Tuesday 22 January 2019


a conceptual blending of Cassia tora root forms and well-being

         Captivated by plant roots and the need to revitalize the well-being of Nigerians, I embarked on a task of creating paintings that would thrive on metaphorical rendition of root forms. A conceptual blending of root forms is a metaphoric approach. Conceptual blending is a process of creating a visual metaphor that engages the sensory, emotional and cognitive systems, which allow information to be perceived and transformed (Feinstein, 1982). Conceptual blending involves key components such as restructuring, mapping, classifying, observing, and conceptual thinking (Serig, 2006). These metaphoric components were deployed in the paintings. 

 The paintings were rendered metaphorically, integrating the survival and healing attributes of Cassia tora plant roots. They were produced with a variety of conventional painting media, unconventional materials and diverse techniques. Cassia tora root forms are the dominant visual components of the compositions. The metaphorical rendition involve contextual, dialectical and analogous approaches akin to societal happenings in Nigeria. 

        The paintings were produced during my PhD research in painting. My PhD research paintings were produced in five phases in chronology with the five research objectives. I will deliberate on the artworks, based on content, context, form, technique and materiality. Twenty-two artworks (Plates I - XXII), from each of the five phases are selected for this deliberation as follows: 

‘Singular Element’ series of paintings dwell on a Cassia tora root pattern, replete with a taproot, branch roots and nodes. Paintings in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ series rely on two Cassia tora root patterns that intertwine each other on the picture plane. The picture plane of each painting in ‘Nodal Forms’ is filled with Cassia tora nodes. The compositions in ‘Multiple Elements’ integrate three or more Cassia tora root patterns. However, ‘Roots of Fashion’ series of paintings rely on a combination of Cassia tora root patterns, ‘unconventional materials’ and collage technique.



Objectives of the study

  • explore the dynamic features of Cassia tora root pattern in painting; 
  • infuse symbolic colours into the root forms to enhance their metaphoric content; 
  • generate compositions in painting with the nodes of Cassia tora;  
  • create paintings with multiple root patterns of Cassia tora; and 
  • lift the metaphoric content of Cassia tora root forms using ‘unconventional materials’, such as beads, raffia, jute, polythene, woollen yarns and fabric offcuts


Phase1: Singular Element

 Singular Element (Phase1) consists of ‘Germination of Gold’, ‘Hero’, ‘Guerrilla Warrior’, ‘Aso Rock’ and ‘Bless them Mama Africa’ series of paintings (Plates I - V). ‘Germination of Gold’ is a naturalistic depiction of Cassia tora roots. The other four artworks are rendered in a semi-abstract style. The artworks lay emphasis on the visual analysis of Cassia tora root forms (the subject matter). It as draws inspiration from the survival attributes to make statements on the well-being of Nigerians. The major component of the root-inspired compositions is single Cassia tora root pattern, referred to as ‘Singular Element’. The compositions dwell on contrasting colour combination of the root forms, backgrounds and space. Space takes on a seesaw appearance, between distance and proximity, as well as outdoor scenery and room space.
The major compositional elements among the ‘Singular Element’ series of paintings include branch roots, taproots and nodes. There is distinct variation in colour combination, shape, depth and the interaction between space and root forms. The common theme among the Germination of Gold’, ‘Hero’ and ‘Guerrilla Warrior’ series is a view of the ‘risen hero’, who defied all odds in conquering his enemies on a battle field as a metaphor for inspiration. The works draw analogy from the survival strategy of Cassia tora roots, which is characterized by dominance, to personify the notion of victory achieved through courageousness and perseverance. However, ‘Bless them Mama Africa’ draws analogy from Cassia tora healing attributes, to extend her helping hands to Nigerians while ‘Aso Rock’ utilizes the Cassia tora visual features to illustrate the organs of government in Nigeria.  


1.1   Germination of Gold 

  Plate I: Germination of Gold 
Ink and Acrylic on Paper, 91 cm x 124 cm, Stephen Achugwo ©2015

‘Germination of Gold' is composed with a Cassia tora root pattern that represents the ‘risen hero’ and a dark background of brown hues symbolic of the battle field. It is rendered in a naturalistic style, depicting the basic structures of Cassia tora root pattern, replete with a taproot, branch root and nodes. There is no modification in proportion; one can see the relationship between the various components of the root system. Cassia tora roots are depicted with glittering gold ink, enabling the subject matter (the hero) to stand out from the dark brown background as well as projecting the bragging rights of the hero. The painting is made from a direct approach, through a direct observation of freshly uprooted Cassia tora plant roots. 


1.2    Hero  

Plate II: Hero, Oil on Canvass, 112 cm x 92 cm, Stephen Achugwo ©2015

As the title suggests, the theme of 'Hero' is based on a view of the ‘risen hero’, who defied all odds in conquering his enemies on a battle field as a metaphor for inspiration. The ‘risen hero’ is suggested by a Cassia tora root pattern that dominates the left side of the picture plane. The painting is composed with a Cassia tora root pattern and a background of red and yellow hues. It explores the Cassia tora roots components, including a taproot, branch roots and nodes. The warm colours give the impression of heat felt in the afternoon in Nigeria, as well as expressing the intensity of the battle. Rough textures are infused into the background with thick patches of colour. Space appears like a colourful cloudy environment, evoking a feeling of excitement. The warm colours are symbolic of celebration and joy of victory after the battle. The ‘Hero’ is depicted with a Cassia tora pattern of magenta and yellow hues. 


1.3     Guerrilla Warrior  

Plate III: Guerrilla Warrior, Oil Pastel on paper, 91 cm x 124 cm, Stephen Achugwo ©2015

Whether a warrior is at the middle of the battlefield or in the middle of the jungle, survival and domination are the vital keys for victory. In this composition, the Guerrilla Warrior (the risen hero) is portrayed with a cross section of the Cassia tora root pattern and colourful textured background. 'Guerrilla Warrior' shares a common theme with the previous paintings. The ‘risen hero’ is suggested by a Cassia tora root pattern that dominates the picture plane. The colourful background is the climax of the celebration that accompanied the victory by the warrior. 


1.4    Aso Rock 

Plate IV: Aso Rock, Oil on Canvass, Size: 122 cm x 122 cm, Stephen Achugwo ©2015

‘Aso Rock’ is a visual metaphor that describes the organs of government in Nigeria. The supreme leadership structure is represented by Cassia tora root forms. At the left side of the painting is a singular root element of Cassia tora, depicted in tints of magenta and yellow. This root unit represents the office of the Presidency at Aso Rock. It is in this office that major political decisions are taken for the governance of Nigeria. Whilst the taproot stands for the president of Nigeria, the thinner branch roots represent other arms of government, consisting of the Legislators – Senators and House of Representative Members, Judiciary, and the Ministers.
There is a cross-section of the root pattern of Cassia tora on the right side of the picture plane, depicted in shades of purple. This segment is far bigger in scale than the singular root element on the left side of the composition. It represents the people of Nigeria and the diverse culture, languages and ethnic groups. The Nigerian people’s hope and aspirations are enshrined in the circular nodes. Cassia tora nodes are portrayed with circular planes tones of purple hues.
Space is appropriated as the well-being of Nigerians, which is affected by the inconsistent leadership since independence. The space in this composition also represents the common space (Nigeria territory) shared by the leaders and the followers. The negative spaces are depicted in light tones of magenta, enabling the root forms to be clearly projected from the composition as well as intensifying the depth. The interaction between the branch roots of the large root segment, the nodes and the branch roots of the singular root element, speak more of the cordial relationship between the government of Nigeria and her citizenry. The root patterns are outlined with cerulean blue. The outline epitomizes the sovereignty of Nigeria and encapsulates the common democratic aspirations of Nigerians. 


1.5    Bless them Mama Africa 

 Plate V: Bless them Mama Africa, Oil on Canvas, 127 cm x 141 cm, Stephen Achugwo ©2015

As the title suggests, ‘Bless them Mama Africa’ metaphorically lends a helping hand to Nigerians. It is composed of a cross-section of the taproot and branch roots of Cassia tora. The nodes are completely eliminated. It is a monochromatic composition, dominated by tones of yellow ochre and sienna. On the right edge of the picture frame is a segment of the taproot, which appears like a tree trunk. From this segment, branch roots sprout out, spreading diagonally downwards over the picture plane. At a glance the background appears like a room space, as if the world has come to an end. On a closer look, it appears like an environment lit with sunset. ‘Mama Africa’ is represented by a segment of taproot. The branch roots serve multiple purposes in the composition. They represent various tribes of Nigeria as well as the helping hands of ‘Mama Africa’. The warm colour combination of yellow symbolizes hope for the nation. 

Phase-2: Romeo and Juliet 

‘Romeo and Juliet’ series of paintings (Plates VI - VIII) dwell on Cassia tora root patterns and symbolic bright colours. The root forms are depicted with bright colours. The nodes are deemphasized in the composition to lay emphasis on the taproots. The background of the first painting, ‘Romeo and Juliet (i)’ (Plate VI) is made of dark shades of grey and black, while the second painting ‘Romeo and Juliet (ii)’ (Plate VII) is composed of a polychromatic chequered background. However, the third painting ‘Romeo and Juliet (iii)’ (Plate VIII) is more geometric than the first and second paintings as the organic shapes and curvatures of Cassia tora roots are redefined with straight lines.
Despite the disparity in terms of the colour combination and rendition of root forms, there is a thematic consensus that emerges from the series. The common theme is a view of two Cassia tora taproots that intertwine each other. The intertwining is reminiscent to the depth of the power of love that intertwined Romeo and Juliet. The double root units of different colours represent couples from different ethnic region in Nigeria. The background represents the diverse culture and traditions of various ethnic groups in Nigeria. The dual root forms are rendered metaphorically, buttressing the speculative notion that with time the ethnic and religious conflicts affecting the well-being of Nigerians would fade away, paving way for a country that is known for peace, unity and progress.


2.1 Romeo and Juliet (i)


Plate VI: Romeo and Juliet (i), Gauche on Paper, 80 cm x 100 cm, Stephen Achugwo ©2015

In ‘Romeo and Juliet (i)’, the taproots and branch roots are depicted with bright colours. The nodes are completely eliminated from the composition to lay emphasis on the taproots. The background is made of dark shades of grey and black. On the left side of the picture plane, white Cassia tora taproot is intertwined by another taproot of brown colour. The entwined taproots represent couples from different tribes in Nigeria. The disparity of the taproots colours highlights the disparity in language, culture and tradition in Nigeria. But the intertwining shades light on the notion of unity as time passes by.

2.2 Romeo and Juliet (ii)


Plate VII: Romeo and Juliet (ii), Water Colour on Paper, 91 cm x 124cm, Stephen Achugwo ©2015

‘Romeo and Juliet (ii)’ follows the same compositional format as in the first painting with two Cassia tora taproots roots that entwine each other, reminiscent to the depth of power of love that intertwined Romeo and Juliet. However, there is some modifications in the root forms and background of the second painting. The picture plane is chequered by branch roots emanating from the taproots at the left side of the painting. The couples from different ethnic regions in Nigeria are represented by double root patterns of magenta and yellow hues. The polychromatic chequered background is symbolic of the changeable fortune of Nigerian Nation.


2.3 Romeo and Juliet (iii)


Plate VIII: Romeo and Juliet (iii), Gauche on Paper, 80 cm x 100 cm, Stephen Achugwo ©2015

‘Romeo and Juliet (iii)’ is rendered with similar metaphorical direction like other artworks in Phase-2 with vibrant colours and the amalgamation of double root units. However, the third painting is more geometric than the preceding paintings. Straight lines are deployed in the composition with a hard-edge technique to transform Cassia tora root forms. The tinted polychromatic background exhibited by the second painting are substituted with enriched tones of warm colours. The enrichening of hues and transformation of Cassia tora root forms in ‘Romeo and Juliet III’, epitomize the transformation of the well-being of Nigerians.  

Phase-3: Nodal Forms

 Nodal Forms (Phase-3) consist of ‘Nodes of Inspiration’, ‘Gyrating Stars’ and ‘Reflections’ series of paintings (Plates IX - XII). The compositions were generated through various experiment with Cassia tora nodes and monochromatic backgrounds. In each composition, the picture plane is totalised by nodes, which are depicted with circles. The Cassia tora nodes are irregular in shape, brown in colour but in the following compositions, they are depicted as circles and replicate the background colour. This brings fluidity and the effect of motion to the monochromatic compositions. Sketchy impressions of the branch roots are added into some of the compositions to give a sense of direction to the nodal forms.
The Cassia tora nodal forms appear like circular bubbles. The forms and the monochromatic background spiral around each other.  Traditional references to perspective are eliminated, which lay bare various nodal forms in order to communicate deeper emotions. Contending on circles, Stefanovci and Lapusan (2009) postulate:
The life of a man is seen as a self-evolving circle, which from a ring imperceptibly small, rushes on all sides outwards to new and larger circles and that without end. There is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning. The heart refuses to be imprisoned; we have no enclosing walls, no circumference. We all stand waiting, empty, knowing that we can be full. Men cease to interest us when we find their limitations. The only valuable thing is not to submit to generalizations, to believe in the power

This statement is corroborated by Cassia tora nodes as they aid in sustaining the plant with nutrients in difficult weather, environment or time. Nodal forms are rendered as a metaphor of hope for a better life in Nigeria.


3.1 Nodes of inspiration 


Plate IX: Nodes of inspiration, Stephen Achugwo ©2016, Oil on Canvas, 134 cm x 99 cm

The composition of ‘Nodes of Inspiration' is dominated by tones of yellow ochre and burnt sienna. Nodes are depicted with circles and oval shapes. The natural colour of Cassia tora roots is dark brown, but in this painting, the nodal forms replicate the monochromatic background. Sketchy impressions of the branch roots are added to the nodal forms to give a sense of direction to the root patterns. Yellow colour is a visual symbol for hope. The dominance of yellow in the visual space highlights the hope for the betterment of the well-being of Nigerians.


3.2 Nodes of inspiration II 


Plate X: Nodes of inspiration II, Stephen Achugwo ©2016, Oil on Canvas, 86 cm x 144 cm

`           The composition of ‘Nodes of Inspiration is an extension of the creative ideas explored in the previous painting. The picture plane is dominated by nodal forms and a background made of yellow ochre, burnt sienna and grey hues. The jumble of forms in the composition create a sensation of motion. The crowd forms are reminiscent of the economic crisis currently experienced in Nigeria but the bubbles give the impression of hope for the resolution of the economic crisis.

3.3 Gyrating Stars 

Plate XI: Gyrating Stars, Stephen Achugwo ©2016, Oil on Canvass, 137 cm x 107cm

The composition of ‘Gyrating Stars’ is different from the previous paintings as the nodes stand out from the background. The taproot and branch roots are completely eliminated from the composition, thereby freeing the nodal forms from the root pattern. The picture plane is filled with various sizes of nodes, depicted with various tones of alizarin crimson and yellow ochre. These warm colours enable the nodal forms to stand out from the negative space, portrayed in grey. The nodal forms give impression of stars gyrating in space.

3.4 Reflections 

Plate XII: Reflections, Stephen Achugwo ©2016, Oil on Canvass, 153 cm x 102 cm

 ‘Reflections’ follows the same thematic focus of hope. However, rigid lines are introduced in the composition. The outlines boost the effects of transparency, reflection and refraction. The lines also enhance the rhythm of the nodal forms.