Saturday 27 April 2013

With Art21, Lagos as ‘art destination’ is real

By Tajudeen Sowole
The missing synergy between art content and its space in the contemporary Nigerian art environment may have been discovered as a new outlet, Art Twenty One revs up the potential of Lagos as the art hub of Africa in the 21st century.

Art Twenty One, situated inside the expanded wing of Eko Hotel and Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos, according to its promoters, is designed to lift the city as an ‘art destination’. 

Starting with sculptor and designer, Olu Amoda’s metal works, which is currently showing for the next three weeks, Art Twenty One offers relief to artists whose works of huge sizes hardly found enough ventilation for expression in most of the existing art galleries in Lagos.

As vibrant as the Lagos art scene is, the lack of space for the local art community to constantly engage with the rest of the world has been a missing link in the contemporary practice. Big cities across the world that know the value of visual arts in promoting tourism explore events such as biennale, art fair or art expo named after a host city as a brand, all of which are currently missing in Nigeria.

In the absence of any of such events, Art Twenty One joins the Bisi Silva-led Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA), Sabo, Yaba, Lagos, which attracts foreign artists, curators and others.
Indeed, CCA, since its entry into the Lagos art landscape in 2007, has continued to attract foreign visitors to Lagos via diverse art programmes, within the moderate space available. 

For Art Twenty One, art promotion and management could take a step further from, perhaps redefining what an art gallery should be in this digital age. “Art Twenty One is not an art gallery”, the founder and curator, Caline Chagoury cautioned during a chat at the preview of the opening. Having emotively cleared the air that “it is a platform”, Chagoury explained that it aspires to be “the lynch pit” of the Lagos art communities. Lagos, she noted, has all it takes to be a “destination for the arts just like Paris, New York, London, and even Dubai”, as there is a surge of talents in young Nigerians doing new things across various disciplines of the culture sector.

Olu Amoda’s Tax Collectors’s Eye, sculpted in assemblage of stainless table spoons.

However, as Amoda’s art is relieved of the thirst of space, courtesy of the new outlet, it does appear that there is a prize to pay: a struggle to wrestle attention from the emphasis, in promotional context, given the new art outlet. For example, the theme of Amoda’s exhibition is obscured, buried in the bottom paragraph of the Artist Statement; not a single line in the curator’s or the official statement of Art Twenty One acknowledges the existence of a theme for the massive works of Amoda.

What exactly is in a theme of an art exhibition, anyway? Yes, the title of a show says so much, the artist explained as he traced the body of work to his last two solo outings Cequel and Cequel 1a, which held at University of Ibadan, Oyo State and The Wheatbaker Hotel, Ikoyi within a spate of few months interval in late 2011 and early 2012. Amoda’s Cequel is coined from ‘sequel’, a continuum, which the artist expresses in metallic narrative, bringing his favourite literary titles into visual contents.

For the Cequels series, there are shadows of Prof Wole Soyinka’s classic play Death and the King’s Horseman (Iku 0lokun Esin) and George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm. Amoda disclosed that the current show titled Cequel II: a Shifting of a Few Poles “collapses” the entire concept of the sequels into one.
Did Amoda deliberately surrender the expected prominence of his exhibition’s theme to the dominance of the space’s hype? The answer is buried in his Artist Statement, which explains that the melting of the series was made possible “with the intervention of Art Twenty One”.

With his explanation, the coup of the artist and the space against the theme is better understood. Whether or not a theme of an exhibition – as crucial as it is to the entire body of work – should be sacrificed on the altar of promoting a new space may be an issue to resolve in the future by art administrators and brand experts.

In Cequel II: a Shifting of a Few Poles, Amoda asserts his bravery in navigating through the wilderness of metals, creating drawings and painterly images that raise the bar in contemporary Nigerian practice. 

As it was in the last two series, thematically, Amoda maintains his vehemence on the declining state of the Nigerian nation. He expresses such, for example in one of the works titled Tax Collectors’s Eye, depicting governments’ inevitable guillotine-taste for revenue generation.

During the opening of Art Twenty One and Olu Amoda’s Cequel II: a Shifting of a Few Poles at Eko Hotel and Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos.

His visual narrative-wrath in the work– apparently in solidarity with the taxpayers – strategically placed at the right distance of the space is an assemblage of stainless table spoons, sculpted together in round shape. The artist who has lived and worked in Lagos for nearly three decades or more described tax collectors as “vultures” who “extort” from the people daily. The central point of the work, an eye, he said, explains the “agony” that people go through paying tax in Lagos for example.  Although Amoda uses Lagos, his residence as a reference, but the reality is that taxation and revenue are recurring issues across the world, even in the developed countries: nobody like the face of tax collector.

Further, in a drawing on metal piece titled Before the Ritual Suicide, Amoda dragged the British colonialists into the ring of history, charged and prosecuted them from “my personal interpretation, not the literary” perspective of Death and the King’s Horseman. He disagreed with the British colonialists’ interest in “controlling your personal life”.

From Amoda’s solo Objects of Art, at Didi Museum in 2008 to Cequels Ia, his art shrunk to the size of available space, but got so much of the long-denied ventilation such that the walls and even the floor of Art Twenty One were nearly choked up with so many works.

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