By Tajudeen Sowole
Despite his decades of robust art exhibition experiences at home and abroad, master printmaker, Dr. Bruce Onobrakpeya has rated his solo show at the just held Art Dubai 2015 as one of the most exciting events in his career that spans over 50 years. Onobrakpeya showed his works under Mydrim Gallery representation at the Modern section of Art Dubai a few weeks ago.
|Dr. Bruce Onobrakpeya (in the background) explaining his works to guests at Art Dubai Modern 2015|
During a post-event conference in Lagos, organised by Mydrim Gallery, the artist told select guests how his work was widely appreciated by visitors, including the VIPs from the UAE government. "The participation of Mydrim at Art Dubai 2015 was one the greatest things that has happened to Nigerian art in recent times," Onobrakpeya enthused over what the show meant to him personally. "It was my biggest show in the Middle East, bigger than what I had in Bagdad, Iraq in 1980."
The Art Dubai Modern featured Morocco’s Mohamed Melehi and Mohamed Hamidi represented by Loft Art Gallery, Casablanca, and a Cape Verdian master, Manuel Figueira as well as Ernesto Shikhany from Mozambique showing under Perve Galeria, Lisbon. The Modern and Contemporary sections at Art Dubai had over 90 art booths from 40 countries. Also at the event from Nigeria was Art21, which showed sculptor, Olu Amuda and Beninoise painter Gérard Quenum.
Onobrakpeya whose works in foils and etchings attracted the largest attention at the Modern section argued that Mydrim's participation "gives opportunity to measure Nigerian art against that of the rest of the world." In the area of native contents at a global space, he expressed his admiration for the non-figurative style in Arabian art, noting that "western training of the artists" does not affect their cultural expression. He also commended the Arabian aesthetic of infinity. "In Arabic art, the extensive use of pattern is one lesson I also learnt about the people's culture of infinity."
On the organisation of the fair and the economic value, Onobrakpeya noted that the corporate support provided by The Abraaj Group, a major sponsor of the event helps in making Art Dubai a big venture. He hoped that stakeholders in Nigerian art promotion would learn from the UAE experience.
The Art Dubai event is not a biennale or non-commercial space. What does it take for a gallery from Africa to be at such a highly competitive art market space of global scope? Director at Mydrim Gallery, Mrs Sinmidele Adesanya recalled her excitement when "in October last year, we were told that Mydrim has been selected as the only gallery of sub-Saharan African origin to participate at the Art Dubai Modern 2015." Beyond the immediate selling of works at the event, Adesanya whose gallery is the oldest active in Lagos, disclosed that quite some prospects were achieved. For example, one of the world's biggest museums chains, "Guggenheim Museum, Abu Dhabi showed interest in Onobrakpeya's works." Also, quite a number of international collaboration, she said were proposed by visitors to the Mydrim booth. "We were really proud to represent Africa at Art Dubai Modern 2015," she enthused.
Despite the huge financial commitment, which the participation at Art Dubai required, local sponsors and supports for Mydrim, according to Adesanya, came from Heritage Bank and Terra Kulture.
However, the event, she cautioned, exposes the complacency of artists and galleries in Nigeria. More works need to be done if Nigerian art must compete at the global space. For example, Adesanya said, "we were surprised that despite Onobrakpeya's popularity in Africa, a lot of visitors at Art Dubai did not know him." Indeed, if a master printmaker of Onobrakpeya's signature needed introduction to a lot of visitors at Art Dubai, it suggests that Nigerian artists need to keep participating at more international art events regularly. For Mydrim, the opportunity to participate at Art Dubai was fully explored. Inputs such as getting a curator, Erin Gilbert for the booth and a marketing expert, U.K-based Ayo Adeyinka enhanced the gallery's presentation.
African artists are increasingly visible at the Art Dubai fair in recent editions. Recall that the Marker section of Art Dubai in 2013 was dedicated to art from West Africa and had artists feature under the curator, Bisi Silva. Artists exhibited included Ghanaian master, Ablade Glover, Soly Cisse (Senegal), Abdoulaye Konate (Mali), and Boris Nzebo (Cameroun) in what the orgnisers of Art Dubai described as exploring “the nature of evolving cities in West Africa and the way in which this change impacts society.” Designed as five artspaces, works of the artists have been selected from Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA, Lagos, Nigeria); Espace doual'art (Douala, Cameroon); Maison Carpe Diem (Segou, Mali); Nubuke Foundation (Accra, Ghana); and Raw Material Company (Dakar, Senegal). For the 2015 edition, Marker focuses on Latin America and that region’s relationship with the Arab world.