Sunday 14 September 2014

Art is incomplete without its business value, by Edozie

By Tajudeen Sowole
Between the commitment in creating art and the challenges of promoting it, artist, George Edozie keeps searching for the art business formula that favours his generation of artists.

A painting Eko ikwalu ike (diptych.Medium Oil on canvas) by George Edozie
Creating art is seen as too demanding, mentally, such that it hardly gives any ventilation for artists to be well grounded in the business of art. And with the perception that artists get the best out of studio when other professionals, handle the marketing and promotion, the former, more often, are vulnerable to the intrigues in the business of art. To prevent being webbed in the wrong side of the art business, few artists manage or own art gallery facilities across the country.. For Edozie, his strategy differs: not running a gallery, but promoting and selling works of other artists  along with his primary function as a studio artist.

Having found his modest, but growing space on the highly competitive Lagos art landscape, Edozie started his art promotion mission as co-author of a compendium, A Celebration of Modern Nigerian Art - 101 Nigerian Artists, with a U.S-based publisher, Ben Bosah. Currently, Edozie is co-curator and coordinator at Alexis Galleries, Victoria Island, a space that has shown over 20 solo and group exhibitions in just three years of existence. And outside the Alexis Galleries platform, Edozie's company Purpleeva Nigeria Limited organises art exhibitions as wwell as offer other promotion services.
 "Artists create and talk art, but we do little to promote it," Edozie noted during a visit to his studio located inside Medina Estate, a quiet side of  Gbagada, Lagos. He argued that art dealers and gallery owners are business-like while artist are not. "Most of us depend on the art galleries. The truth, however is that the galleries are established to promote the interest of the owners." The galleries, he added, do not invest in the artist, citing the music industry example "where "label owners invest in the musicians."

Edozie who graduated in Fine Art at University of Benin (UNIBEN), Edo State, lamented that   by training, artists are not prepared for the business of art. "Quite unfortunate that nobody teaches you the business side of art in school." For him,  it was an option to learn on the job. "Ater school, most of us don't improve on what we acquired, and this has led to our inability to face challenges." While he would not lay claim to making a big success in marketing and promoting artists' works, relatively, he has put in the vital aspect - passion. And on passion, he disclosed how it had pushed him into the business side of art. It's been difficult entrusting his work in other people who, in his opinion, do not share the passion of creating the work in the first place. "I am not against taking work to the galleries,. From the begining of my career, I always found it difficult to give my work to people, either for marketing or promotion because the passion I put in creating the work cannot be represented."
More importantly, the rise in value of Nigerian art, home and overseas, he added, has inspired him to combine promotion and marketing with his studio practice. "I was worried that Nigerian artists who, no doubt,  make the largest number in  the African art market within and outside the continent are not properly marketed. We are about the half of the entire African art market." Nigerian visual artists, he stressed, "are competiting on the global scale compared and musicisns or actors." But at home, "the music and movie industries attract corporate and government attention."
 One of the key areas that Nigerian artists are lacking is documentation. Comparatively, the number of books published about Nigerian artists appears not commensurate with the volume of activities being churned out. Edoxie agreed. Recalling that the anadequacy of documentation led him into the partnership that produced 101 Nigerian Artists. "When Ben Bosah seeked partnership with me, I told him I was also working on something similar." Reminded that the partnership promised a second volume of the book, Edozie however assured that "a follow up is coming, and featuring more artists."

Edozie in his studio
It does appear that inadequate documentation of Nigerian art has a link to what observers have argued as inactivity of the nation's art historians. While Edozie noted that higher institutions of learning "churn out art historians, every year," he added other sectors of the economy that have nothing to do with art attract the young graduates. "You don't blame the young art historians; they were not prepared for post-school career." Edozie explained that after the young art historians leave school "most of them don't practice, but get employment in banks and oil companies." Artists, Edozie insisted, are not going to wait to be written about post-humously. "Writers had documented great masters of European art as well as our own Aina Onabolu, Ben Enwonwu and others. If we the present generation are not proactive, we may never be well documented."

Indeed, Edozie represents the restlessness of young and "fifth" generation of Nigerian artists who are currently eager to have a strong signatures on the country's art landscape. The restlessness perhaps made Edozie to pit his tent under the membership of Guild of Professional Fine Artists of Nigeria (GFA).  He was among the 20 new inductees that joined the guild few months ago. What exactly in GFA that attracted Edozie? "I believe that GFA is the true professional group for artists in Nigeria, where you see artists who live solely on creating art." He argued that it's only under such a professional group that "artists can reach their peak." For example, his interest in promoting Nigerian art abroad seems to have found the right environment in GFA. "Through GFA, Nigerian art has been promoted abroad more, in recent times," he noted and cited the group's Special Section at Bonhams London auction  last year as well as a major art exhibition Transcending Boundaries, also in the U.K.

While the full-time studio practice criteria for membership of GFA is the attraction for Edozie, the critics of the group demand more widening to accommodate other artists. Edozie countered such argument. "Being formally trained is not enough to qualify anyone as artist: you should live by the brush."

Back to his focus on pushing Nigerian art to the global space, Edozie disclosed that a solo art exhbition of his has been sheduled to hold at Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA), Miami, U.S,  from December 5, 2014 till February, 2015. And quite curious that among the 26 works being prepared for MoCA on the afernoon of the visit to his studio, there were fabric sculptures. Edozie who has been known strictly as a painter through his nearly 19 years career, appeared to be expanding his practice into the realm of sculpture.  

Late last year, his venture into sculpture was first exhibited in a solo Afro Love, an exhibition of 18 paintings at Alexis Galleries. Over a year earlier, he had "experimented with the fabric sculpture on a comission job for Lagos Business School," he disclosed. Then, it was just the initials L B S as logo at the reception of the institute, in Victoria Island, he recalled. It was actually all he needed as the responses spurred him on. "I have actually been quietly working on fabric sculpture long before the LBS job. But the response from admirers encouraged me to further. And for the Miami show, "I am hoping to show some sculptures as well, about 10 to 12, possibly."

Activism and art promotion of Edozie perhaps started when he was one of the co-founders of Artzero, a group of artists whose focus is on promoting art appreciation at the grassroots.
Early this year, Edozie and another group of artists whose focus was international art market also announced entry with a show, Serendipity, held at Alexis Gallery. Victoria Island, Lagoos. Gerald Chukwuma, Jefferson Jonah, Dominique Zinkpe, Tolu Aliki, Nyemike Onwuka joined Edozie

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