|Ugonna Ibe-Ejiogu, Artistic Director, NXT.ART Fair 2022.|
WITH impressive number of visitors in six days, new entrant NXT.ART Fair, held from February 28-March 4, 2022, at Landmark Event Centre, Lekki, Lagos, made a bold statement. The fair, which showcased galleries and artists from Nigeria and other countries was more of a success story in contents of exhibits and the curated-talk session.
From the design of the fair space, carved out of the huge Landmark facility, to the galleries' stands, an aura of art in a digital world radiated as one stepped into the fair. Organised by Jepchumba-led Africa NEXT, the fair's artistic director, Ugonna Ibe-Ejiogu seemed to have brought her experience of working with two generations of Nigerian artists into the event's curatorial energy of freshness. Although belong in the new generation of Nigerian creatives, Ibe-Ejiogu is the current director of one of Nigeria's foremost groups, Guild of Professional Fine Artists of Nigeria (GFA). Founded by artists like Abiodun Olaku, Bunmi Babatunde, Edosa Ogiugo, Alex Nwokolo, among others, the GFA boasts of professionals whose careers date back to over 40 years as well as emerging artists.
Every art fair owes its success to the creative director's understanding of presentation of visual cultural contents. For Ibe-Ejiogu, the challenge of directing a debut edition of an art fair seemed to have energised her style of presenting the participated galleries.
As the traditional form of presentation, expectedly, dominated the fair, somewhere at the extreme end of the stands came the digital flavour. The artistic presentation of a digital stand within the regular art galleries, and yet created much awesomeness boosted the whole essence and focus of NXT.ART Fair.
In art presentation circuit, over the years, across the Lagos hub city, NXT.ART Fair has proven to be different in injecting hybrid contents in visual culture appreciation. Ibe-Ejiogu noted that the fair's hybrid convergence was meant to create more awareness about "a lot of opportunities for artists," particularly of African descents to make impact across the world, beyond the traditional or regular sales outlets.
The fair, according to Jepchumba, was to announce to the world how art from Africa should not be left behind in the emerging digital age. Apart from the fair, Sepchumba, much earlier, had a platform known as African Digital Art (ADA), which she said "creates opportunity for African artists to sell their art." And to further push the platform into the commercial art space, ADA also had a gallery stand at the NXT.ART Fair.
Among the galleries represented at the fair were June Creative Art Advisory (JCAA) (Lagos), which showed works by Yadichinma Ukoha-Kalu, Musa Ganiyy, Joseph Ogbeide. James, Inedu-George and Laja; Patrons (Lagos), represented Oladimeji Alabi, Emmanuel Dudu, Dipo Doherty, Dare Adenuga, Godwin Adesoye and Porter Ajayi; Forme Femine (Berlin) presented works by Ebuka Pascal Agudiegwu, Chinwe Chigbu and Yewande Oseni; and ADA NFT Gallery (USA) showed works by Afroscope (Ghana), Ike Slimster (Nigeria, USA), Martin Ndere (Kenya), Qaadira Ihsaan (USA), Kevin Karasha (Kenya), MahlÔt Sansosa (USA), Farhana Jacobs (South Africa), Hakeem Adam (Ghana) and Omololu Johnson Ayodeji (Nigeria).
And expanding the global spread of NXT.ART Fair was a physical performance by MahlÕt Sansosa, from Brasil. It was quite interactive as her performance piece asked audience: “what would you be if you were free to be?”
On each day of the fair, a talk session, curated by Tony Agbapuonwu, tagged 'Curated Conversation' took place with different panel members. For example, Day-2 of the session had Agbapuonwu as moderator) with artists Ayoola Gbolahan, Isaac Emokpae and Chigozie Obi as discussants. In his opening speech, Agbapuonwu explained that the discourse was meant to open a new way in optimising the potential of African artists.
The session, which focused on a sub-theme How Art Helps to Generate Social Identity, New Culture and Help Build a Nation' had each discussant shared individual experiences.
The schedules of 'Curated Conversation' for other days included 'Ways of seeing: The Future of Art x Technology. Speakers: Jepchumba (Moderator), Niyi Okeowo, Anthony Azekwoh; How African Art Ecosystem Was Structured before 2010 and How It Appears Now. Speakers: Naomi Edobor (Moderator), Tokini Peterside, Olivia Anani, Oyindamola Fakeye, Papa Omotayo; Women in Art. Speakers: Olufisayo Bakare (Moderator), Joy Labinjo, Buki Animashaun, Nyancho NwaNri, Somi Nwandu; and The Custodian Roundtable: Reimagining New Perspectives in Contemporary Art. Speakers: Ugonna Ibe (Moderator), Seun Alli, Sosa Omorogbe, Adeoluwa Oluwajoba.
-Tajudeen Sowole is a Lagos-based writer on The Arts.