Saturday 14 April 2012

2008: Artists' year of art attack

 By Tajudeen Sowole
(First published Tuesday, December 23, 2008)         
THE year 2008 would be recorded as the most active year for Nigeria's visual arts in the last few decades.

It's been a mass action from all angles – government agencies, art promoters, groups and individual artists alike – the statement was loud and clear that art has a role to play in the nation's new beginning.

While the role of art in shaping the social behaviour of the people was never in doubt, its contribution in re-energising the nation's economy remained unclear. The last 12 months however proved that bigger commercial value in art is also possible in this part of the world. The role of artists as stakeholders in an emerging democratic culture was also stressed.

  The first weeks of the year, till about two months, had Bisi Silva-led Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA), Lagos continued with its trilogy and maiden project tagged Democrazy, 3 Solo Exhibitions and a Publication. the centre had earlier taken off with the first of the three events, Fela, Ghariokwu Lemi and The Art of the Album Cover. Next on the same project was abstract painter, Ndidi Dike's Waka into Bondage, the last 1/4 Mile.

When the project berthed with the last exhibition, Paradise Lost, a photo exhibition by George Osodi, the centre, a new entrant into the art scene, had proven that there was indeed a better way of packaging "art to provoke," in search of true democracy.

The aura of a radical departure from business as usual was first noticed when some of the leading names in the middle generation of the nation's art came together in January to officially announced the birth of a new body, Guild of Professional Fine Artists of Nigeria, GFA. The controversial group had its first election that ushered in a quartet: Edosa Ogiugo, president, Abiodun Olaku, Vice President, Alex Nwokolo, Financial Secretary, and Sam Ovraiti, Social Director.

While GFA was raising dust, art made input into the imminent urban renewal project of the Lagos State Government when a group of artists from the academia had an exhibition, Documenting Eko-1, Oko Baba, at Terra Kulture, Victoria, Island, Lagos in March. All the 27 artists were art teachers from Yaba College of College of Technology, Yaba Lagos.

And to confirm the crucial role of art in documentation, another event that was meant to take the nation down memory lane via a photo exhibition turned out to expose the dismal management of the nation's archival photographs. The exhibition, Nigeria In Transition and organised by Legacy Nigeria 1995, which had 164 exhibits on display at the Brazilian Embassy, Victoria Island, Lagos had led to the curiosity of the origin of the works on display.

At the end of investigation into the source of the exhibits, it turned out that over a century of Nigeria's history documented in photographs was illegally, in the possession of an individual who is a former head of the photo session of the Federal Ministry of Information.

That stronger commercial value in art gallery that stakeholders had always wanted didn't take long to come as the month of April brought what has been described as the nation's 'first formal art auction' in history. Over N70m worth of transaction was recorded under three hours, at the Civic Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos, venue of the event.

Organised by Kavitta Chellaram-led Arthouse Contemporary Limited, the auction which had 97 lots of paintings, prints and sculptures had veteran artist, Bruce Onobrakpeya's print work, Greater Nigeria carted away by a bidder at a record price of N9.2million.

And the masters would not stop making impact as seen in another artist, Lamidi Olonade Fakeye. Over 45 years after his informal solo art exhibition, the renowned carver, made his debut art gallery show late May with Timber's Titan at Mydrim Gallery, Ikoyi.

What later turned out to be government's most impressive input into the art gallery industry was in the air when the Director General of National Gallery of Art, NGA, Joe Musa, during a gathering of stakeholders announced the agency's three major events for the year. At the gathering in Lagos, First African Regional Submit Visual Art, ARESUVA, Art Expo, Nigeria and participation of the country in the biennial Dak'Art 2008 were announced.

The initiative, ARESUVA, according to Musa, was designed to use the visual art to attain economic growth in line with New Partnership for Africa's Development, NEPAD.

The first of the agency 's three events, Naija: An Exhibition of Contemporary Nigerian Art at the Dak'Art 2008 featured works of 15 artists. The artists were Jacob Jari, Jerry Buhari, Kaltume Gana, Funmi Abiodun, Chizoba Pilaku, Ike Francis, and Ufuoma Evuarrche.

Others were Uchenna Mbefele, Chris Obadan, Helen Uhunnuagbo, Uwa Usen, Frank Enahoro, and Umah Udosen. About ten media organisation from the print and electronic were also sponsored to the event by NGA.

The government agency's adventure to that event did not however go without the searchlight of International Association of Art Critics, AICA, Nigeria. At the venue of the review, Goethe Institut, Victoria Island, Lagos, amidst shades of opinions, participants though pointed out some grey areas, but at the end of the day, not a few commended the effort of the National Gallery of Art (NGA) for coming up with the exhibition in Dakar.

Whatever it takes to be a collector was on display in May when the chairman of Visual Art Society of Nigeria, VASON, and a prominent name in the art collection scene, Sammy Olagbaju was recorded as the first major collector to formally exhibit his collections. The event, a one-week show was strictly for viewing and not a red tag kind.

It was the turn of art to make another significant input into the political scene when, precisely ten years after the death of the late business man, politician and one of leading symbols in Nigeria's democratic struggle, late MKO Abiola, a befitting public sculpture of his statue was unveiled.

The occasion though was the dedication of Bashorun MKO Abiola Garden to commemorate the 10th year anniversary of the demise of the politician, it had the potential of a new dawn for public sculptures in Lagos State. The old work at the same spot considered an embarrassment to the art community due to its poor finishing was replaced at the occasion with a new one finished in bronze, by sculptor, Bunmi Babatunde, and was unveiled by the Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Raji Fashola.

Another government agency, National Council for Arts and Culture, NCAC, was not left out as its event African Arts and Crafts Expo, AFAC, Abuja 2008, was held in Abuja in August.

And coming few weeks after AFAC was another NGA event, Art Expo, Nigeria. Earlier in March, NGA's gathering of stakeholders had given birth to Art Galleries Association of Nigeria, AGAN, the eventual organisers of the American franchise event under the sponsor of the government agency. Quite unprecedented, over 700 works made that event.

Less than one week after that maiden edition of Art Expo Nigeria came to a close, the bigger, and much awaited continental submit, ARESUVA opened in Abuja.

Beyond the image of a vibrant cartoonist earned over several decades, one of the living masters of the canvas, Josy Ajiboye, returned for art exhibition at the Red Brick Building, National Council for Arts and Culture, NCAC, National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos on October 1, 2008. The one-week event titled The Art Family which featured works of his wife and children offered the public to see an artist whose prowess as a painter is as strong as his cartoonist image.

Time to make some gender statement in the art gallery as the fourth edition of the Annual All Female Art Exhibition titled Women In Visual Art, WIVA, Perspective, organised by Biola Akinsola-led Tour Shop featured 17 female artists.

For the Society of Nigeria, SNA, Lagos State Chapter, it was a remarkable year. In addition to its Gala Nite held in May which honoured some selected artists and journalists, a rested art tradition, October Rain was also woken up after about 15 years in the dead. Last held in 1992, the tenth edition of the annual juried show which featured 100 artists, was arguably the largest gathering of artists in a single indoor art exhibition in recent times.

Honour for another living master came in two folds when two art galleries rolled out drums to celebrate an icon, Prof. Abayomi Barber who turned 80 years old in the month of October. While the art exhibition, Dance of the Minds featured works of the students of the revered Abayomi Barber School and opened earlier at Mydrim Gallery, Ikoyi, Lagos, another event, Marks on the Sand of Time was at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos, all for Barber.

Never had the issue of restitution came on the front burner in recent times as the European and American tour of exhibitions of stolen cultural objects of Benin origin opened at The Art Institute of Chicago Museum, Illinois, U.S. for two months. The participation of Nigeria in the one-year and four months tour generated mixed reactions in the visual art circle, home and abroad. And when the Chicago event closed, the only lecture at the occasion was delivered by Dr. Peju Layiwola of the Department of Creative Arts, University of Lagos, Nigeria, who also contributed to the catalogue of the exhibition.

On her return from Chicago, Layiwola said her paper titled Edo Art and the Reconstruction of Memory, showed in many ways, how the Edo artists have reconstructed the British Punitive Expedition, which took place in 1897, through both the visual and the performing arts, among other issues.

Bumper harvest of visual art in 2008 (2)
By Tajudeen Sowole
STILL in honour of great art teacher, the maiden edition of art competition as part of efforts to keep the legacy of late renowned artist and teacher, Solomon Wangboje alive, Wangboje Art Foundation, in collaboration with Wangboje Art Gallery, Ikoyi, Lagos, organized Wangboje Children Art Competition.
Held at the gallery in November, the art contest attracted 150 entries from nine schools in Lagos metropolis. Spread over a period of about three months, the competition was strictly for primary school children.

Under the theme, Romance of the Head-Load, four students emerged winners of the three top prizes at the end of the grand finale while seven others got consolatory prizes.
The first prize went to Uchenna Okeke who was in Primary 6 at the Home Science Association Nursery and Primary School, Ikoyi, Lagos when he submitted his work. He however won the prize after he has advanced to JSS-1 at Daywaterman College, Abeokuta, Ogun State.

In November 23, member of GFA displayed their works at the group's inaugural art exhibition titled Threshold, which opened at the Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos. At the exhibition, the impact of these artists as the heartbeat of the art gallery echoed across the art community.

Among the exhibiting artists were; realism master, Biodun Olaku; impressionists: Edosa Ogiugo; Chairman, Society of Nigerian Artists, SNA, Lagos State, Olu Ajayi; Rom Isichei; Alex Nwokolo; mixed media guru, Nsikak Essien; leading water colourists: Sam Ovraiti, sculptures, Bunmi Babatunde, Reuben Ugbine, Fidelis Odogwu and Ekpenyong Koko Ayi.

Once again, Chellaram-led art auction proved that it had what it takes to take the nation's art to the next level when she returned with another auction in November. At the end of that event, a summed up 200 lots from about 50 artists were recorded for the two auctions held in April and November, making a total sale of N149 million.

According to Chellaram, "87 out of 97 lots were sold in April at N69 million hammer price, and the November sale was at N80 million, at hammer price from 84 lots of total 103."
Although Yusuf Grillo beats record holder Onabrakpeya, the cubist's N8.8m sale was still short of the master printmaker's N9.2million record sale for the panel work, Greater Nigeria during the April auction.

Unknown to the organizers of the 5th Ben Enwonwu Distinguished Lecture, the Ben Enwonwu Foundation and participants at Nigeria Institute of International Affairs, NIIA, Victoria Island, Lagos, venue of the event, the late artist was being honoured in another planet, on the same day of the annual lecture.
International Astronomical Union (IAU) stated that a Mercury crater to be known as Enwonwu has been named "after sculptor and painter Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu, the most renowned Nigerian artist of the 20th century."

According to the Union, a proposal from one of its units, Messenger Science Team was recently approved to name 15 craters on Mercury. All of the newly named craters were imaged during the mission's first flyby of the solar system's innermost planet in January 2008. The confirmation and announcement did not however come until late November 2008. The IAU has been the arbiter of planetary and satellite nomenclature since its inception in 1919.

At the annual lecture in Lagos, Prof. Freida High of the University of Wisconsin, U.S.A delivered the paper based on the theme of the event, Positioning Arts and Culture for Sustainable Influence in Nigeria.

About the same time, painter Uwa Usen had emerged as the new President of SNA at the body's convention in Abeoukuta, Ogun State.

In the new team were other elected members like former chairman of SNA, Lagos State Chapter, Kunle Adeyemi as Vice President (West); Ahmadu Bello University's Associate Professor of Sculpture, Tonie Okpe was also elected Vice President (North). Also elected were Dr. Best Ochigbo, a painter and current Head of Department of Fine Arts University of Uyo is the new General Secretary of SNA; sculptor, Nelson Edewor Assistant General Secretary; Kenny Badaru, Treasurer.
Other new officers are veteran studio artist and immediate past president of the body, Kolade Oshinowo, Ex-Officio Exco Member; Sidney Akaphiare, Ex-Officio Exco Member; Chuka Nnabuife, Ex-Officio Exco Member; Victoria Udodiam, Publicity Secretary; and Comrade Akhigbe Dewe, Finanacial Secretary.
Olu Ajayi's pet project, Living legends, a documentary of the nation's icons, which took off with Prof. Wole Soyinka as the first icon on the list continued with the next guest, Yusuf Grillo.
Coincidentally, the recording came the same month the master painter clocked 74.
Under the supervision of another creative
luminary and architect, Prof. David Aradeon, four artists from the first shoot, Olu Ajayi, Sam Ovraiti, Odun Orimolade, Tom Agose, Wallace Ejoh and Osazuwa Osagie were joined by new entrants, Kelechi Amadi-Obi, Ibe Ananaba, Kingsley Braimoh, Joshua Nmesirionye, Awoyemi Ajibade, and Edward Samuel.
Quietly, one of the leading art patrons, Yemisi Shyllon offered the public another view of his large collection. Held in the first week of December, this time around for selected audience and at his residence, the event revealed that an exercise aimed at using visual art to promote Nigeria's culture at the global pedestal may have taken off under the auspices of his organization, Omoba Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon Art Foundation, OYASAF.
At his home of arts and antique splendour in Maryland, Lagos, the foundation hosted selected members of the diplomatic community in what it called a Parley with Diplomats. In attendance were delegations of the U.S, Italian Embassies, Ford Foundation among other guests that graced the occasion.

Few months earlier, Shyllon had made a more formal showing of his collection at the National Museum, Onikan, Lagos.
Also, another collector, Captain John Edokpolo (Rtd) must have thought in that line as well as he equally had a show of his collections at the same venue two days ahead of Shyllon's Parley with Diplomats.

Perhaps, the last major event of the year came when the National Museum, Onikan gathered stakeholders at what it called Open House in mid December.

While that event was getting to a close, a replacement of Prince Adetokunbo Kayode as the Minister of Culture and Tourism was announced in Abuja. He is Senator Bello Gada and he has since assumed duty as new Culture and Tourism minister.

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