Saturday 24 January 2015

Idigbe… When 'personal appeal' drives artistic collection

By Tajudeen Sowole
 As complex as it is to understand the behaviourial patterns and tastes of collectors in art appreciation, one glaring factor is that investment value is not exactly a consideration for some patrons. For Ifeoma Idigbe, a member of BoT, Guild of Professional Fine Artists of Nigeria (GFA), personal ‘appeal’ is the driving force.

Ifeoma Idigbe
Idigbe, a finance and human resource analyst, is the only female trustee, and has been on the board from the start of the guild. Idigbe said she was privileged to have been asked to be a trustee by GFA group of artists many of whom she has their works in her collection. And when Abraham Uyovbisere, President of GFA introduced her to a guest during the private viewing of Distinction-2, a non-GFA group art exhibition, held at Terra Kulture late last year, the inspiration to feel her texture of collection was irresistible.

Art connoisseurs at the event spurred the red tags appearing on the walls as fast as one could track who tags what. This, apparently, blocked any attempt to peep into Idigbe's kind of art and generate a chat. But a better window was proposed for it.

Perhaps, the tracks of every collector towards the point of developing a passion in art appreciation influence the texture of most patrons’ collection. "I have been interested in art for as long as I can remember," Idigbe disclosed via email chat. A few of her early stints with fine art that dated back to elementary school included scoring "high marks in art" in England and Nigeria.

At Corona, her work that won the best art piece, she recalled, was celebrated. "There was a glass panel on the door and the ‘best’ art was often pasted on that panel so you could see the art from the outside. I remember my work being pasted on that door."

Her creative potential in art also reflected in other subjects, as she said, "Even at secondary school, my biology drawings were always considered excellent.” And it goes further being a natural part of her. “I have never thought about art as something external for me." Such background clearly shaped her perception about art to the point of seeing art as "just an integral to life as breathing.”

Probing into Idigbe's taste and tone of collection, there appears to be a sharp contrast to the exposure she had - from being a young art enthusiast to growing up as a collector - she seems liberal. Idigbe's art collection lexicon, surprisingly, is not confined within the components of art such as styles, techniques or period.

She enthused, "I don’t buy art by style or period or whatever else. I simply buy what appeals to me; whatever I like, based on the subject or theme of the work, execution, colours … whatever takes my fancy at a given point in time."

From the collection of Idigbe, a painting by David Dale
However, the content has to communicate, adding, "I do not buy what I don’t understand."

Her collection cuts across generations of artists, some of whom are members of GFA; just as the taste is as eclectic in areas such as abstract, semi-abstract, realism and in diverse medium as paper and metal etchings, beadwork, pencil sketches, metal work, oils, watercolours, mixed media, wooden sculptures, clay/ceramic, among others. From core art, her taste for creativity has spilled into other domestic decors, as she noted, "Even the photo frames for my family photographs are purchased based on their artistic appeal."

As the artists in her collection cut across generation and schools so are they across nationalities, mostly within Africa. "I have quite a few Ghanaian artists in particular. I also have Egyptian, Ugandan and South African artists. I buy whatever interests me."

The worth of a nation's art says so much about the level of patronage that individual and corporate connoisseurs have shown in the creative sector. From the vantage view of a patron, particularly a member, BoT of GFA, how real is the ongoing rise in commercial value of Nigerian art?

 "Art is worth as much as a buyer is willing to pay for it,” she argued. “So if art connoisseurs have decided that Nigerian art represents the next art renaissance then that is great!"

Idigbe noted that the attention being given Nigerian art at home and in the Diaspora is well deserved, particularly considering what she described as the resilience of the artists over the decades, but who have not been adequately celebrated. She added, "It is refreshing to have this interest, this appreciation of the talent and work of artists in Nigeria."

Contributing to the growth of Nigerian art, according to Idigbe are corporate organisations that "are more involved in the promotion and preservation." Increasing number of art galleries, supported by the fledging secondary art market, she stressed have introduced "a social element," and the growth goes on. Indeed, the rise in the value of Nigerian art, she explained, appears natural, given the  "burgeoning population" of the country as it adds up to the "number of artists, and the desires of the nouveau riche."

While the creative ebullience of the artists are fundamental in the impressive development of Nigerian art, observers have noticed that professionalism is not yet exactly enshrined. Given Idigbe’s long relationship with artists - as a collector - perhaps, she has a better understanding of the areas of professionalism that needs to be corrected among Nigerian artists. Standard, Idigbe noted, is still missing. "My main observation is that sometimes, some artists are in such a hurry to present their work for sale that they do not execute them to sufficiently exacting standards." She argued that as subjective as art is, "standards expected of professional artists should be kept."   

Another area of concern for her is a bandwagon syndrome that, most times, lead to more artists doing repetitive themes.  Each artist, she stated "owes it to himself/herself to develop their own unique style, change it as they wish, but to stay true to their natural talent. No two artists are the same and while comparisons are often made, truthfully, I consider such comparisons to be intellectual exercises. What you have is yours. There may be points of similarity, but each talent is unique. Each artist should ‘find’ an identity and show that to the world in the best way possible."

GFA, a body of artists that emerged in January 2008 after its first convention held at Ovie Brumen Centre has been in the forefront of repositioning Nigerian art at home and the Diaspora. With several activities such as art exhibitions and inductions in Lagos as well as shows and art auctions abroad, the Nigerian art space through GFA members is getting more competitive.

For example, members of the guild have been featured at Bonhams auction, Africa Now's Special Section severally. In fact last year, a wood sculpture, Possibilities, (ebony wood, 255 x 16.5 x 42cm, 2014) sold for (£31,250), by a member of the guild, Bunmi Babatunde and was among the most valued art pieces at Africa Now, 2014 edition. The sale was Babatunde's world record.    
  Such feat should be music to the ears of the guild's trustees. Specifically, in what areas do the BoT contributes to the progress of GFA?

A painting by Muraina Oyelami
"The Board is largely advisory, providing support as required,” Idigbe explained. But at the formative stage, a little financial support, she disclosed "was given to set up the office." She however conceded, "The artists are very self-respecting and respectable people whose primary desire is to bring their art to the highest international standards and acceptability."
She argued that GFA members "are promoters of Nigeria’s talent and heritage."

At its formative years, artists were invited to join GFA. But over years ago, the process changed to open entry although the professionalism criteria have not changed. Last year over 20 new members were inducted just as full-time practice as one of the criteria remained.

For different reasons known to them, collectors hardly disclose the numerical strength of their collection. For Idigbe, a plea of "No comment" sealed such probing.

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