks out for a break, clocks in after the break and clocks out when his assigned shift is over. As the essence of the five rings representing every Man's “unique gift” inside the figure’s bosom suggests, work is constantly ripening, flourishing or glorying and goldening into what one was created to be.
In other words, every person is born with his or her work and this work is wrapped or divinely protected in his unique gift. Therefore, when Man has discovered his unique gift, he has discovered the genesis of his Man.
Unlike a job that comes with a predetermined stipend, a paycheck or an allowance upon meeting strict requirements, work is who a Man is and not something he does. Furthermore, while a Man can be fired from his job for a score of reasons, Man can never be fired, quit, retire or abandon his work. His work is who he is. His work is a joyous discovery and unveiling of the inestimable and marvelous gift and talents deposited in him that he continues to grow and develop for the benefit of humanity diligently.
Unlike a job that comes with a fixed salary and perhaps an annual bonus depending on the company’s balance sheet, work is not bound to an income or hourly rate. The merits, accolades and rewards of work are invaluable, and defy imagination and the more the Man's gift is refined and diligently served to humanity, the higher the world is willing to reward or compensate him for his unique gift. Otherwise stated, a Man's gift unwrapped, ameliorated, astutely repackaged, distributed and served to humanity through work decides his worth and not his boss, a board of directors or shareholders.
Whilst a job is primarily using one’s hands to execute a given task, a chore or duty with the analytical part of the mind only engaged as far as memorizing and repeating the process redundantly, (whilst his creative and imaginative faculty remains unengaged), work consumes every faculty in Man - his spirit, soul and body. As portrayed by the intrinsic connection of the elements representing Man's gift, his re-born spirit and God’s Word, work is a gift discovered through the revelation of one’s identity in Christ.
Put differently, the discovery of work is the uncovering of one’s pre-determined purpose, the unknotting of his divine assignment already finished in Heaven and the catalyst to grow his measure of faith in God.
Conclusively, Nya’s revelation of the intrinsically binding relationship between “Work and Faith, Vision and Purpose” is stressed in a riveting verse from an x-ray of his important work “Heir of Inheritance” showing a figure whose gender, ethnicity, social pedigree and age remains a mystery and yet his gift and work has elevated him to a position where the world has become his parish.
Written in a series of rhyming words and broken into three sentences, the concluding stanza of the verse reads as follows;
“The aggregate value, esteem and total sum of every breathing soul is enraptured in work. Enduring joy and abiding peace is embraced when Man discovers his work. For work is the purpose of Man's existence; work is the reservoir of passion, work is the sanctuary of self-control, work is the residence of responsibility, work is the assassinator of irresponsibility, work is the cure for greed, work is the custodian of freedom, work is the tabernacle of vision and work is the tool for dominion…”
This intrinsic relationship between time and purpose is an enduring message portrayed throughout Nya’s works from his series “Divine Inspiration.” And three works from the series that sublimely discourse the theme of time are “New Light, Old Windows,” “Epistle of Breath” and “Destiny of Words.”
In “Divine Inspiration,” Nya’ asserts how God sculptured and precisely endowed every human being with a unique and irrevocable gift. He further narrates how within every human spirit, there is subconscious wisdom that constantly aggravates inertia and intuitively reminds him of the illimitable equity invested in him.
Defined in his Kingdom Lexicon as a “divine gift impartially bestowed upon every human being to discover his purpose, initiate his work and pursue his divine assignment” the theme of time is the foundational theme upon which all the other themes explored by the artist in his three series of work are established. For example, fatherhood and identity require time to manifest, freedom requires the platform of time for its attainment and work requires time for its expression.
The theme of time is so important in the artist’s oeuvre and in one of his early works that discourses the theme of time “Deserts of a vast Eternity,” (41 x 31 inches, 104.14 x 78.74 cm, 2004), the tragedy of wasted time is alluded to through multiple parts of an old and dilapidated door crudely affixed on the ground of the heavily textured composition. The door’s original handle has been replaced by what looks like a handle of an old Renaissance-style headboard drawer with screws and nails of different sizes and shapes desperately deployed to hold the elements of the disintegrating door together. In essence, the door represents time as the unauthorized entrance into a man’s vault of regret where the classified dossiers of how he squandered his time on a career, job, education, entertainment, relationships, people, places and friends unaligned to his purpose, potential, passion and vision are carefully inventoried.
Series I, Divine Inspiration, Nya’ 2004. Courtesy of Seed Gallery, New York
Deserts of vast eternity
Prior to delving in and discussing how this preeminent theme of time is depicted in the aforementioned three works, i.e. “New Light, Old Windows,” “Epistle of Breath” and “Destiny of Words,” it is sagacious to establish Nya’s revelatory understanding of time as it is the substructure upon which the theme is articulated in his oeuvre.
Delivered in three stages - past, present and future - and taken in three doses - yesterday, today and tomorrow, time is an impermanent, invaluable and ineffably precious and exhaustible currency measured in seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries, and millennia. As a medium of exchange, time purchases life and every human being on the planet reflects what he has bought with his time.
In essence, while time affords Man the room to develop, ameliorate and transform his thinking to align with his purpose, it offers no guarantees, does not provide warranties or accept any returns or exchanges on generations, years, seasons, days, hours and minutes that were squandered, wasted, abused, lost or ignorantly devalued.
Like all commodities, time must be deftly managed, focused and dexterously converted into tangible opportunities for purpose to be established and destiny to be fulfilled; and contrary to tradition, time is not measured by a person’s age, pedigree, lineage and or past achievements. It is measured by how much of his potential is still buried inside him against the number of days he still has left on earth.
Created by an eternal God who existed before the beginning began, the God who began the beginning and has no beginning or end and thus lives outside its parameters, time is the ultimate definer of the distance between every Man's beginning and end and the measurer of his worth, value and purpose in life. In other words, life is measured by time, life is apportioned by time and life is distinguished by time and when time stops, life stops.
Impartial, unfettered and unperturbed by the cacophonous gyrations of this world’s systems, Man's unpredictable moods, his grandeurs plans, the lamentation of past injustices and his regret over wasted opportunities, time steadily moves ahead; and with arrogance, boldness and confidence alien to reason, it consults no Man of its intentions and plans.
Regarded by the old as the plunderer of youth and by the youth as the forestaller of freedom, time utterly ignores them both and remains deaf and mute to Man's sorrowful pleas for an extended warranty on earth, an expeditious delivery to his desires, dreams and goals or an early departure to Heaven.
In his work, “New Light, Old Windows” 70 x 45 inches (177.8 x 114.3 cm, 2004), Nya’ figuratively depicts time as the immeasurable power and patience of light, which, in its due season, can penetrate through the darkness wrought by fear and ignorance and accordingly bring hope, life and restoration where there was debilitation, despair, debasement, depravity, decadence, depression and death.
In essence, the linen grounded composition depicts the rehabilitation of old, battered and broken windows. The discarded windows are an allusion to humankind’s frailty and inevitable demise living under the weight and bareness of a cursed earth, as represented by the thick deluge of sand-like particles filling the rectangles.
The erect rectangles, bleeding out of the picture plane represents the windows going through and completing their transformation. Light or revelation knowledge represented by gold in the nucleus of the canvas piercing through the shimmering white tones, celestial blues and turquoise tones is the agent responsible for restoring the windows to their former glory; a laborious process that only Grace in the sphere of time could undertake.
In “Epistle of Breath” (72 x 30 inches (182.88 x 76.2 cm, 2007), a work that expresses the innate binding relationship between ‘work’ and the three-dimensional pillars upon which Nya’s entire oeuvre is anchored, namely “faith, vision and purpose” time is represented as a mystery that can only be fully appreciated where God’s precept in creating Man and assigning him custodianship over the colony of earth is understood.
As the viewer’s eyes travel from the right to the left side of the canvas, the coded numbers inscribed on two tablets with Old and New Testament Scriptures allude to time as a numbered season granted to recreate the world of Heaven on the only planet the Creator gave humanity full rights to manifest His nature, character and culture. In essence, His Glory. On the other hand, the mellifluous blending of the colors in the composition allude to time as an aroma of hope at the break of dawn while abstrusely resembling a flock of birds evanescing into a picturesque sunset.
Furthermore, as the resplendent crimson hue seamlessly merges with deep oranges and earth browns towards the center of the canvas, time metamorphoses into a euphonious melody of a newborn as they makes their grand entrance on earth before suddenly becoming the last breath of a father as he quietly exists earth surrounded by his children.
In the triptych “Destiny of Words” (23 x 17 inches (58.42 x 43.18 cm, 2008), time is portrayed on one panel as a shrewd investor, auditor and judge who impartially stands before Man's deathbed and demands a detailed account of how he invested this ‘expendable resource’ and a profit and loss report card in exchange for an extended warranty on earth.
On the remaining two panels, time is depicted as a divinely orchestrated break in eternity and a currency whose value is measured in proportion to purpose. The coded numbers across the panels and partially veiled by sackcloth, pebbles and sand allude to the Creator of time and express how time void of purpose births a dead life - a life ignorant of its true identity, barren of the revelation of its true heritage, void of the wisdom of its purpose, stripped of the knowledge of its potential and blind to the predetermined course to its glorious destiny. In essence, a life void of value and impact - a life abused.