Tuesday 14 August 2018

Against doubts, underdogs expand new Museum of Contemporary Art In Lagos

Inside the newly opened Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Lagos.

Museum of  Contemporary Art, which usually comes with MOCA sobriquet has become global brand in visual arts management parlance. The MOCA brand has been domesticated in some big cities around the world.

For Nigeria,  specifically, Lagos, a museum of contemporary art had been widely agitated for to strengthen the city's status of West Africa's growing art hub. And when Lagos eventually got what appeared to be its own MOCA over a month ago, the  facility emerged in the least expected part of the city and from individuals that can be described as underdogs in such area of art management. In fact, less than a month after opening, it has "expanded" from one room gallery into more spaces of the borrowed studio facility.

MOCA Lagos did not emerge on either Victoria or Lagos Islands, where art appreciation truly resides and blossoms. Situated inside Ajao Estate, a residential area layed deep in the city's suburb of Anthony Village, MOCA Lagos is a bold take off by some of Nigeria's contemporary artists and a curator. Uche Joel Chima, Kelani Abass, Iheanyi Onwuegbucha, Richardson Ovbiebo, Oluchi Zim, Winifred Okpapi, Roli Afinotan and Aderemi Adegbite are names listed as promoters of MOCA Lagos.

Interestingly, the Anthony Village, which is a Lagos suburb take off axis of the museum is not exactly strange to art. From one of the main link roads into Anthony Village is Henrimowetta Art Gallery, a commercial space that is over two decades old. In fact, at Maryland, the next and closest neighourhood to Ajao Estate, is Omooba Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon Art Foundation, (OYASAF), a space that houses what has been described as largest  collection of modern and contemporary Nigerian art in one spot. OYASAF receives regular visitors from across the world, both as scholars and tourists. It could be argued that MOCA Lagos has taken off in an axis not exactly strange to art appreciation.

The new museum does not have the space and collection of OYASAF, but it's promoters possess enough courage to go all the way to hit the sky. According to Chima - an artist whose chunk of studio space has been "lost" to the museum - the MOCA Lagos project enjoys no other inputs elsewhere apart from that of the founding members.

 "This space serves as temporary site for the museum," Chima told select guests shortly before official opening.  He explained that the museum "is just taking off here in a part of my studio". He noted that the Nigerian community of art had "waited for too long for this to take off".

As crucial as a contemporary museum is to the growing energy of Nigerian art, its emergence as well as the promoters behind it might determine how far the platform can go. For MOCA Lagos, it's  been in the work for two years, according to Chima. He recalled how discussions at several fora and with quite a number of individuals had inspired him to get colleagues for the take off. He boasted, "But two years ago, I got some artists involved and registered MOCA Lagos as an NGO".

 In a country such as Nigeria where museum has been confined to preservation of antiques and ancient art, MOCA Lagos may just be changing the narratives, at least within the local environment. And with the peculiarity of the generation of artists behind MOCA Lagos, the struggle for space to show non-commercial contemporary contents could be a thing of the past. 

Kelani described the group's efforts In getting the new museum started as a relief "for artists doing something new, which commercial galleries don't show." When reminded that a museum, first and foremost, should be about collection for regular and permanent displays, Kelani assured: "We can acquire collection for the museum as we progress".

Already quite a number of works - from founding members and  other artists - were on display inside the facility's main gallery. The contemporary reality, Chima argued, is about "using exhibitions to continue evolution of art, in alternative space", adding that MOCA Lagos' major "concern is to promote, preserve our art, setting a standard for contemporary art".

Exterior view of Museum of Contemporary Art Lagos, Ajao Estate, Anthony Village.

Apart from one or two of the museum's promoters whose pedigree in art management is still at very  young stage, non of them has any strong established profile in such aspects of art. So, observers are cautious to say 'Eureka' yet to the new MOCA Lagos.

Chima agreed that skeptics have doubted the ability of his group to set up MOCA for Lagos.
Perhaps, people have reasons to doubt Chima and his colleagues' capacity to set up a museum. Currently, some examples of non-government museums under constructions are from two of the biggest art patrons in Nigeria. Shyllon Museum of Art at Pan Atlantic University (PAU), Ajah, being built by Prince Yemisi Shyllon. Also, Chimedie Museum, being built by Obi of Onitsha, His Royal Majesty Nnaemeka Alfred Achebe in Anambra State.

But Chima would not be intimidated by the huge challenge in setting up a museum.  He took the first major step by going ahead in 2016 to register the museum and getting others involved. He hoped that a Board of Trustees, not more than 25 will be announced for the museum as the project progresses. Few days ago, he disclosed that "we have expanded the museum, leaving just one room for my studio".

There is no doubt that MOCA Lagos stands the chance of getting collection from donors to boost the facility. However, safety of such collection might be a concern. "We hope to partner with insurance company to secure collection from donors," Kelani said.

The museum's website www.mocalagos.com states: "Museum of Contemporary Art, Lagos (MOCA, Lagos) uses the visual arts as a point of departure for exploring new and challenging inter disciplinary artistic production. 

 "Through exhibitions and public engagement programs, MOCA, Lagos aims to incite dialogues on pressing local and global social as well as political issues to foster a dynamic space for the exploration and continuous evolution of contemporary African art. The concept of the museum grew from the response of an artists’
collective to the compelling need for a museum of contemporary art in Lagos, contributing to the revitalization of visual arts in Nigeria.

"By using alternative spaces in Lagos for exhibitions and publicprograms, MOCA Lagos uses intervention in the public space as a strategy to engage its public.

"Mission of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Lagos (MOCA, Lagos) is to serve diverse audiences through the exhibition, interpretation, collection, and preservation of art. It also hopes to provide a space for the exploration and understanding of contemporary art and ideas; and a laboratory for artists".
 - Tajudeen Sowole

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