BY JAPHET ALAKAM
The year 2012 was a busy year for the visual art sector, one of the sectors in the Tourism, Culture and National Orientation ministry as it witnessed a flurry of activities from both established and emerging artists, raising hope of a thriving sector if well harnessed.
After the initial shock that heralded the year as a result of president Goodluck Jonathan’s bitter new year gift of fuel price hike, an action that affected the sector negatively though it created another window for performance artists and photo artist to express themselves on how Nigerians reacted during the period but after that many practitioners in the sector forged ahead with a lot of activities.
And as usual, the Nigerian artists as a way of expressing their creative talents, came up with series of exhibitions held across the country and even beyond. The galleries include; The Omenka gallery, Nike art gallery, Lekki, Quintessence gallery, Falamo, TerraKulture, National Museum, Thought Pyramid gallery Abuja, Didi Museum etc. Some of the exhibitions include: Portrait of the Nigerian Nation, an exhibition of works by renowned painter, curator, art critic and teacher of art, Michael Omoighe, which opened in four different venues in Lagos on April 28, and ended on May 13. The exhibition was described as phenomenal because of the quantity and quality of works displayed and for the fact that it was the first time a solo exhibition was held in four different venues – Terra Kulture, Tiamiyu Savage VI, Quintessence, Famolo, Gothe Institute, Yusuf Grillo, Yaba College of Technology – simultaneously .
Others are: African on the floor, an exhibition of special artistic rugs by Swedish based artist and founder of Modernafricanart, Lande Anjous-Zygumt at Quintessence Falomo, Square Pegs Round Holes, a solo exhibition by Mr. Fidelis Odogwu, held at Omenka gallery, Memoirs of a Generation 2, a solo exhibition by acclaimed painter and journalist, Mr. Chuka Nnabuife, among others.
Apart from the regular exhibitions, there were other issues that shaped the sector, they include: the 4th annual Yusuf Grillo Pavilion where Prof. Uche Okeke, one of the great Zarianist and founder of the modern Uli exponent was celebrated. In the lecture delivered by art historian, Prof. Ola Oloidi titled Uche Okeke: An Endearing Embodiment of Art Revolution in Nigeria, Oloidi recalled how Okeke imbibed the art philosophy of Akinola Lasekan and Aina Onabolu, but later came up with a sudden and “new ideologically instrumental direction.”
Another area that added stronger value to the Nigerian art was the art market or auctions, though it was not much, but one of the major art promoters who has been consistent in the business ArtHouse Contemporary Ltd held its bi-annual auctions in May and November and as expected it was a harvest of Naira for the artists. In the May edition, a painting by renowned artist-cum-architect, Demas Nwoko titled Praise Singer (1961) was sold at N7 million while El Anatsui’s oil on wood panels Grandma’s Cloth Series VI was the auction’s bestselling work at the hammer price of N11.4 million at the November edition. And abroad, some members the Guild of Professional Fine Artists of Nigeria (GFA) got a special section in the April 2012 auction of Africa Now, organised by Bonhams in London.
Another important issue was the touring exhibition of Ife artefacts berthed in Lagos as Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria. His Royal Highness, Alayeluwa, Oba Okunade Sijuade, Olubuse II, Ooni of Ife, Ile-Ife, who was in attendance at the Lagos opening, argued that “the kingdom was created by God Almighty before 10000 BC and 8000 years before Abraham, the Jewish and Arab patriarch”. He stressed that scientific evidences “point to Ife as the mother home of mankind”.
Bent on need to provide a document that will act as a guide to art collectors in Nigeria, a new book on contemporary art titled Contemporary Nigerian Art in Lagos Private Collections and edited by a Lagos-based Spanish architect and art critic, Jess Castellote and published by Bookcraft, with sponsorship from art patron Sammy Olagbaju, was presented to the public.
The year also recorded some level of success in festivals, there was the LagosPhoto( an international photography exhibition organised by African Artist Foundation. In Enugu, Life in City festival was also held and in Lagos, the 2012 edition of Lagos Black Heritage Festival (LBHF) was held, and as part of it a U.S-based Nigerian art scholar, Prof. Awam Amkpa and his colleague at New York University, Madala Hilaire, brought Africa: See You, See Me, a photography tour exhibition for a stop-over at Nike Art Gallery, Lekki, Lagos. During the festival, the Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Raji Fashola opened Kongi’s Harvest Art Gallery, in honour of the 1986 Nobel Laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka, at the Freedom Park, Broad Street, Lagos.
Another major event was Dr. Bruce Onobrakpeya’s 80th birthday celebration which took about half of the year from August to December. As a result of his contributions to the art sector, exhibitions were held in Lagos, Ibadan and New York. To crown it, he was also the guest lecturer at the 2012 edition of the Ben Enwonwu Distinguished Lecture series.
Also as part of plans to reposition the art, the Society of Nigerian Artists’ (SNA) elected new executives to run the body with Oliver Enwonwu as president during the their convention held in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State.
The sector also witnessed the death of two prominent art and culture promoters, Angela Onyeador and Ambassador Segun Olusola . Their death thrown the entire sector into mourning as both contributed to the promotion of art and culture. Onyeador, was the founder of African Foundation for the Arts (AFA) while Olusola was the founder of African Refugees Foundation.
Another issue that shaped the sector was the ugly news of the monumental loss of the works of some masters during the renovation of the arrival hall of Muritala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos. As a result of the renovation at the airport, some art works, which have been identified with the edifice for over33 years were destroyed, a fact that once more revealed the neglect of art and its products by the government and its agencies.
Such works included Flight, 5-piece frieze (on each side of the arrival lounge) produced by the master Yusuf Grillo, 78, and a glass mosaic mural, Spirit of Man in Flight, by late art academician Prof. Agbo Folarin (erected at the entrance.) While Grillo’s 10 works have been reduced to one, Folarin’s mosaic was defaced by the new, though opaque panel, which concealed the colourful 1981 mosaic from public view.
Reluctantly, the National Gallery of Art (NGA) towards the end of the year, organised some events to register their presence in the year, the events include ‘Eleventh Distinguished Lecture and Fifth National Symposium on Nigerian Art’ held recently at the Mini Theatre, Cultural Centre, Calabar, Cross River State. And again, against all odds, the body in collaboration with Art Galleries Association of Nigeria-organised International Lagos Art Expo, which closed the year. The event did not live up to its bidding as it was once more stunted by inadequate funding and leadership problems.