BY TAJUDEEN SOWOLE
FROM a controversial start of ‘no prize’ four years ago, the Azu Nwagbogu-led African Artists Foundation’s (AAF) national art competition has become a most eagerly awaited contest on the scene.
In fact, since the Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA) chided AAF for the absence of prize in the debut edition tagged, The Unbreakable Nigerian Spirits, the last three editions has raised the bar in art competitions.
And as the stake gets higher, so is the process of assessing contestants. Each edition comes with increasing challenges. For example, it would have been a blind-juried decision if the massive installation of Chinenye Miriam Emelogu was not listed among the top three winners at the 2012 edition titled Consequences.
|A Section of Emelogu's massive installation, Human Hive
Aside from the size of Emelogu’s Human Hive, which took a chunk of The Civic Centre’s floor, the work appeared like one of he very few installations, seen in Nigerian art scene so far that exudes aesthetics and qualitative discourse. Most installation art here here hiding under so-called 'intellectuality' and context but often fall short of aesthetic value. It was, therefore, not surprising when Emelogu’s Human Hive was announced as the winner of the competition, a prize worth N2 million.
Works of the second placed Alafuro Sikoki and the joint presentation from Omoligho Omoye Udenta and Affiko Obadina, which came third, also got the jury on the safe side of the audience.
With a cash prize of N1.5 million for Sikoki and N1million for Udenta and her partner Obadina, the Nigeria Breweries-sponsored event seems to be luring artists to explore the limit of their skills.
However, if conceptuality were the focus, Udenta and Obadina’s Oil, Tears and Blood should have won the top prize. In bringing the theme to fruition, the work, also an installation, takes its strength from the sculptural rendition of oil as a drop of trouble in a green environment.
Last year, the top prize went to a joint installation work by Uche Uzorka and Chike Obeago after beating 11 other participants in the edition tagged, Documenting Changes in our Nation. Mural size mixed media work of Gerard Chukwuma and an assemblage in photography by Olayinka Sangotoye won the second and third prizes in that order.
NWAGBOGU-led art competition, apparently, has been encrypted in Nigeria’s art scene after it debuted in 2008. And from one edition to the other, choice of themes and format of execution brings challenges to participants.
Nwagbogu says the 2012 edition “saw a record number of strong, conceptually-driven entries concerning the theme, Consequences.
The grand finale was a battle fought by other nine finalists: George Emeka Agbo, Emmanuel Dudu, Joseph Eze, Pris Nzimiro, Francis Umendu Odupute, Zemaye Okediji, Maie Okafor, Folakunle Oshun and the duo Papa Omotayo and Folarin Shasanya.”
He notes that with so much tension across the country and instability threatening creativity, the best a society should give artists is an environment for ventilation. Based on this, the 2012 edition, he explains “is dedicated to supporting artists who reflect on the consequences of our actions in Nigeria of today.”
And there seems to be a similarity between the theme and format of the competition: emphasis on the processes of creating the finalists’ works and the consequences focus of the central theme.
Nwagbogu argues that the whole concept reflects on AAF’s focus on artistic processes, an agenda, which will be rigorously pursued in the coming years with the theme “Process to Product”.