Saturday 5 May 2012

Dak'Art 2010... how not to be cut 'Off' in the 'Main'

By Tajudeen Sowole
(First published on Tuesday, January 12, 2010)
EVERY two years, visual artists across the world participate - either as observers or exhibiting artists - in one of several gatherings in Europe, Asia and Africa. These events are called biennales.

Mostly held in the year of even number, such gatherings expected to hold in 2010 are: Bucharest International Biennale for Contemporary Art, May 21 - July 25; Dak'Art, Dakar, Senegal, May 7 to June 7; 6th Berlin Biennial for Contemporary Art, June 11 - August 08, among others.

Regarded as the largest gathering of artists on the continent, African artists, home and in the Diaspora, always keep a date with Dak'Art.

Some of the highlights of the forthcoming ninth edition include: International Exhibition of Contemporary African Art; Individual Exhibitions of African artists and artists of the Diaspora; Encounters and Exchanges: The films on contemporary art; The Animations of the Village of the Biennale.
And in a year Nigeria will be marking its 50th anniversary, this event - perhaps one of the culture sector's biggest outing outside the country - offers an opportunity to promote the golden jubilee anniversary, hence an added value to the re-branding project of the nation.

Although, there is yet to be a clear- cut shape the Nigerian participation in the Dak'Art 2010 will take, the experience of Nigerian contingent in the 2008 edition could serve as a guide.
The participation in 2008, critics had argued, was not well defined. Not only that, artists sponsored to the event were not part of what is known as the "Main" exhibition.

Exhibiting as much as 17 artists accompanied by a team of government officials with all expenses paid, critics noted, deserved to be part of the main exhibition and not the second class "Off" segment of Dak'Art.
The structure of Dak'Art is such that only artists whose works meet the standard of the jury make the "Main" exhibition. So, if you are not exhibiting at that level, no matter how large your show is, it is believed to be of low standard.
Nigerian artists whose works were on display during the last edition at the 'Off' show titled, Naija: An Exhibition of Contemporary Nigerian Art were: Jacob Jari, Jerry Buhari, Kaltume Gana, Funmi Abiodun, Chizoba Pilaku, Ike Francis, and Ufuoma Evuarrche.
The list included Uchenna Mbefele, Chris Obadan, Helen Uhunnuagbo, Uwa Usen, Frank Enahoro, and Umah Udosen.
The implication of this is that non-Main exhibitions are usually excluded from awards. The status of the country in the region, observers stressed, was diminished by not participating in the 'Main' show. And when the 'Off' was designed as an image laundering tool, the works, it was noted, did not represent the vibrancy of Nigerian artists.

However, protocol and bureaucratic issues were fingered as the cause of the delay in sending Nigerian entries for the 'Main' exhibition as well as selecting better works for the 'Off', according to NGA during a post-Dak'Art 2008 review held in Lagos and organized by the International Association of Art Critics (AICA), Nigeria, in collaboration with Goethe Institut, Lagos.
The discourse was premised on: "What are the current tendencies of the art scene in Africa - and especially West Africa? To what extent is the Nigerian art scene up to par with the international discourse?"
Dr. Kweku Tandoh of NGA's Education and Research unit said NGA had "just three weeks to select works," which perhaps explained the quality of works presented.

Acting Director-General of NGA, Abdullahi Muku in his response to the preparation of Nigeria for Dak'Art 2010 assured that "we are making arrangement to participate "in the Main and not Off of the event."
At the last event, the only Nigerian artist Osaretin Ighile, who was part of the Main exhibition entered as a Diaspora artist; apparently not on the bill of the NGA.

While the Dak'Art structure hardly accommodates direct government entry of artists, nothing stops NGA from selecting and sponsoring the best of artists for the 2010 edition.

However, it is of note that for the short period NGA claimed was available to prepare, the event held at Sofitel Hotel in Dakar's central business district was well attended. Although, the then Nigerian Ambassador to Senegal, Azuka Cecilia Uzoka Emejulu expressed dissatisfaction with the "short notice of less than 24 hours" given to her office about the event, she however commended the effort of the NGA. Quality of works presented may not truly represent the vibrancy of the nation's art, the Off of NGA however served another purpose: a window to expose Nigerian art.

Given the fact that NGA appears to be setting out early enough in the 2010 edition, it has no reason not to make the desired impact this time around. In fact, Muku, few days ago, disclosed that a delegation would be in Dakar this week as part of processes to enter as much as 15 artists for the Main event. The names of the artists, he said, would not be available as processes are on going. Because it's a juried exposition, shortlist are expected from the Dak'Art organizers, later next month.
Ambassador of Nigeria in Senegal, Cecilia Azuka Uzoka-Umejulu (left), Agaje Williama and Dr. Kweku Tandoh, both of NGA
While the Main event is the priority of NGA to prove its competence, the need to organise an Off as a platform to celebrate Nigeria's 50th independence anniversary is not a bad idea, Muku agreed, but caution that "with a lean resource, it could be difficult to organise an Off for Nigeria."
According to Senegal's Ministry of Culture and Francophonie Secretary- General of the Biennale, prizes for the event are: The Grand Prize Leopold Sedar Senghor, sponsored by the President of the Republic, and awarded to the winner of International Exposition; The Revelation Prizes offered by the Minister of Culture and Historical Heritage; The prize for young talent offered by the Mayor of Dakar; The price of the International Organization of la Francophonie.

At the last event, the Francophone artists won the top awards; thereby strengthening the conspiracy theory of anti-Anglophone of DakArt and similar French speaking countries organized art expositions of international dimension.

Sculptor, Ighile, the only Nigerian among the 35 exhibitors, did not win any of the prizes at stake. Senegalese sculptor, Ndary Lo, won the top prize, The Leopold Sedar Senghor Great Award.

Some of the laureates represented about 10 countries in Africa were Pelagie Gbaguidi, Republic of Benin; Saedou Dicko and Justin Kabre, Burkina Faso; Blaise Bang, Angele Etoundi Essamba, Achille Komguem, Samuel Nja Kwa and Guy Bertrand Wouete Lotchouang, Cameroon. Also, none of the participating English speaking countries in the Off show won from the three top awards of the Dark'Art OFF 2008. Winners in that segment were first prize, Mbaye Ndoye, (painting); second, Mamadou Faye, (design); third, Ibrahima Niang (painting - video). And the Senegalese National Gallery of Art won the Gallery award in the Off category.

With the re-scheduling of African Regional Summit on Visual Art and Exhibition (ARESUVA) as a biennale which means that it will not hold this year, NGA has enough breathing space to project the best of Nigeria at Dak'Art 2010.
At the last and second edition of ARESUVA, an event originally designed as yearly, Muku announced that ARESUVA would henceforth hold every two years. Arts community have described this development as commendable, as it might, according to them, address the much debated issue of a biennale for Nigeria; offer enough ventilation for the organisers to plan ahead; help Nigerian artists as well as the NGA to prepare well for other biennales elsewhere.

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