Thursday 10 November 2022

How 7th Art X Lagos exposed strength, stereotype in galleries, artists

A guest at 'Across Borders' installation  during Art X Lagos 2022.

VISITING Art X Lagos, for the first time, brought along the challenge of noting the difference between the seventh edition and the past six events. Regardless of any previous experience, a scent of expectation commensurate with the regional hub of the host city was no doubt in the air.

Opened with VIP viewing on its first day, November 4 and ended Sunday, 6, 2022, at Federal Palace, Victoria Island, Art X Lagos, like most visual arts fair across the world, provided an expanded window into art of the host region - Africa in this context. No matter the global diversity in contents, art fair always represents, to a large extent, a window into the  region of base's visual culture. With quite a number of galleries outside the continent of Africa that showed at Art X Lagos 2022, the event, again like the previous editions, asserted its strength, not just on art from Africa, but as a space to watch out for in the global south.

Themed Who Will Gather Under the Baobab Tree?, the 7th Art X Lagos displayed compact architecture in the spreads of booths and spacings, making navigation as easy as possible. And that the walls of the booths oozed with so much energies in contemporary contents also exposed, in some instances, the duality of the new aggressive fad, specifically in paintings.

Further tour of the fair suggested that the curatorial team seemed to have rescued the creative diversity of the gathering from being lost to stereotypes. In a fair that most of the artists, specifically in paintings showed similar styles, the presentations of the different booths could be a challenge to generate creative spreads. Art fairs are exactly what they are as commercial spaces where galleries, in most cases, have no restrictions on what or not to show.

Quite a number of similar booths mounted either opposite the other or next to another nearly ruined the 7th Art  X Lagos 2022. For example, Samson Bakare's paintings were on display in a booth opposite another that showed works of artists with similar styles.

Despite the challenge of little diversity to work with, could the curatorial team have done better by spreading the booths to reflect multiplicity? Yes, in fairness, that much was achieved as some parts of the booths showed the eclectic characteristics that an art fair of such gathering of galleries and artists required. 

Ahead of visiting the 7th Art X Lagos, one had no doubt that common trending canvas of figurative paintings would be as loud as vagitus at dawn. Yes, that was confirmed in quite a lot of paintings with either blackened subjects, eye-popping colours, sprinkled with signs, flowers, among other trends of 21st century black renaissance art. While some booths were littered with Kehinde Wiley styles, other works in similar textures looked like paintings copied by art students from one class studio index.

However, quite a number of booths brought some respite that truly reflected the dynamics of 21st art from Africa. Such  depths were seen in Victorien Bazo's Man Vs Animal (acrylic on canvas) at the booth of African Arty, Casablanca, Morocco; Tosin Toromade's Royal: Who We Are (acrylic on canvas, dated 2022) and Laju Sholola's Untitled 3 (black tea, ink and acrylic on canvas) at Art Pantheon booth, Lagos; and simplified cuboid painting style from Samuel Tete-Katchan on display inside Alexis Galleries booth, among others added to the diversity of the fair. And when it comes to celebrating black identity in fine art, Alexis Peskine's relief in mixed media rendition, on display at Douala-based Mam Galerie Contemporain booth, stood out from the crowd.

Again, it could be argued that the host city of an art fair plays a huge role in influencing the characteristics of appreciation or patronage. It appeared that the aura of new generation of art followers, specifically, collectors – said to be emerging on the Lagos art landscape of the last few years – radiated at the 2022 edition of Art X Lagos.

The aging collectors are being replaced with younger ones just as the sources of wealth is changing too. Young professionals in the digital and tech economy have been buying art, widely, in Lagos, many sources have noted, recently. These new guys in the passion for art collecting, it has been observed, "just buy art that appeals to them, and are less interested in established criteria or traditions."

Whatever sudden change that exist in Lagos art appreciation scene of the last few years, Art-X has contributed to that new energies. Unearthing fresh artists, and perhaps new collectors as well as emerging art galleries are some of the gains that Art-X brought into the Lagos' primary art market. Coincidental or not, the increase in the number of art galleries in Lagos, in the last few years, is unprecedented. And understandably too for a city like Lagos said to be richer – across all economic indices – than nearly all the countries of West Africa put together.

For the new generation of art lovers, it is important for them to note that Africa's art appreciation history is very rich and robust with so much to learn from the past. Segmentation of art fair into Modern and Contemporary booths always provide a broad window into learning from the past to enrich contemporaneity and the future.

In the past editions, Art X Lagos actually had Contemporary and Modern booths defined. But the 2022 edition couldn't continue on that basic line of art histrionics. "Many art galleries have both modern and contemporary artists," for their regular businesses, Founder and CEO, Art X Lagos, Tokini Peterside-Schwebig noted during a chat on Saturday. Perhaps, the lack of specialised gallery structure explains the inability to sustain segmentation of booths into Modern and Contemporary.

Creating that balance between Modern and Contemporary at the 2022 edition were Lagos-based kó Gallery, showing works by Demas Nwoko, Chike Obeagu, Taiye Idahor, and Amanda Shingirai Mushate; and Abidjan-based LouiSimone Gallery Guirandou, which showed works by Ablade Glover b. 1934, Ange Dakouo b. 1990, and Pedro Pires b. 1978.

Outside the commercial booths, quite a number of sponsored and special exhibitions added to the energies of conceptual art at the 2022 edition of Art X Lagos. From Lagos-based Victor Ehikhamenor's installation 'Ulin-nóifo, The Lineage That Never Ends'; to Senegalese-Moroccan artist Linda Dounia’s digital work 'Once Upon A Garden'; and Ranti Bam's performance project 'Sowing Seeds In Heartland', Art X Lagos 2022 boasted of a rich conceptuality in visual culture.

-Tajudeen Sowole is a Lagos-based writer on The Arts.

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