Saturday 5 May 2012

Nike Art Centre... providing feasibility for artworks

By Tajudeen Sowole
(First published, Tuesday, March 02, 2010)      
LACK of appropriate facilities for exhibitions in most of the galleries in the country has always been the concern of artiste and other stakeholders.

But the new Nike Art centre, recently opened for business, is responding positively to this challenge with the provision of necessary facilities for hosting exhibition of any size.

Located in Lekki, Lagos, the four- storey building has art gallery, textile museum and a training section for young artists.
Floors of Nike Art Gallery, Lagos

In the last two years, growing stake in the visual art sub-division of the culture sector has exposed the absence of basic facilities in the existing art galleries: Artists who produced large formats either reduced the number of exhibits or crowded the small space with many works. Sometimes, organizers of group show would compel exhibiting artists to reduce entries to just two or three in other to manage available space in the chosen gallery.

For example, lack of large space affected the show last two editions of October Rain, the yearly show of Lagos State chapter of Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA). Over 100 works were squeezed into the National Museum's art gallery, on each occasion, spilling onto the corridor. The then chairman of SNA (during the 2008 edition), Olu Ajayi, stated that the association had no alternative venue; the National Museum gallery was one of the largest so far in Lagos and Victoria Island.

For all the works to be accomodated, room dividers were brought in. Even at that, the dividers spilled over to the corridor for more works to be mounted.

Observers and practitioners believe that the expansion of the National museum art gallery would enhance art exhibitions. This much Ajayi echoed, noting that, "our art has moved beyond the current standard of these art galleries."

It will be recalled that during a gathering last year, a two million dollar ($2m) grant was announced by Linus Ubinas of Ford Foundation for preservation and restoration.

Commendable private effort such as the Terra Kulture art gallery, which appears to be one of the most attractive venues for art exhibitions, also has challenges when it comes to large volume and big formats.

The inagural exhibition of the guild of professional Fine Artists of Nigeria (GFA) heed at Terra Kulture was a viction of inadequate space. The goal of exhibiting more works, the exhibiting artistes lamented, could not be realized as a result of lack of space.

For solo outings, exhibiting artists have similar experiences. Peju Alatise who is known for large format painting and sculptures had to source out venue at a spacious, but odd place in Ikoyi, Lagos Island for her last solo outing, Aramada. "After several months of searching for a space, this was the only option available for me," she had declared shortly before the show. However, the disadvantage of such venue is that interest of the viewing public stops at the end of the show; no retention like the regular galleries.

Rom Isichei, another large format artist was faced with space problem during preparation for his last show, Traces of Being. Shortly before the event at Terra Kulture, he regretted that "some of the works I wanted to include would not make the event because of space issue."

Ground floor of Nike Gallery

Similarly, Quintessence, Signature, Sachs, among other active art galleries, go through the same challenges. For Signature, Chidi Kwubiri's show, Reflection though had a good display of his large format works, but the German-based artist said he would have loved to bring in more works if there was enough space.

The new Nike Art Centre, about 50 works on each floor. At a given show, the entire gallery space could take as much as 300 works. And in the situation of difficult viewing during opening of exhibitions at most galleries (as a result of high volume of visitors) this new facility is designed to conveniently take as much as over 500 visitors at a time.

The increase in large format art pieces, was perhaps, one of the reasons, the artist and proprietress of the centre, Nike Okundaye built the facility. "It's a relief for most of us who make large works, but find it difficult to display such at galleries," she explained.

Already, the volume of works on display in all the floors showed that, indeed, artists had waited for this moment. Noting that responses from artists have been tremendous, Okundaye enthused: "everybody wants to have their works display here."

And if information from Terra Kulture is to be regarded, another big art gallery space - almost the size of Nike Art Centre - could be in place in the next two years. Three days ago, Managing Director of Terra Kulture, Bolanle Austen-Peters, assured that the construction of a proposed multipurpose facility is due to take off before the end of the year.

Currently, booking for exhibitions, are almost filled for the year at Nike Art Centre, Okundaye said. And for some of the exhibiting artists, "particularly the young ones, exhibition here is free." Such artists, she disclosed, would only need to print the catalogues of the exhibitions, and "whatever sales they make at the end of the show goes to the exhibiting artist; just to encourage young artists."

As laudable as this is, the challenge for such artists, Okundaye warned, is that their works must meet, at least minimum standard.

Quality of works, no doubt, should be a concern for an artist in the caliber of Okundaye who has got pedigree to protect. Perhaps, the standard for shows at the gallery was set with the first, Stitches of Partnership, a joint outing of Okundaye and Tola Wewe.
Nike (left) and Tajudeen Sowole during a visit to the gallery

For such a facility that was "solely financed" by the artist, offering the gallery for some artists free of charge could pose a challenge, isn't it? Such services, she responded, is not new to her. "It's all about developing the art. At our centres in Osogbo, Ogidi and Abuja, we have trained several thousands of youth without charging fees," she recalled.

At the textile museum section of the building, her passion for prints could be felt. Okundaye argued, "we are fast losing our traditional textiles and something has to be done." Housed in this section are hand woven textiles such as alari, sanya, petuje, among other Yoruba native textiles.

A facility such as this is not unconnected to the pedigree of an artist who has taken native art beyond the shores of her country: she had been a resource person at workshops in the U.S. and Europe, in the last 20 years; she is the subject of the book, The Woman With the Artistic Brush: A Life History of Yoruba Batik Artist Nike Davies, written by an American author, Kim Marie Vaz; a TV documentary, Adire: Indigo Textiles Amongst the Yoruba by German documentary filmmaker, Thorolf Lipp focused Okundaye's work.
Nike Art Centre, from outside view

Okundaye operates five art centers in Lagos, Osogbo, Ogidi and Abuja.

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