Saturday 24 December 2011


ARESUVA… missing on the list of 2011’s glitters

By Tajudeen Sowole

The steam of hope and high spirit that trailed the 2008 launch of the African Regional Summit on Visual Arts and Exhibition (ARESUVA) appears to have evaporated with the inability, this year, to stage the festival, especially to realise the promised transformation of the project into a biennale as envisioned after its second (annual) outing in 2009.

AFTER two editions — in 2008 and 2009 —, ARESUVA did not hold in 2010. But the omission was deliberate. One of the resolutions reached after the 2009 outing was to redesign the event as a biennale with its maiden edition slated for 2011.  

  The organisers, the National Gallery of Art (NGA), were full of confidence that the whole of 2010 would be used to perfect preparations for the much-awaited biennale in Nigeria, similar to Senegal’s Dak’ Art

Stella Awoh (left), Sammy Olagbaju, Yemisi Shyllon, Princess Iyase Odozi and Nike Okundaye during the ArtExpo Nigeria Award 2011.
   In fact, 2011 was picked for ARESUVA to prevent a clash with Dak’ Art, which holds every other year with even number. Stakeholders had reasoned then that, this would give the event great attention across the continent and in the Diaspora.

   Unfortunately, those expectations and claims of big plan for the biennale had gone with 2011 winds. And the possibility of the event holding next year is remote.

  A source from the NGA disclosed that the event is not in the calendar of 2012, which is the same year of Dak’Art, meaning that the debut of the event as a biennale may not materialise until 2013.

  Observers have also argued that over three years of break for such an international event, which is just two editions old, may potend a bad omen for Nigeria’s flourishing visual arts enterprise.

   Lack of funding for the programmes of the NGA, this year, was cited as reason ARESUVA could not.

   However, several private initiatives, most yearly events – aiming at promoting art – filled the vacuum, as stakeholders continued to interrogate the relevance of government in the preservation and promotion of the country’s artistic and cultural heritage.

  Earlier in the year, the Bruce Onobrakpeya Foundation’s (BOF) two-week event, the 13th Harmattan Workshop, at the Niger Delta Cultural Centre, Agbarha-Otor, Delta State, engaged artists on copyright matter.

Artists during the Street workshop at Orelope, Egbeda, Lagos.

   The guest speaker and director, Nigerian Copyright Commission Institute, John Asein, in his presentation, urged the judiciary to be more liberal in its definition of what constitutes art.

  The 2011 edition of the Harmattan Workshop, for the first time, had an appointed director, watercolourist, Sam Ovraiti, who presided-over the affairs of the event.

  Perhaps to underscore the vibrancy of of Nigerian art in the Diaspora, U.K.-based Nigerian artist, Yinka Shonibare (MBE) made a brief visit to Lagos, in preparation for a project aimed at transferring his artistic exploits abroad to his homeland.

  During the visit, which was his first since he left Nigeria at 17, he toured some art galleries in Lagos Island and met artists at a gathering organized by Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA), Lagos at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos.

  About 24 hours ahead of the gathering, Shonibare explained that though he had been in touch with Nigerian art through artists who visited the U.K., “I need to know more, so it’s good for me to come here and meet other artists.”

  Also, in the first quarter of the year, the third in the series of the yearly exhibition and lecture organized by Grillo Pavilion, Ikorodu, Lagos, tagged Prince Demas Nwoko: Painter Sculptor Architect Designer celebrated the legacy of a master who has explored his nativity in art and architecture, despite the seeming disconnect between local content designs and African cultural values.

  Interestingly, five members of the Zaria Art Society – former students of College of Arts, Science and Technology, (now Ahmadu Bello University) Zaria – were present at the event.     

  Another milestone in the visual arts during the outgoing year, was the renovation, by the Natioanl Commission for Museum and Monuments (NCMM), of Ilojo Bar or Casa do Fernandez house, on No. 6 Alli Street, and No. 2 Bamgbose Street in the heart of central business district of Lagos Island. The building, which is among the odd mix of structures around the Tinubu Square, is, indeed, a symbol of cross continent cultural heritage. Estimated at over 100 years old, and one of several of such buildings, which are still standing in Lagos Island and Mainland, it represents over 300 years of history between Nigeria and Brazil.
Arch John Godwin (left), D-G NCMM, Mallam Yusuf Abdallah Usman, the former Assist Director, Heritage, Mrs Victoria Agili(now curator of Onikan museum and former Curator, Ronke Ashaye during the inspection of Ilojo Bar, in Lagos.

  The Director-General of NCMM, Mallam Yusuf Abdallah Usman, who led the delegation to the inspection of the building, in company of the architect in charge, Prof. John Godwin disclosed that the scope of the partnership in restoration was very broad such that success would be achieved in a short while.

   In May, two art auctions kept the visual art scene alive, soon after the general elections.  It started with the N13. 5m record sale of Ben Enwonwu’s Untitled (ink on paper, 37.5 x 32 in., 1980) at the third edition of Terra Kulture art auction.

  Five days later, at the Civic Centre, Victoria Island, ArtHouse Contemporary’s seventh edition, though largely maintained its figures for most of the regular artists as seen, for example, in Ben Enwonwu’s African Dances (cold cast, resin bronze, 40.5 in., 1982-89), N8m, the auction also produced what was later dubbed “surprise sales.”

  Later in the same month, the aso ebi culture and over 50 years of Austrian-made lace in Nigeria was the focus of a tour photography and installation titled African Lace, A History of Trade, Creativity and Fashion in Nigeria.

  Jointly organised by NCMM and Museum of Ethnology, Vienna, Austria, the exhibition, which took off in Vienna and held at National Museum, Onikan Lagos, for the next three months, was planned to move to Ibadan before the end of 2011.
Anyanwu by Ben Enwonwu sold at N28m during a November auction in Lagos.

  When it was not clear if Art Expo Nigeria and ARESUVA would hold, Art Galleries Association of Nigeria (AGAN), in August filled the gap with Art Expo Nigeria Awards, that acknowledged the support of art patrons, promoters and the media.

  Also, the Department of Fine and Applied Arts, Delta State University, Abraka showcased works of the anticipated first set of artists to complete doctoral programme in visual arts in a Nigerian university.

  Titled Visual Symphony and hosted at Quintessence Gallery, Falomo, Lagos, it featured works of students and teachers from the department.

   And the 50th birthday anniversary of cubist, Duke Asidere, brought a new dimension to how artists could engage their immediate environment, as Asidere and associates shared the depth of their profession with the rest of the community via several street art workshops.

  It started on Oreope Street, in Egbeda – where Asidere lives – as part of activities marking his golden jubilee. The workshops were also extended to Palmgrove and Ojuelegba.

  In October, African Artists Foundation (AAF) returned with the second edition of Lagos Photo Festival, which tailored towards booking a place on the calendar of global photography events.

  A large turnout of guests, within and outside Africa, gathered at the opening ceremony to view the works of over 40 photographers selected from across the world to participate in the festival.

  Themed What’s Next Africa? — The Hidden Stories, most of the images spotlighted the continent’s uncommon stories of places, events and people that hardly attract global attention. 

  In November, the mega bucks of art auctions returned, but this time, it was not just in Lagos; Abuja had a feel too. 

  At N28m, a bronze sculpture, Anyanwu by Ben Enwonwu was sold at ArtHouse Contemporary auction’s seventh edition in Lagos. It’s a record that beat the artist’s Negritude (N16m) sale at Bonhams auction, in London in 2009.
--> Photographers from across the world at the Lagos Photo Festival 2011

  About a week earlier, in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, a debut auction recorded over 70 per cent of the lots sold at the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre. The sales, a joint venture by two Lagos-based art groups, Terra Kulture and Mydrim Gallery, suggested that in the next few years, the Abuja art market could be as big as that of Lagos.

  In Lagos, about a week after, the partnership between the NCMM and Ford Foundation to restore the glory of the Onikan museum got a boost with staging of the exhibition, Nigerian Art in the Cycle of Life, at the National Museum, Onikan. 

  On the progress made since 2009 when the partnership was announced, the D-G, Abdallah Usman disclosed that the conservation laboratory to be built by Ford Foundation at the Onikan museum “which will serve as a facility for the conservation and restoration of our works of art as well as a training centre for conservators is scheduled to start by the end of the year.”

  However, NGA’s aim of keeping the spirit of its second biggest event, ArtExpo Lagos, alive despite the “no fund” situation, by staging the show early this month flopped as 2011 edition turned out to be the least attended show since its inception in 2008. 

  For the art community, particularly, AGAN, the year ended on a sad note as one of the key members of the union, Emmanuel Inua, an artist, was killed in an auto accident on the opening day of the ArtExpo Lagos. 

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