By Tajudeen Sowole
The era of “just art is gone”, Asidere declares as he takes his seat behind an office-type desk inside an expansive and new art centre, just opening for regular gathering of artists this midday.
Asidere’s new initiative, The Play Spot, though a private studio, yet opened to artists for workshops and other related interactive purposes, he discloses, is the place for new beginning coined “protest Art”.
The artists’ Play Spot studio, situated on the ground floor of a two-floor building used to be a warehouse. About the size of a volleyball court, the high headroom adds to the spaciousness of the studios.
Shortly before Asidere walks in, the atmosphere inside Play Spot already explains that indeed, the host of the studio, Orelope Street environ in Egbeda, a Lagos suburb, enjoys some familiar visitors: easels occupy the warehouse-converted studio as artists express their thoughts on canvas.
Gathering of artists is not exactly strange to Orelope Street; two years ago, Asidere had organised a workshop for artists, which took form of street painting as part of activities that marked his 50th birthday.
Now, he insists that art must engage issues as well as get artists across the genres; painters, sculptors, photographers determine the direction of their profession and by extension impart on the larger society. Art promoters, he argues, are not doing enough. In fact, some of the promoters, he alleges, “are ripping off artists”. He notes that, “the era of artists waiting for one promoter to get sponsor to feed himself is over”.
On the broader level of using art to engage the society, he warns that “this is not the time for just art, but protest art”. For example, he is worried that Nigeria has shut down all its government-owned universities: lawmakers and the president are allegedly receiving allowances that are not explained and “no public office holder has resigned”.
Artists who heed the Play Spot call include painters Bimbo Adenugba, Norbert Okpu, Dolapo Ogunnusi, Ufuoma Evuarherhe, Muyiwa Owoeye-Wise and Bob Nosa Uwagboe; sculptors, Francis Donedo and Jabbah David; film makers, Photographers and Video men, Deborah Agbolan, Emmanuel Idakpo, Sunny Chitonti, Joan Ojigho and Novo (Oghenenovo).
Other supporters of the studio present include studio assistants ... Akeem Sulaimon, Joy Banks, Iya Moyin ... and “friends of the house. Ibiang, Tunde and his Uncle.
Shortly before Asidere joins his guest artists on the day of the opening, one of the participants, Adenugba, while taking a break from a busy time on one of the easels notes that the Play Spot Studio has the ambience to instill the culture of seriousness in artists. “Some of us artists still do not see art as business”. Elated with the aura of working in such a spacious environment, Adenugba argues that “whoever comes here now cannot but accept that art is no less a business than any other highly rated profession”. Formerly a resident in the Egbeda axis, but currently in Ajah area – almost two extreme ends of Lagos - Adenugba hopes that, in the future, “I should be able to establish a similar studio in my community”.
Few steps away from Adenugba, another established artist, Nobert Okpu sees the studio as an avenue for mentorship. He warns that it is not enough to churn out artists from the higher institutions, but “we must create the atmosphere to mentor the young artists”. Such mentoring, he argues, “can only be done in an atmosphere such as the Play Spot has created”.
For the convener, Asidere, artists should get involved in the affairs of the country, more now that “never in the history of Nigeria have we been this badly governed”. He is surprised that, the coordinating Minister for the Economy and Finance is still in office. “Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala should have resigned by now”.
Art, he explains can only thrive in an atmosphere of prosperity, and not when “we do not know who is in charge of the leadership of our country”.
|Convener of the Play Spot Studio, Duke Asidere.|
Despite the economic challenges, Nigerian artists, Asidere agrees, are not doing badly. He therefore hopes to join the train of promoting Nigerian art abroad, perhaps, using the Play Spot as a rallying point. The first international art market on his mind, from next year, he discloses, is the Art Dubai Fair. “I hope to get some artists to Art Dubai next year”. Details, he says, are currently being worked out with a gallery in Dubai (names withheld) that has shown interest in Nigerian art.
Although the Play Spot concept is his, Asidere stresses that it’s all about collaboration. The emphasis on ‘play’, he explains “is because it’s also place for fun while creating art, particularly art that contributes to issues affecting the nation”.