Friday 16 September 2011

Ndidi Dike, Duke Asidere, George Edozie, Okezie Okafor, and Babalola Lawson

With Small is Beautiful, artists launch entry into Europe
By Tajudeen Sowole 
Friday, 16 September 2011 00:00  
Although efforts at promoting Nigerian art abroad have not been properly coordinated, the relentless effort of artists continues as a group art exhibition in the U.K stresses the prospects of African art within the rising global art market.
IT’S a modest gathering titled Small is Beautiful (Miniature Art Fair), which opens at Arc Gallery, Barge Belle, Tottenham, London, on Tuesday, September 20, ending Friday, October 7, 2011.
Exhibiting artists are: Ndidi Dike, Duke Asidere, George Edozie, Okezie Okafor, Ayoola Gbolahan and Babalola Lawson. Over 150 works, according to the organisers are involved.
Ndidi Dike's  Imported Debris ( Mixed Media on Marine Wood 2010)

Aside the Bonhams art auctions held in the U.K. and US, Small is Beautiful — as little as it appears —  is also very significant at this period when the mainstream world art market is no longer the exclusive business of the west.
A typical example is the Chinese art’s unprecedented rise in the world market in just three years, which stresses the flexibility and openness of collectors in Europe and the rest of the west.
With lack of coordination as evidenced in Nigerian government’s inconsistent participation in world gathering of artists such as Biennales and the documenta in Europe, it is apparently an uphill task to borrow from the Chinese model. In fact, China’s rise in the global art market, according to analysts, has a link to the country’s “unified” category at Christie’s Contemporary Chinese Oil Painting Auction in Hong Kong, in 1991 as well as it’s ministry of culture’s sponsor of artists to the documenta IX, in 1992 at Kassel, Germany.
Again, Nigeria is absent at another global gathering of artists, Venice Biennale in Italy, which opened in June, ending November 2011.
Ayoola Gbolahan's work
Although the National Gallery of Art (NGA) sponsored artists to ArtExpo New York twice, consistent absence of the country in Europe is a minus in promotion of its art.
HOWEVER, Arc Gallery is gradually becoming a voice for African art in Europe as it has, in the last few years, organised solo exhibitions for artists. This prospect of higher value for Nigerian art excites the curator of the gallery, John Egbo, who expressed confidence in the strength of the artists. He noted that the attention of the art world is steadily focused on contemporary Nigerian art, either in virtual or physical gallery spaces.
The miniature idea, he explained, presents “opportunities for viewers to acquire artwork at an accessible cost.”
In the last one year, Arc Gallery has shown three Nigerian artists, each in a solo: Nyemike Onwuka’s Elegant Urban Decay, a depiction of drift from beauty to decay; also Uchay Joel Chima’s Much Strings Attached, a focus on mutual relationship. Early this year, one of the exhibiting artists in Small is Beautiful, Gbolahan made his debut with the gallery in a body of work titled Horizon, a rove around his native Yorubaland, but wriggling through global perspective.
For Chima and Onwuka, it was an instant door opening as their works, through the Arc Gallery connection, had entries into Bonhams, New York, London and ArtHouse auctions, Lagos, held in early 2009.
Okezie Okafor's work

INDEED, Europe is waiting for Nigerian art. One auction by Bonhams in a year is not capable of catching up with this satiety. And how prepared are Nigerian artists and promoter to take up the challenge?
“Promoters are not sincere and artists not ready”, Edozie, the coordinator of the show in Nigeria responded. He noted that the growing local market seemed to have brought in complacency. “Nigerian artists are comfortable with the local market. But it goes beyond that; we should go out to Europe and make name and stronger statements with our art, beyond selling for survival. And we cannot wait for promoters any longer; they come and make promises, yet no action or results.”
The concept of a miniature, Edozie explained, is to prepare the U.K., and by extension the European market, for big shows ahead. “Miniature helps new artists break into a market where your works are unfamiliar. We hope to have a major show in the U.K. next year.”
Gbolahan also agreed that the miniature concept is “meant to further introduce more talented Nigerian artists to the U.K. public.”
Edozie linked Small is Beautiful to others before it such as the Douala, Cameroon and Accra, Ghana tours last year, stressing that the need to build on that efforts “led us to meet John Egbo in January this year in Lagos.”
With the exception of minimalist, Dike, all other artists were part of either the Douala or Accra trip. Inclusion of Dike, he argued, was important “because in Europe, collectors lay preference to longer years of practice, which Dike and Asidere, have more than the rest of us.”
From Asidere’s touch, and perhaps “experience” comes a theme on streets life in Lagos and the survival syndrome of an emerging megacity.
THE presence of Nigerian art on the U.K. art landscape, from Arc Gallery experience, according to Gbolahan, is not strange. In fact, the response, during his show, he noted, was encouraging. “Since Ben Enwonwu sculpted the Queen of England, the artistic talents that lie here in Nigeria had been established. Based on some press releases and blogs on my show and international auction results, I believe that there are immense prospects in England for Nigerian contemporary art.”
George Edozie's  Sisters 7 ( 2011 mixed media)

Whatever shortcoming there were, in the three solo exhibitions of Arc or efforts of some individual artists to break into the European markets, more “communal” approach, Edozie argued, is better, hence the miniature art fair. With a maximum of 22 “great” works from each artist, he assured that the gathering, would have moved Nigerian art a step further into the mainstream European market.

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