By Tajudeen Sowole
(First published Tuesday, November 04, 2008)
IN the hierarchy of the nation's visual arts scene lies a generation of artists sandwiched between the aging masters and the up-and-coming ones.
From the heart of this middle generation of artists emerged a new group, Guild of Professional Fine Artists of Nigeria (GFAN), which makes its first public appearance this weekend.
When 23, out of about 30 members, display their works at the group's inaugural art exhibition titled Threshold which opens at the Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos, on Saturday, November 8, through 14, 2008, the impact of these artists as the heartbeat of the nation's art gallery scene would have been echoed.
Among the exhibiting artists are: realism master, Biodun Olaku; impressionists, Edosa Ogiugo, Olu Ajayi, Rom Isichei, Ben Osaghae and Alex Nwokolo; mixed media guru, Nsikak Essien; leading water colourists, Sam Ovraiti and LekanOnabanjo; sculptors, Bunmi Babatunde, Reuben Ugbine, Fidelis Odogwu and Ekpenyong Koko Ayi.
|President of GFAN, Edosa Ogiugo and the special guest, Evelyn Oputu
Others are native African art painter, Tola Wewe; Uli and mixed media exponent, Ndidi Dike; Kaduna-based printmaker, Tayo Quayle; architecture documentary painter, Kehinde Sanwo; cubist, Duke Asidere; classic; representational painters, Hamid Ibrahim and Gbenga Offo as well experimental impressionist, Sam Ebohon.
At the preview of the show, members of GFA stated that the choice of the title, Threshold is based on the fact that the emergence of the guild is a new beginning, not just for member artists, but for the entire art community.
The theme is self-explicit, Sanwo, a member of the exhibition committee stated, adding that the event is just one of so many others in the pipeline in the next few months to prove that the gathering of such calibre of artists "is a new beginning for the visual art."
One of the members, Ovraiti declared that the show is crucial "because we cannot be winking in the dark. The guild is of special breed of artists."
The works available for preview were indeed a confirmation that these "breed of artists" mean business not as usual. From Offo's acrylic on canvas piece, 'It's Time', the metal sculptural wonder of Odogwu in Transition, to Dike's multi media, Urban Debris, quite a balance gathering was noticed.
Still on mixed media, one of the masters in that genre, Essien renders a fantasy one in 'Papa Oyoyo!!!' - (Dad's in, toys Out!), just as Wewe's 'Ibeji' offers a rich combination of colours with painstaking details in the two figural representation of twins. On the softer side of this genre comes Nwokolo's acrylic, oil and chalk pastel on canvas titled This is Lagos (II), his thoughts on those human, as well as the notorious spots that make Lagos a centre of attraction.
There may be other watercolour works when the show opens, but the preview suggested that there was only one in Ajayi's Spirit Of Fertility as his brush strokes takes an x-ray trip into the stage of biological process in the nine months duration of an expectant mother.
Traditionally, oil or acrylic on canvas or board would dominate the event as seen in Olaku's Quietude (Okobaba Series), a misty dawn realism-finish of the popular riverside settlement in Lagos Mainland. Complementing that is a sharp contrast in Isichei's impressionistic one, Scape. And taking a mid-way position in between the two extreme works of Olaku and Isichei was Orara's Let's Talk About Our Differences... another riverside capture.
And whatever Ovraiti's Fantasies of My Secret Garden explains in the impressions of heads and other images might just be less important as the composite provides some puzzle to agitate one's thought.
In his unique technique, Ebohon's silhouette-like rendition appeares to justify the radiating blue in Brainstorm, while Sanwo's Kokoro - Rhythm & Blues suggests a revisit of the popular blind and street musician, Kokoro. What about those artists who are using this show to step up what they know how to do best as seen in rooftop specialist painter, Onabanjo's Ibadan, Osaghae's Trouble Shooting, Ogiugo's Equestrian Spirit, Adejumo's Eko Textures, Asidere's Introspection, Ibrahim's Untitled as well as Uyovbisere's Reflection.
Quaye's The Kiss may look very familiar as one of the works at the exhibition organised for the 80th anniversary of St. Gregory's College recently, but it adds a distinct flavour to the assembly.
In carving and sculpturing, Babatunde's wood, Many Rivers to Cross, Ugbine's Masquerade II (wood) and Koko Ayi's cold cast bronze Help, Man's Inhumanity makes up for a balanced display.
Each member of the guild, no doubt, has made a mark in the nation's art gallery scene, but as a group, the challenge could be more demanding. Threshold offers an insight into what the guild has in stock for the industry.
Having traced the gradual emergence of GFA to the crisis-ridden days of Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA) in the late 1980s to early 1990s, Babatunde, a foundation member stated that the guild was set to establish ethical standards and rules that would encourage and enhance the proper practice of the profession. Other goals of the guild, he added are: "To promote self sustenance through professional art practice, build a synergy with relevant stakeholders and supporters of our cause and position art practice as the fulcrum of true national development through the vehicle of creativity on which visual art is premised."
In his view, the current president of the guild, Ogiugo argued that the visual art sub-sector is, potentially, a leading player in the nation's economy. The guild, he said, has all it takes to lead the art scene. "In spite of the huge and glorious possibilities and potentials of this emerging giant sub-sector of the Nigerian economy, the most apparent and vivid threat to its crystallization is the psychological and economic well-being of the professional artist, who is the foundation block of the structure. But for the steadfast vision and enduring faith to principles of studio practice and resolute commitment to national re-orientation, the Nigerian Visual Art Industry would have being grappling with the realities of extinction by now.
"Another irritating contributor to the challenges of the industry is the selection mode of potential art students to our institutions of higher learning. These afore-mentioned subjects are some of the issues that would definitely engage the Guild in due course as it launches its agenda to the public."
Quitely gathering momentum for over 15 years, members, in January this year, at the Ovie Brume Youth Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos, had their first convention which produced the quartet, Ogiugo, president; Olaku, Vice President; Alex Nwokolo, Financial Secretary; Sam Ovraiti, Social Director.
For certain reasons, however, GFA, which has a numerical strength of about 30 members – including three in the Diaspora – appears to have restricted its membership.
Recently, news had it that GFA is making itself an exclusive group for a certain category of artists, thereby denying others who are equally full time studio artists to be members.
|Some members of GFAN, Tayo Quayle, Alex Nwokolo, Nsikak Essien, Lekan Onabanjo and Zinno Orara
In ensuring that standard, the guild, he said has suspended registration of new members even though there is a flood of artists applying to be members.
Also speaking on the criteria for membership, Ovraiti said a minimum of five years post-graduate experience and a solo art exhibition is the requirement for membership. And not excluding informally trained artists, he added that any artist in that category is expected to have at least seven to eight years of full time studio practice.
In either case, however, he warned that an eligible artist must have a physical and functioning studio.