Sunday 5 January 2014

How new spaces changed Lagos’ arts landscape in 2013

By Tajudeen Sowole

From Peju Alatise’s Wrapture: A Story of Cloths at Art Twenty One

Artists’ worries over the shrinking art exhibition spaces in Lagos may soon be over, so suggest an increase in new outlets during 2013.

For about a decade, Nigerian artists were becoming more aggressive in contents output of their art, but relocation and renovation of some of the art galleries and other art event spaces, ironically, shrunk the art scene. In fact, within a spate of few years, major venues such as the French Cultural Centre, located on Alfred Rewane Road, Ikoyi, Nimbus Gallery, Falomo, Didi Museum, Victoria Island, and Goethe Institute, on Ozumba Mbadiwe were lost.

And when each of these venues returned, the art exhibition spaces they provided had shrunk in sizes. Return of Nimbus, Goethe Institut and Didi Museum were typical examples of how visual arts had lost huge space to movement and renovations.

However, in 2013, about six new spaces emerged, each, quite interesting came with distinct focus. for example, Art Twenty One, located inside the complex of Eko Hotel and Suites, Victoria Island came with a focus on making Lagos a art hub in Africa. Also, design items shop, Temple Muse, Victoria Island  brought art into non-traditional art gallery space; Goethe Institut’s gallery at Federal Government Press Building on Broad, Street, Lagos Island, opened with a an all inclusive art activities; the youngest of them, Red Door Gallery, Bishop Oluwole, Victoria Island  hoped to add professionalism to artist-gallery relationship.

Moderate spaces Reconect Gallery brought art into the mainland while Ohsim, off Ahmadu Bello Way, Victoria Island came with a focus on young artists.

A painting titled Inspiration by Chidi Kwubiri showed at Temple Muse
The year 2013 brought a new face of Lagos art with wider and sometimes non-traditional space as well as longer period of exhibitions.  The Caline Chagoury-led Art   Twenty One took the lead in April when the expansive art space opened sculptor Olu Amoda’s solo art exhibition, Cequel II: a Shifting of a Few Poles. In addition to an expansive physical space, Art Twenty One also brought long duration of exhibitions.

After Amoda’s Cequel II showed for one month, U.S-based Nnenna Okore’s Akaraka was exhibited for two months, from June 4-August; Peju Alatise’s solo, Wrapture: A Story of Cloth came next and showed from September 12 - November 16; and Blank Canvas, a group show of Uche Uzorka, Tchif, Obinna Makata, Victor Ehikhamenor, Dominique Zinkpe, Gerard Quenum and Uchay Joel Chima, which opened three weeks ago, continues till January 20, 2014.

Indeed, Art Twenty One brought a great relief; it’s been a disturbing trend, over the decades, for example, that an artist who had worked, perhaps for several years to put up a show was usually given just one week to exhibit at most of the galleries. But Art Twenty One’s duration of shows attempted to change that.  It is of note that Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA), Sabo, Lagos was perhaps the only art space that has been giving artists similar long period of showing.

Art Twenty One ‘s mission was made distinctly clear as “a platform, not a gallery.” The facility will aspire to be “the lynch pit” of the Lagos art communities, Chagoury had said during the opening. Lagos, she noted, has all it takes to be a “destination for the arts just like Paris, New York, London, and even Dubai.”

Chagoury must be right with her argument that art in Lagos should have a better breathing space to complement the efforts of the regular galleries; a month after the opening of Art Twenty One,, curator and collector, Sandra Mbanefo-Obiago also took a bold step by showing design artist, Ehikhamenor’s solo show, Painterforation in an uncommon space, Temple Muse, located just few streets from Art Twenty One.

Lemi Ghariokwu’s Felarama, one of the works currently showing at Red Door Gallery.

Temple Muse, a design store could not boast of half of Art Twenty One’s space, but it offered almost similar ventilation for the seven artists shown during 2013.  Like Ehikhamenor’s Painterforation, which showed for three weeks, next was a group one titled Metal Fusion, with works of U.S-based Billy Omabego, Alex Nwokolo, Fidelis Odogwu and Uche Peters, showed from September 16 to October 12. At the same venue, Mbanefo-Obiago went further to show Chidi Kwubiri’s Mother Tongue for over a month. And lastly, the biggest of the artists on the Temple Muse space was Bruce Onobrakpeya who showed Recent Experimental in Prints, Low Relief. The printmaker’s masterly inclusion was indeed, a surprise and showed from December 1 – 15.

Known to have promoted indigenous design labels, Temple Muse consolidated on that identity with the inclusion of visual arts. “We hope to bring a different aesthetic, to complement the varieties of designs here,” the managing director of Temple Muse, Avinash Wadhwani, stated during the preview of one of the art exhibitions.  Promoting indigenous creativity as evidenced in the fashion collections such as Tiffany Amber and other local designers’ in the space, he said, “is the goal of Temple Muse.”

  For the new office of Goethe Institut at Lagos City Hall, Lagos Island, adequate art exhibition space had been a challenge. But when the German cultural agency brought a photography exhibition titled Voyage Retour, another venue – a disused section of Federal Government Press building - was added to the increasing new entrants of Lagos’ art. Not exactly a head-room friendly space, but wide enough to compete in the new expanding posture of Lagos art scene.

In curatorial context, the new space synced with the exhibition of archival photographs that featured works of J.D. Okhai Ojeikere, Rolf Gillhausen, Germaine Krull, Robert Lebeck, Malick Sidibé and Wolfgang Webe loaned from the Museum Folkwang’s collection in Germany.

Still under the management of the Federal Government, the old printing press building offered Goethe instiut opportunity to erect room dividers, in concrete, and mounted lights that gave a semblance of art exhibition environment.
  Further on taking art from the usual art gallery environment to a wider audience, a moderate space,  Osh Gallery, situated inside  Morning Side Suites, off Ahmadu Bello Way, Victoria Island opened in early December with  Adubi Makinde’s solo art exhibition, Once upon a Nigerian Christmas.

About a month after Voyage Retour was pulled off, Bola Asiru-led Red Door Gallery, formally opened with Lemi Ghariokwu’s Afro Art Beat. Currently showing till January 15, 2013, the Ghariokwu show, according to Asiru, is one of several art exhibitions that are lined up to create an enabling environment for artists to get the best of them. “We are not just providing spaces for artists, but also fully partnering artists in the process of career building such as representing them across the board, in Nigeria and abroad. He added that Red Door has 12 artists already “that we are representing, both here and abroad.” The Gallery’s South Africa branch, he explained, “is in progress with our partner over there.”

And outside the hub of Lagos and Victoria Islands, artist, Olayemi Madu took a bold step by opening Reconect Gallery, ALONG Herbert Macaulay Street, Yaba – an uncommon axis of Lagos for art. She assured that the gallery will strive to reposition art appreciation on the mainland for better value. “Reconnect will take visual arts from just mere mentions to elaborate books and catalogues presentation with critical essays and well- informed art reviews.”

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