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From photo artists to Nigeria@ 49 …a lens narrative

By McPhilips Nwachukwu
As Nigeria marks her independence anniversary today, some interesting things are happening at Omenka GALLERY , Victoria Island, where last week, a photography exhibition titled; A Perspective on Contemporary Nigerian Photography was kicked off to mark the interesting journey of  this largely ignored art form.

The campaign for  recognition of photography as a veritable art form  has at various instances  been waged by the Photographers Association of Nigeria and by some individual committed photo- artists like  film critic, Tam Fiofori.

ART-2Last year, at  Committee of Relevant Artists, CORA event in Lagos, Tam Fiofori in a paper titled, The Visibility of Photography in the Nigerian Gallery Space had challenged the curatorial powers of the National Gallery of Art, NGA, whose duty it is to see to the custody and promotion of contemporary art in its failure to set a pace for the collection of photographs as art works just as it is done in  other national museums and galleries in other parts of the world.

In the course of Fiofori’s paper, he also pointed out the pioneering works of Bonny, River State born photographer, J.A.Green (Jonathan Adagogo), who according to him, had begun to command influence as Niger Delta photographer as early as 1890, when his documentary photographs, which explored colonial activities in that part of Nigeria had begun to command presence in the western media and also, attracted collectors interest.

But after that momentous entry into the nation’s public space, the managers of Nigerian cultural history have largely ignored that significant art form and, have rather re-directed their attention to other visual art forms like painting, sculptor, drawing, installations among others.

However, Fiofori’s stringent campaign began to pay off early this year, when the organizers of Enugu State based Life in My City Festival included photography as part of its exhibition items, and also, invited a photojournalist to be part of its judges.

Just last month too, the Association of Gallery Owners, AGAN organized ArtExpo, a program  organized in collaboration with  the National Gallery of  Art, NGA also included photography stands at that show that commanded international presence.

Interestingly and   like every story of freedom fight, the dawn of a new day is being marked for Nigerian photo artists, coincidentally as Nigeria, the home of these artists, is gladly celebrating her own tortuous and staggering growth in the journey of nationhood in the last fifty years.

In the present show, featuring the works of about eighteen artists, the viewer is taken through the engaging narrative of contemporary Nigeria photography. It showcases the works of those, who would be regarded as the  masters of the art like  JD Ojeikere, Tam Fiofori, Don Barber, Sunmi Smart Cole, Jide Adeniyi- Jones and the new faces of the art like George Oshodi, George Esiri, Mudi Yahaya, Kelechi Amadi-Obi, Emeka Okereke, TY Bello, Yetunde Ayeni –Babaeko and Amaize Ojeikere.

Others, whose works feature in the exhibition are, Deji Ajose, Adolphus Okpara, Uche James Iroha, Lolade Cameron-Cole and Sunday Ukonumu.

The works make an interesting study of the development of Nigerian photography starting from the cultural, anthropological cum ethnological photo documentaries of Ojekere, Tam Fiofori to the cosmopolitan and socio historical works of Sunmi Smart Cole, Jide Adeniyi Jones to the new media works of Kelechi Amadi Obi, TY Bello, Emeka Okereke and Yetunde Ayeni Babaeko.

The works testify to the power of photography as an important documentary media, which has largely and successfully recorded the different phases of Nigeria’s transient history from the stand points of culture, politics, fashion, environment, technology and contemporary dance.

From the anthropologically steeped photographs of Ojeikere through the mixed media work of Emeka Okereke, one notice the beautiful transitional shifts that have taken place in the genre of photo art.

Okeene’s work, Stallion Security, which attempts to find a meeting point between photography and video art, is one of the new media being explored by photography as art forms. Other forms include advertisement photography as seen in the works of young Amazon, TY Bello, Kelechi Amadi Obi and Ayeni- Babaeko.

The types of  Uche James Iroha and George Oshodi are among  contemporary Nigerian photo artists, whose works explore the political landscape. James Iroha’s, No Food for the Lazy Man is both a campaign and a strong indictment on a nation, which fails in welfare delivery to its citizens.

A Perspective on Contemporary Photography… is both a journey and a tribute well thought out by the host, Omenka Gallery and the photo artists for a day like this. As Nigerians reflect on different aspects of its history today, this leisure exercise provided by Nigerian photographers will also make  viewers and  managers of Nigeria State reflect too on how it has fully explored photographic art as an important tool of documenting history and as an engaging tool of mass communication.


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