Saturday 3 December 2011


15 years after, October Rain returns with a bang
By Tajudeen Sowole and Nancy Ohaeri
(First published on Tuesday, October 21, 2008)     
IF anyone thought that the domineering status of Lagos art over the rest of the country was a myth, another annual gathering has just confirmed that the state is where the best of the nation's visual arts thrive.
  Although it took this singular event to wake up a rested art tradition that was last held in 1992, the non-alignment of the art galleries with the rapid growth of art in this part of the country was also exposed during the show.
  This revelation, among others, was noticed at the opening of the Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA) Lagos Chapter-organised  October Rain 2008 held at the National Museum, Onikan, Lagos, on Saturday, October 18, 2008. It was SNA's 10th Annual Juried Art Exhibition,
  Scheduled to run till October 24, 2008, the show, which features 100 artists, is arguably the largest gathering of artists in a single indoor art exhibition in recent times
  The beauty of October Rain 2008 lies in the level playing field offered the exhibiting artists whose status cut across masters such as like Bruce Onobrakpeya, Ohkai Ojeikere, Kolade Oshinowo; younger, but established ones like Biodun Olaku, Edosa Ogiugo; new comers like Adedayo Dada, Oluwakemi Omowaire, Adesina Segun among others.
   However, the show appeared like a whale stranded in a stream. For each of the genres, the wealth of creativity invested by the artists was no doubt enormous, but the full radiation of this vibrancy was lost in the inadequacy of available space at the gallery used for the event.
  If words were actually needed to express the depth of art in the state, the chairman of SNA, Lagos State Chapter, Olu Ajayi had it more explicit in his remark during the opening:
"With over 40 galleries, the National Arts Theatre, the National Museum, Goethe Institut and other cultural centres, top collectors, the famous Yaba College of Technology and over 2000 strong practicing artists in Lagos, the state is no doubt the nerve centre of contemporary art in Nigeria."
   The national president of SNA, Kolade Oshinowo must have been impressed by the event as he used the occasion to urge other state chapters to emulate the Lagos example.
  While one of the exhibiting artists and master print maker, Onobrakpeya agreed that the show confirms the prospect of art in the nation's economy, the only photo artist featured in the show, veteran photographer, Okhai Ojeikere, noted that it was time to stress the importance of photography in art.
  And when one of the emerging art patrons and chairman of the event, Gbenga Oyebode extended a gesture of N1m donation while declaring the exhibition open, it was not really to evaluate a show of this magnitude in monetary terms. Oyebode, the chairman of Access Bank and collector of what is currently regarded as the nation's most priced art piece at the last art auction in Lagos explained that the money given "is to support the association."
  An insight into the selection of artists for the show was given by the Vice Chairman, Adeleye Makanju who reiterated the need to "tread with much caution after fifteen years of interregnum". He explained the challenges involved in curating the show. One of these, he noted "is the task of putting the works side by side without one diminishing the value of the other and setting them out in the right order for appreciation by the audience."
   Included in the show were such genres like painting, sculpture, photography, ceramic, textile, print and design. All estimated at 100 exhibits, one work per artist, the gallery was grossly inadequate for such volume of works. And for the organizers, a crowded gallery was not really a matter of choice, but that of necessity.
  When the works were being mounted about 24 hours earlier, the attention of Ajayi was drawn to the possible congestion of the gallery.
  In his response, Ajayi stated that SNA had no alternative venue as the National Museum gallery is the biggest so far in Lagos and Victoria Islands, the two most preferred areas of the state where art exhibitions thrive.
  "It's quite unfortunate that we don't have galleries that can accommodate as much works. We have just about five galleries in Lagos and Victoria Islands where artists exhibit regularly, but none of these galleries is as big as the National Museum gallery."
  For the gallery of the National Museum to accommodate all the works, room dividers had to be introduced as screens, on which more works were mounted. Even at that, the dividers spilled over to the corridor for more works to be mounted.
  What about an outdoor alternative, something similar to the Art Expo Nigeria event design? Ajayi agreed, but ruled out such option "because we cannot afford to pay N500, 000 per day for the tents."
The venue, he explained, was a matter of necessity and not a choice.  
 He however chided the successive administrations of the National Museum for lack of foresight to project a possible outburst of the art business. "This gallery has remained like this for several decades, without expansion. What we are witnessing today is an indication that our art has moved beyond the current standard of the national museum gallery. There is a need for the authority to do something urgently," Ajayi pleaded.
  While it is hoped that the ongoing rehabilitation of the National Museum would include an improvement on the gallery, other galleries, particularly in Lagos should see October Rain 2008 as a challenge.
  "This event is a challenge to everyone involved in art gallery business, particularly, the umbrella body, Art Galleries Association of Nigeria (AGAN). It's not good enough that among all the galleries in the state, none has the space to exhibit as much as 100 works. This is an issue we have to address," a gallery owner and member of AGAN, Biodun Omolayo agreed during a separate chat at the event.
   It has been observed at different fora in the past that most of these galleries are inadequate to cope with the challenges of the growing art industry, but the on-going exhibition appears to be the physical proof to support such argument.
   Recently, mixed media and self-taught artist, Peju Alatise had to seek for an alternative venue outside the traditional gallery settings to exhibit her mural size paintings and other functional sculptures because of none availability of galleries with large space to accommodate her works. Alternatively, the show titled Aramada was held inside the hall of a relatively hidden hotel and event place called 10A, in a remote part of Ikoyi.
   And where the art galleries are competing with other stronger businesses for space in the Islands, which have the state's Central Business Districts, planners of art exhibitions may just have to contend with a manageable volume of works at a single event until standard galleries starts to emerge.
  Respite, however may just be around the corner as Oyebode noted that the corporate sector's indifference to the prospect of art is now giving way to keen interest.
  Earlier at a press preview of the show, the chairman of the Organising Committee of the event, Oliver Enwonwu, said response as regards corporate support came from Vigeo Nigeria Limited and the Global Energy Group, a sign that Uhuru is around the corner.

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