Saturday, 14 December 2019

How boldness of 'Impart Artists' Fair' debut dared traditions

Visitors viewing sculptures on display at Impart Artists’ Fair. Pic: Lasmara.
In changing the narrative of large-scale art shows such as expo, fair or biennial, which are increasingly doting landscapes of big cities across the world, Lagos just experienced how innovations struggled against traditions.

A new entrant Impart Artists' Fair, striped art galleries of their traditional powers of representation and gave artists the opportunity to represent themselves. However, there were quite some innovative contents of the fair that suggested fragility of the curatorial adventure as regards sustaining the format.

During the October-November peak period of Lagos' art season, Impart Artists' Fair took more than 100 artists to Alpha One Tower, located at the unfolding Eko Atlantic City, a virgin Oceanside space outside the Victoria Island central business district. Exhibited artists, though largely drawn from Nigeria, included others from Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia and the diaspora, had their works shown for three days from October 25–27, 2019.

Apart from the fair's unique format of self-representation by artists, Impart also suggested a new way of dealing with space challenge as regards art and culture event in Lagos. The expansive basement of Alpha One Tower, purposed for car park, got curatorial conversion to a fantastic and art exhibition space.

Yes, the traditional art galleries format for art fairs, no doubt, generate premium grade exhibits, based on the experience and clientele network connections of exhibitors. For that reason, art fairs in most cities across the world are boosted by the participation of established galleries. Interestingly, without art galleries format, the calibre of artists at the Impart show, mostly from Nigeria, could have exhibited at any popular fair elsewhere in the world. And even, the relatively known artists at the show had innovative contents to cover their less popular signatures. For example, a floor piece in pointillism technique by Nigerian artist, Haneefah Adam, which was rendered in food seeds medium to create portraiture, was among the attractions at the fair. Ato Arinze, Akeem Muraina, Wande George, Ibe Ananaba, Seye Morakinyo, Rafat Omar, Oluwole Omefemi and Mumtaz Mohamed were among artists announced for the fair.

For the foreign artists, the prospects, perhaps, was an attraction; showing in a city rated as Africa's 5th largest economy. Indeed, the fair and others during the season confirmed that it's not by sheer coincidence or fluke that Lagos has been a hub in Africa's 21st century visual culture appreciation.

However, the innovative adventure of Impart Artists Fair, in the area of presentation would keep observers of curatorial disciplines scratching their heads, at least for sometimes. Some hours ahead of the private preview of the fair, a concert decibel level music welcomed select media guests inside the exhibition space. And with blackened room dividers on which the artists' works were mounted, the entire space, supported by flashes of colour lightings, presented a discotheque scene. Apparently, it was a strange environment to present an art fair.

Understandably, the fair's hybrid contents of 'art meets tech' perhaps, subconsciously, necessitated the non-traditional presentation of the main exhibits. For example, the choice of blackened room dividers, on which the artworks were displayed, was not art appreciation friendly. Perhaps the curatorial contents added up perfectly well for the hi-tech and musical contents presentation, including virtual reality and augmented reality, but not so for fine art appreciation. Traditionally, displaying visual arts contents on bright surface or walls, mostly white or any other colours of brightened texture has proven highly resilient, over the ages and periods across regions and cultures all over the world.

Apart from video or sound installations, which are usually presented in theatre format of darkroom, wall and floor artworks — as regards visual culture presentation — communicate better when displayed in brightened space. If darkened space were part of Impart Artist's Fair's 'innovation' in curatorial contents, it would take a long time for such strange presentation to pierce through the perception of established art appreciation norms.

From one booth to another, the darkened background on which the artworks were displayed absorbed the spotlighting and created competitive attention with the contents being shown.  Traditionally, brightened walls for display of fine art energises the spotlighting to give the exhibits uninterrupted and non-competing attention. For the Impart show, the innovation, in this context appeared too daring in changing tradition.

It was no doubt one event full of energy to promote artists of African descents, so explained the convener. "This is where technology plays a vital factor and we believe that through it, we can reach a larger audience – the audience that is needed to create volume in the transaction of African Art," Hana Omilani, founder and director of Lasmara, said ahead of the opening. Beyond promoting brands of sponsors, it would be interesting to see how the ‘art meets tech’ concept of the fair complements or enhance visual culture appreciation in subsequent editions.
Visitors viewing some paintings on display at Impart Artists’ Fair. Pic: by Lasmara.
Despite the questionable adventurous innovations, the event brought a new solution into space challenge. In a city where challenge of getting adequate space has always been confronting artistic and cultural expressions, the basement of a tower initiative used by Impart may have given a lead in solving that problem. With quite a number of large basements across Lagos and Victoria Islands central business districts, organisers of art exhibition events of large-scale presentations may soon have relief in the Omilani's Impart model.

Alpha One Tower was not exactly new to hosting art exhibition. Last year, it showed Half Way Through A Thousand Miles, which featured works of Tolu Aliki and Uche Edochie, but not at the basement space.

With its theme of 'Art Meets Tech', the organisers, Lasmara, ahead of the opening boasted that it “will feature 300 African artists, to exhibit over 1000 recent artworks, to more than 6000 international and local art collectors, established members of the art community, students and art enthusiasts from different socio-economic
backgrounds.”  The selection process of exhibits, according to the statement, went through a jury system made up of 11 international art professionals and collectors. The fair was organised to increase awareness of African arts and culture sector, as well as improve the continent's art recognition on a global pedestal, Lasmara explained.

Supported by Templars (a law firm), the Consulate of the United States in Lagos, 9Mobile, Mirinda Apple, AXA Mansard and Iron Capital, the fair, according to Omilani “is a way to officially launch Impart the platform." Omilani assured that there were plans to “empower artists through this platform, as we are actively involved in social, non-profit activities, such as community building, portfolio management, talks, artists' workshops, residency programmes and special workshops for women, to help increase the representation of female artists in the field."
 -Tajudeen Sowole.

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