By Tajudeen Sowole
For the second year running, International Art Expo Lagos, which has been prospectively seen as Africa’s largest art show seemed to have been stunted by inadequate funding and crack in the leadership of the galleries owners.
The paucity of fund, which resonated in poor planning showed clearly during the opening of the 5th edition, few days ago, at its regular venue, National Museum, Onikan Lagos. It was a repeat of low attendance and zero publicity that heralded the 2011 edition.
Organised yearly by National Gallery of Art (NGA) in conjunction with Art Galleries Association of Nigeria (AGAN) since 2008, the last two editions have brought a shift in date from August to December. The shifts in date, according to the organizers, were unavoidable “because of reasons beyond our control.”
During his opening remarks, Mr Sammy Olagbaju who was the chairman of the occasion could not hide his concern about the future of Art Expo Lagos as he noticed that publicity, if there was any at all did not commiserate with the status of the event. Olagbaju, however urged more support for the organizers in the future so that the event would be the attraction in art marketing like similar shows in New York and Las Vegas, U.S. “International Art Expo Lagos is our own, therefore I call on all stakeholders to join hands with the biggest art show in Africa with the same popularity and patronage as the aforementioned “
Designed as a Public Private Partnership (PPP), Art Expo Lagos, however, have been solely funded by the NGA since 2008. This, according to investigation has affected the projection to meet the required standard.
More worrisome, signs of sharp disagreement and crack in the leadership of AGAN were also noticed few days ago as some galleries did not participate in the opening. In fact, some of them, who were strong members of AGAN pulled out of the event at the last minute, sources disclosed. For example, the director of Omenka Gallery, Ikoyi, Oliver Enwonwu who is a key member, during a telephone chat shortly after the opening, said his gallery could not participate because “the notice was too short.”
One thought by now, AGAN members should be familiar with short notices: the previous edition was also organised in the same pattern when participants alleged short notice. Perhaps, there were some other reasons that led to what an observer described as “massively boycotted.”
One of the founding members of AGAN Moses Ohiomokhare who is also the curator of Quintessence Gallery, Falomo ikoyi, disclosed that the boycott of the opening by members was aimed at demonstrating their lack of trust in the leadership of the galleries’ umbrella body. “We are not satisfied with the plan of the current executive to perpetuate its stay in power even when we all agreed it was time for a change. Plans will unfold within the week about how to effect changes in the leadership. Our not being present at the opening was to demonstrate our protest.”
|Chairman of the opening and a prominent art collector, Mr. Sammy Olagbaju (right) admires a sculptural piece.|
About two weeks ago, an SMS was circulated, which informed members about election of AGAN scheduled to hold before the Art Expo Lagos 2012 opens. But a day ahead of the scheduled election, the president of AGAN, Chief Frank Okonta, during a joint press briefing with NGA organised to formally announce the date of Art Expo Lagos countered the planned election when he said “AGAN will hold its election next year.”
It appeared that the angst of some members who disagreed with the change in election date was carried over to the Art Expo Lagos show. This much was gathered from Ohiomokhare and another member who boycotted the opening, Juliet Ezenwa Maja-Pearce. “What we all agreed to do is quite different from what they have told the press concerning the change in leadership,” Ohiomokhare argued. “I decided not to participate in the Art Expo Lagos 2012 because I believe the association is being run like a one-man company where all decisions are taken by one man,” Ezenwa Maja-Pearce of Yemaja Gallery said.
Similarly, a source said another member, Biodunomolayo Gallery pulled out of the opening at the last minute, citing the same reasons mentioned above.
Disagreement among members of a professional body is not peculiar to AGAN. However, bringing such disagreement to bare on a big even as the Art Expo Lagos is worrisome, observers noted. The core of the issue creating friction in the group, according to sources, was “lack of transparency” in the management of fund received by AGAN from NGA. Such allegation has been a recurring issue of which Okonta, severally, had argued that the leadership of AGAN has been transparent enough in the management of the event’s funding from NGA.
For the NGA, sole funding of Art Expo Lagos may have to continue. “The NGA will continue to provide financial support for the expo until such a time when the event will be fully championed by the private sector,” the Director-General, Abdullahi Muku stated during his welcome address read by the director of curatorial service, Titus Akusu.
From the debut edition, in 2008, which had more than 50 galleries showed over 700 works, participants have been dropping in the last three editions. The challenges not withstanding, galleries from neighouring Ghana and Togo who still believed in the prospect of Lagos Art Expo were seen among the participants during the opening.
The Hon Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, Chief Duke, whose address was read by the director of National Troupe, Martins Adaji said “in line with the transformation agenda of President Goodluck Jonathan, visual arts is one of he priorities of my ministry to promote and boost tourism as a major contribution to the economy of our great nation.”
Shortly before visitors were led through the works on display, Dr Bruce Onobrakpeya whose 80th birthday celebration was recognized with by the gathering used the occasion to thank NGA for supporting the celebration.