By Osa Amadi, Chukwuma Ajakah&Prisca Sam-Duru

As the light fades on 2019, it is gratifying to note that the year has been blissful for arts and culture. Reminiscing on the panoramic presentations that characterized the reviews, one readily observes that art, culture and entertainment are intricately intertwined and inexhaustibly wide.

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Art appeals to all ages, cutting across every imaginable barrier through its multifaceted form and functions. The reviews focused on the intrinsic and extrinsic values that make art rivet in virtually every facet of human existence: art for its own sake, the aesthetics, socio-cultural relevance, art promotion and the artists. The stories encompassing all genres of art reveal that art can be explored to propel desirable changes in the society.

The roll call is long and colorful: the crossing of the River Nun to bury Pa Gabriel Okara in his village in Bayelsa, EDO 2019 NAFEST, Countless art exhibitions at the prolific Alexis Art Galleries, Art X Lagos Fair, the International Arts & Crafts Expo in Abuja, and the Federal Ministry of Information & Culture’s postage of notice to the world that she is on her way to retrieve her looted cultural wealth stashed in those countries, plus the Minister’s recent tour of the Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove – a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The cultural festivals presented were embedded with a good dose of art matters: the 609-year-old Udiroko Festival and the Ekiti Cultural and Art Festival (EKIFEST) which held in Ado-Ekiti. EKIFEST 2019 was a carnival-like mega event that climaxed the serial winning streaks the state had recorded in local and international festivals such as African Drums Festival, NAFEST and BUDPEST. EKIFEST embodied the entertaining elements of over 150 ancient festivals observed in adjoining communities. The review integrated emotive movies from renowned theatre art practitioners like Prof. RasakiOjo Bakare and Dr Wale Okediran: Tenants of the House, was premiered at the Government House while the grand performance of the stage play, Ifeajuyigbe- the untold story of Late Col. AdenkunleFajuyi held at Bishop Adetiloye Hall.

Legendary Nigerian musician, Evangelist Ebenezer Obey-Fabiyi, was featured in an exclusive piece after a rare meeting at the Federal College of Education, Abeukuta where a gallery museum-space was opened in his honour. Speaking on the momentous occasion, the veteran musician cum -gospel crusader observed that music was an integral part of the culture and history of the people which must be preserved and transmitted to subsequent generations. That museum booth launch story integrated other events organized at FCE that day such as the official commissioning of many projects including the Theatre Arts Complex, built by TETFUND.

Culture and art also resonated in the story of 77-year-old Nigerian sculptor, Roland Ogiemien who exhibited some trado-contemporary sculptures at the Resource Place, Ikeja. The Benin-based artist exhibited 30 eclectic pieces in Journey through Time, comprising carefully selected archival carvings in bronze and wood with titles such as, “Father and Son”, “Night Romance”, “Bini Queen Head”, “Couples at Night”, and the “Dancing Princess.” There was also the story of 82-year, Pa Emmanuel Abejide whose realistic portrayal of farm produce objects was the cynosure of all eyes at the recently held Ekiti Cultural Festivals. These legends are still active in redefining our art space.  Age is no barrier to celebrating arts and culture.

The pedagogical dimension of arts was portrayed in the piece on Dr. Kunle Adeyemi of the School of Art Design & Printing, Yabatech, Lagos whose touring retrospective art exhibition tagged, “Quantum Leap” held at the National Museum, Onikan and the Yusuf Grillo Auditorium and Gallery, Yabatech.   Quantum Leap featured 60 of Adeyemi’s works consisting commentaries on socio-cultural and political issues: Statements from my Heart and Other Matters, the Mystery of Sambisa Forest, After IDP Camp What Next?, African  Ruler and His Subjects, Herdsmen Invasion-From Rod Stick to AK47 and Democracy for Who, the Ruler or the Ruled?

Performing art promoter, Sarah Boulus, CEO of the Society for Performing Arts in Nigeria (SPAN), organized a 2-week African dance tour that featured Sals dance, drama and storytelling.    incorporating a 4-day booth camp with the theme, “Keep Moving, Pass It On” which featured some Nollywood and Bollywood stars and provided a platform for many budding artistes to interface with local and foreign instructors.

There was also the 2019 Impart Artists Fair organized by Mrs. Hana Omilani’s art promotion firm, Lasmara.  The story unveiled the novel infusion of cutting-edge digital technology into arts production, promotion and consumption.   The event designed as a platform to promote indigenous art and culture featured over 100 artists from different parts of Africa including Nigeria’s Hafeenah Adam, who crafts local delicacies and condiments to showcase food culture.

The Arts & Culture industry in 2019 experienced an encouraging boost which largely happened as a result of efforts from art and culture producers and promoters, as well as support from organisations which realised how important the industry is to national growth and development.

Among festivals that spiced up events in the out-gone year, was the Lagos Book and Art Fair, LABAF. The 21st edition of LABAF, described as ‘Africa’s biggest cultural picnic’, was a week-long comprehensive open-air ‘carnivalesque feast of Life and Ideas’, which took place from November 4-10, 2019 at Freedom Park, Lagos Island and other venues around the city.

Organised by the Committee for Relevant Arts, CORA, it featured a pot-pouri of events such as exhibitions of books and arts, live reading sessions; children and youths art workshops; live music and many more.

Themed “EMERGE… Breaking into the New”, the festival was dedicated to the memory of the multimedia artist, David Herbert Dale, as well as writers and other creatives who passed away during the year such as Bisi Silva, OkwuiEnwezor, Pius Adesanmi, Paul Emema, Eddie Ugbomah, MolaraOgundipe, Frank Okonta and others.

L-R (Standing): Udemma Chukwuma, art journalist; David Taiwo Olatunde, artist; Patty Chidiac-Mastrogiannis, curator & CEO, Alexis Galleries & the Home Stores Ltd; and Chukwuemeka Michaels Osisiego, artist. (Sitting from L-R): Yemi Aileru, Program Manager of Child Life Line (CLL); Mrs. Sally Udoma, President, CLL; and Aduke Gomez, member of CLL Exco, during the press preview of Knock on Wood exhibition at Alexis Galleries Photo: Osa Amadi

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LagosPhoto Festival organised by the Africa Artists’ Foundation, AAF, also held its annual festival this year and it was themed ‘Passport’. This year’s which marked the festival’s tenth anniversary opened on Sunday 27th October and ended 4 days after. Works revolving round ‘Passport’, served as tools to unravelling and addressing constraints and prospects of the much important document.

The 2019 Lagos Fringe International Festival also took place between 19th and 24th of November to the delight of guests that converged from across the globe. The week-long fiesta held courtesy of Multichoice Nigeria, British Council Nigeria, Freedom Park and Alliance Francaise and brought together participants from across the world.

Theatre witnessed a lot of improvement this year. Among stage performances that entertained the people were ‘Blind Ears’. ‘Blind Ears’, staged at the Ikoyi Custodial Centre, Lagos, was produced by the Independent Prisoners Association, IPRO, an Ola Alabi Foundation initiative. It was written and directed by IykeOsoka, as a correctional tool for prisoners in correctional centres nationwide.

From the House of Oduduwa Foundation, HOOF, in collaboration with the Department of Creative Arts, University of Lagos, came ‘Queen Moremi the Musical’. The epic musical returned this year with a reloaded version of the thrilling dramatisation of the life and times of the Yoruba heroine, Queen Moremi Ajasoro, at the Lagos Continental Hotel.

The visual art scene was busy as usual with both local and international artists, showcasing their creativity. The Brussels-based artist Obi Okigbo’s solo exhibition of 50 paintings and drawings on paper, canvas, linen and silk titled, “Convergence” which is still ongoing, marks the celebration of her comeback to the Nigerian art scene, as well as concludes the Wheatbaker’s 2019 art program. Curated by SMO Contemporary Art, the exhibition which is supported by the Wheatbaker and sponsored by Louis Guntrum wines, is open to the public from November 25, 2019 to February 16, 2020.

The second edition of Ibadan Affordable Art Fair, held from the 6th – 8th December, 2019, another major visual arts event. The three-day show featured works by various Artists of whom 70% are Ibadan-based who exhibited works in diverse mediums including; Ceramics, embroidery, photography, sculpture and paintings.

The latest addition of “Reframed: Cocoa & Color”, an exhibition of 13 photographs organised by Tony’s Chocolonely that tell the stories of cocoa farmers working in an open chain, into the LagosPhoto portfolio, was a fascinating inclusion. “Reframed: Cocoa and Color” by Ghanaian-American artist, Joshua Kissi, aimed to help break stereotypes regarding how chocolates are manufactured across the globe. It was launched on November 17th at Siza Consulting Ltd, Victoria Island, Lagos, and ended on November 24, 2019.

One of Nigeria’s finest artists, Emeka Udemba’s exhibition titled, “A Question of Being”, curated by SMO Contemporary Art, marked the opening of the new space of the luxury store, Temple Muse in Victoria Island. The exhibition, presented “the vibrancy of hybrid cultures” referencing race, history, memory, gender, time, and beauty, in addition to how hybrid identity affects our sense of belonging.

Nigeria-born acclaimed global artist, Njideka Akunyili-Crosby, is among creatives whose impact was felt across the globe. She was profiled in the 2019 TIME Magazine ‘100 Next’ list, an annual list of 100 influential people in the world who through their craft, are imparting the world. The visit by former United States of America’s First Lady, Michelle Obama, to the renowned artist’s studio in California also resonated beyond the art community.

The year 2019 no doubt, saw more young artists taking centre stage in the industry. Artists in the likes of Kelechi Nwaneri, Olawunmi Banjo proved that Nigeria is blessed with multitalented artists working in diverse media. The duo alongside Nathalie DjakouKassi from Cameroon, featured in a group exhibition titled, ‘STASIS’. The multimedia exhibition was curated by SMO Contemporary Art with the aim to, through over 45 recent works, examine how to achieve equilibrium both in our conscious and subconscious mind.

Considering the resilience and consistency of individual art and culture producers /promoters as well as galleries which kept the industry alive through works of international repute, the industry in 2020 is most likely to turn out bigger, bolder and better.

At a point in the history of the country, theatre going culture waned completely but 2019 witnessed a drastic turn around with tickets to shows sold out while more production houses make sterling entrance on stage. If the tempo is sustained, theatre may outrun the screen and take its position once again.

In all, the need for government’s presence in the industry cannot be overemphasised. It is expected that more support would come from the culture ministry and organisations to enable stakeholders widen their horizon and place the industry on same pedestal with international communities.

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There is unbridled optimism that there will be enough juicy stories to whet the appetite of readers in the New Year. It is hoped that artists of all cadres will get busier and release more of their works to the public as they collaborate with art promoters to organize more entertaining events.

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