Friday 8 March 2013

African artists need 'Marker 2013' for wider visibility, says Silva

By Tajudeen Sowole
When six Nigerian artists join their counterparts from four countries across West Africa at Marker 2013, a curated section of the yearly Art Dubai Fair, in UAE, the curator, Bisi Silva will strengthen her profile in the development of contemporary African art

An independent curator whose international credits in curatorial practice cut across biennales and other major art exhibitions in Africa and Europe, Bisi Silva, ahead of Marker 2013 has seen prospects for African art. She has also stressed the importance of curatorial practice in contemporary art of the continent. Marker 2013 holds from March 20-23.

Aside being the founder of Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA), Lagos, Silva has co-curated art events such as the just held three-venues transcontinental exhibition The Progress of Love, veteran photographer, J.D. Okhai Ojeikere’s: Moments of Beauty at Kiasma, Helsinki (2011); 2nd Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art, in Greece’s ‘Praxis: Art in Times of Uncertainty’ (2009); and Dakar Biennale, Dak’Art 2006 in Senegal.  

For the first time, Middle East appears to find expression in Nigeria’s contemporary art lexicon, courtesy of Marker 2013. How did Silva get involved in this historic outing? It’s like a coincidence, she disclosed to her guest shortly after taking a quick break from a drawing workshop at CCA’s art gallery.
Curator of Marker 2013, Bisi Silva.

Two years ago, through Antonia Carver, Fair Director at Art Dubai, the hint of a possible African presence at the Dubai yearly gathering came, she said. “I heard that the fair was interested in doing something on Africa in a year or two, and Antonia and I started discussing last year.”
  Clearly the search for a curator must have been easier for the organisers. “They talked about somebody to create the five spaces. We thought it’s better to start with the West African sub-region”. And that the organisers recognised the diversity of the continent as against the European perspectives of ‘Africa as a country’ offers adequate opportunity for artists to express themselves. In fact, Silva hinted that in the future “there might be an opportunity to focus on another sub-region like East, South or Central Africa.”

In the last five years, there has been a phenomenal rise in cultural content across West Africa, of which the contemporary art of the people has contributed so much. Given the dynamics that has arisen in this short period, it is expected that the five spaces would not fall short of adequate representation of the drastic growth in art of West Africa, to which Silva agreed and assured that the artists selected properly represents the current status of the sub-region’s art.

She noted, “We got some of the few countries that have been extremely active in the last five years in West Africa. We have Raw Material Company from Senegal; Maison Carpe Diem, Segou, Mali, which has a link to the country’s first commercial gallery in the 1990s, specializing in photography; Espace doual'art, the grand daddy of us all, has been going on for nearly 20 years and singlehandedly developed the contemporary art sector of Cameroon; Nubuke Foundation from Ghana; and CCA, going on in the last five years and has cut a niche for itself within the big Nigeria’s artistic landscape.”

According to the organisers, the theme of Marker 2013 focuses on emerging big cities and the effect of urbanisation on the people’s tradition. It would be interesting to know how the artists interpret the issue of growing cities and preservation of heritage. Silva noted that every culture practitioner should be concerned about how heritage was being preserved.

For Marker 2013 however, each artist, she explained, might not exactly be focusing on how or not a government’s policy affects preservation of heritage, but how engaging the contents of their work are. “This is an art exhibition, not a conference or seminar. The artists are therefore expressing their day-to-day experience, not exactly focusing on the policy of government”.   

There exists a commonality among the artists, she added, which will be on “a common interest in how the cities affect the social and economic lives of the people. For example, one of the artists looks at architecture and how the new are submerging the old; sky scrappers with no ventilation, whereas African community setting is largely communal. It’s interesting to probe how this, for example, impacts on us in the next 100 years.”

Six artists from Nigeria – the largest number of the four countries – are mixed media artists Ndidi Dike and Taye Idahor, sound artist Emeka Ogboh, photographers Ade Adekola and Charles Okereke as well as designer Carol Akpokien.

Subsequent editions of Marker may not have African spaces, but this year’s event offers a window for Nigerians and other African artists in general to look beyond their immediate environment. The idea is to go into new market, new experience, Silva said, adding, “I think most of them, if not all are showing in the Middle East for the first time. Having six artists working in different ways shows the diversity of practice in Nigeria.”

As a curator, Marker 2013 is not exactly a new challenge for Silva rather, “it’s exciting to take works into diverse spaces.” Every curator, she argued, should move around. “A curator should be able to engage other people and other culture with artists’ works. It’s the global dynamics of contemporary art of today, and I like to see that Nigerian artists are not left out”.
  Curatorial practice in Nigeria has apparently taken a backseat, despite the recent growth in the nation’s art. Marker, she disclosed, brings an opportunity to encourage young artists who have been learning the ropes through CCA.

As she noted, “Basically, this is what CCA does. Grooming young people in art administration and other related disciplines. We have worked with young people like Oyinda Fakeye, Jude Anogwih and others. Idahor and another young artist, Ekanem Konu are going to Marker 2013 to represent CCA at the curatorial level (I am not going to Marker as a CCA person). We want to develop art infrastructure, so that when artists come out of schools, they can be curators if they so choose to. I hope that in the next five to 10 years, there would be more curators, not just in Nigeria, but across Africa.”
Ndidi Dike's Lagos Market, a C-print collage of acquired objects is one of the works for Marker 2013 
Although Nigerian art administrators such as Silva and others in the Diaspora regularly participate in several international art gatherings across Europe, but quite ironically, there is no biennale or a strong yearly international art event at home. In fact, another Nigerian, Okwui Enwezor, who is currently a curator in Munich, Germany, has made a mark in the curatorial practice abroad as the artistic director of Documenta 11 exhibition in the same country in 1998-2002.

However each year, Art Expo Nigeria struggles to hold while African Regional Summit on Visual Arts (ARESUVA) is now moribund after the organisers changed it from a yearly event to a biennale. Why can’t people like Silva, Enwezor and others pull resources together and assist in rescuing Art Expo Nigeria and ARESUVA?
 As desirable as a rescue mission for Nigeria’s major international events are, it’s beyond people outside the government, Silva argued, adding, “I don’t particularly want to set up a biennale; it’s not part of my goal or aspiration” and charged the Society of Nigerian Artists SNA to take up the challenge by “tapping into some of the resource persons like us.”

She noted that “biennales around the world are government-organised; most cities use biennale or yearly fairs as marketing strategy for tourism.” And if anyone has the duty to rescue Nigeria’s international art events, the institution that is funded by government to do that is not living up to its role.”

Still on how to explore the opportunity in Marker 2013, she enthused that mainstream Nigerian galleries have responded, saying, “This is the beginning for us. I am really excited we are responding positively. We have one or two collectors going, two galleries - Omenka, AAF, Biodunomolayo and some other artists”.

Silva hoped that on returning to Nigeria, “we will share our experiences with others, maybe at a forum.”

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