Saturday, 26 May 2012

Prospects, challenges of art outside the elitist market


By Tajudeen Sowole
 Despite the elitist mentality woven around art appreciation, there is, however, a quiet and consistent collection outside the common and regular space.

 Lagos and Victoria Islands are the art hubs, not just for artists, galleries, art connoisseurs and other stakeholders in Lagos, but across the country.

  However, through art galleries and art appreciation enthusiasts, who are based on the main and inter-lands, spilling to neighbouring Ogun State, there seems to be a prospect for stronger art enthusiasm in the future.

  Habitude Gallery, in G.R.A., Ikeja is though in the heart of the supposedly elites, but the level of collection, compared to galleries in Lagos and V.I. are not exactly different, the director, Burns Effion disclosed. He noted that masters such as Ben Enwonwu, Yusuf Grillo, Ben Osawe, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Solomon Wangboje, Kolade Oshinowo and others in this category “sell at optimum prizes irrespective of gallery’s location.”
   He argued that the notion of wide difference between Ikoyi / Victoria Island and mainland is a mere myth, and that the elitist advantage is not exclusive to the former. “There is false generalisation that Lagos and Victoria Islands have more art patrons than the mainland. I know of many high spending executives living in Ikeja who spend their fortunes in shops on the Lagos Island circuits.” Perhaps this is where the paradox comes as he noted that “most of the art material an artist would need are available on the mainland, the biggest art collectors in Lagos resides on the mainland.”

   Princess Theresa Iyase-Odozi is the CEO of the GreenHouse Art Empowerment Centre, Olambe, Ogun State, a gallery and art advocacy group. She said drawing a definite line is difficult.

   She stated: “I cannot be definitive on whether or not the prices of art works are sold at the same price on Lagos / Victoria Island as on the mainland or the periphery of Lagos. The price depends on several factors such as the perception of potential buyers, and their appreciation of the art piece, the level of income of potential buyers and the disposition of the seller. All these have nothing to do with the quality of the artwork. Valuing an art work basically depends mostly on the artist, who is the creator of his work. It is highly individualistic. When properly considered, the determining factors for costing a work of art by the artist are based on factors such as the urgent need to pay bills and competition among artists. With the above highlights, the Gallery owner is constrained.” 

  Goddy Archie-Abia, artist and proprietor of Win Arc Gallery, Off Obafemi Awolowo Way, Ikeja shared his experience of combining marketing art and studio work. “Art sells more in Victoria Island and Ikoyi than Ikeja, but that does mean art lovers are more in the Islands.   Also cost of running art business in the Islands is more than the mainland.” 

  For the mainland, it’s more of trying to belong to a class, he noted. “Some people don’t appreciate art based on the understand of art language or value, but because their friends have art on the walls, so they also want it.”

  From the perspective of Iyase-Odozi who is practically at a further distance from Lagos, the challenges of managing a gallery are more. “Inadequate government support such as creating awareness and granting recognition as tourists attraction; poor infrastructure such as difficulty of access, which increases the cost of doing business; lack of art appreciation; lack of dedicated staff, and low patronage by the public. These constraints are made worse if you are not located in a highbrow or commercial area.”

  Gallery goes beyond the commercial value, she cautioned. The passion, perhaps, is the real drive. “We are not driven by the desire to make money only, we are able to accommodate the challenges. Meanwhile, we are making progress in creating awareness and art appreciation in our local community. Our major challenges are the bad roads, navigating the roads during the rainy season is a painful experience. Going forward, we hope that the authorities would sustain the on-going road rehabilitation efforts in Olambe/Akute road.”
Promoting art appreciation on the Mainlands, Princess Iyase-Odozi (centre) during one the events organised by GreenHouse Art Gallery in Ikeja
   Perhaps, one of the oldest galleries on the Mainland, Henrimoweta, located strategically at Anthony Village does virtually all the activities the better placed counterparts in V.I. does. The proprietor, Henri Moweta also argued that he sees little difference between Mainland and Lagos / Victoria Island when it comes to art appreciation.

  If the difference isn’t as much as perceived, why are the galleries in Mainland not organising art exhibitions regularly as done by their Lagos / V.I. counterparts? Archie-Abia, noted that artists have the penchant for the Islands based on perception that art exhibition is a hard sell in Ikeja.  “An average artist want to show in the gallery in Island to belong like any other person. They want a better value for their work so they think V/I and Ikoyi is a place to be.”

  Still on perception, Effion noted that “most art buyers travel to the Islands from the mainland to buy art pieces that are available here.” He argued that “it then makes sense to exhibit on the mainland, after all, Ikeja is the capital of Lagos.”

  Perhaps, the galleries on the mainland need to strategise and search for new ways of doing things. Iyase-Odozi disclosed that “So far individual artists have not been privileged to collaborate with us to mount their solos, but we have plans for such events at our new GreenHouse Art Empowerment Centre. For us to start this initiative, good packaging, good rendition and finishing of art works are what we promise and offer to the public. The primary objective is to create an educational and tourist centre, where families, friends and schools could benefit from our various offerings.”

   Archie-Abia challenged the hospitality and tourism sector in Ikeja to take look at art galleries as partners. “We have a lot of hotels in Ikeja, old and new, that have the capacity to partner with the few galleries in Ikeja to stage a show to encourage artist and also boost their hotel business too.”

   He also identified the challenges of managing artists as part of the hindrances. “Artists are unique people. For example, some want to build house with one piece of work. It is the gallery’s duty to advise them not to price themselves out of market.” 

 Bola Otetunji of Baryoet Art Gallery, Ojodu, few years ago had a show aimed at promoting art in her neighbouhood.

   It featured works of Elder J.I. Akande, Kazeem Olojo and Adedayo Dada. The event had in attendance the leadership of the Art Galleries Association of Nigeria, (AGAN), art enthusiasts and promoters, who operate outside the Mainland. It was an occasion for Baroyet Gallery to prove that, even in the Lagos sub-urban, there is an art gallery that is equally active as those on the Island.

  Oyetunji insisted that the ultimate goal of the show is to promote art in Ojodu and its environs. Quite a thoughtful one: art gallery business and appreciation should not be the exclusive affairs of people on the Island. 
Henry Moweta, a gallery proprietor (left) also had a show outside his Anthony Village mainland base, recently
   Meanwhile there is a group known as Art Artzero. They are artists and 'underdogs' gallery owners. They operate a peculiar kind of mobile gallery different from the regular art gallery exhibitions. It is a gallery managed by a group of artists in Nigeria with emphasis on self-marketing and promotion for artists.
  One of the founding members, Muraina Akeem, said the group also aimed at bringing art and artists closer to the people through distinct interactive activities/programmes, networking, collaborations, projection and publications in order to enhance better practice representation, understanding and patronage of Nigerian art in a global context.
  Established in 2002, Artzero, in addition to its regular show, Art on the Mainland, also organises Lagos Artist forum/Education and Workshops. “With a dream to upgrade professional skill and networking through organised studio interactions, exchanges, workshops and seminar; establish Artzero Resource Center for Research and Intellectual Exchanges; institute a Trust Fund to support members’ studio practices, viable projects, cooperative gallery and relative assistance.”

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