By Chukwuma Ajakah
In conjunction with Guest Artists Space Foundation, GAS, and Yinka Shonibare Foundation, YSF, London-based British-Nigerian artist, Yinka Shonibare, has launched a two-pronged charity project that offers diverse categories of artists the opportunity to promote their works and effect socio-cultural and economic development by collaborating with local communities.
The GAS Foundation, a non-profit organisation, is Yinka Shonibare Foundation’s delivery partner in Nigeria which focuses on encouraging critical and engaging practices in the fields of contemporary art, design, architecture, and ecology with the space to research, share, experiment, educate and develop ideas. GAS is set to operate from two mega sites located in Oniru, Lagos and Ijebu, Ogun State where international participants are expected to live and work together with their African counterparts.
The Lagos building, an architectural wonder designed by Ghanaian-British architect, Elsie Owusu in collaboration with Nigerian architect, Nihinlola Shonibare of NS Design Consult, was opened for press viewing on Friday, February 25, 2022. The space, equipped with ultra-modern facilities for the convenience of residences, is built to support cultural exchange between Africa’s art market and the international community. Built with a ‘barrier-free’ design that allows all users access, the complex houses a multi-functional studio-cum-gallery space on the ground floor with accommodation and shared living space on the 1st floor that will accommodate about three artists-in-residence.
Briefing newsmen in a media parley session, the founder, Yinka Shonibare, CBE (Commander of the British Empire), RA, reminisces on his trajectory in the arts profession, saying: “I lived in Nigeria until age 16. I was inspired by the works of artists like Ben Enwonwu, Twin Seven Seven and Uche Okeke. I went to the UK to study visual arts. For 10 years, I worked in England, where artists had space to develop their talents. When you give artists space where they do not have to pay rents, they do better.”
Speaking on the purpose of the GAS Foundation, he remarked: “We are working with the local community while opening doors for the next generation, equipping them to thrive, not just to survive. Arts also thrive on inspiration. I want to provide arts space where residences will stay from 1-3 months to showcase their works and have conversations with other artists – from abroad and those in Nigeria.”
The renowned artist also spoke on the nature of his novel project, saying: “The project is in two parts. We have a farm in Ijebu and we are building on spaces, supporting local economy. Through the farm, I contribute to agricultural development. We are training people on how to do sustainable agriculture. Things can be grown here. Also, we want to develop people’s skills. We’ll bring in professionals from different parts of the world to share knowledge, inspire, encourage and develop arts, entrepreneurship, etc. If you support talents, people will do well. I have the network – through a lot of international contacts to do this.”
Asked whether he would seek government support in addition to what he is doing with other organisations, Shonibare said: “We create a model and others will take it up from there. I see room for improvement. A lot has been achieved in the art world, but more can be done. I see challenges as opportunities as well.”
In tandem with the organisation’s sustainable development plans, Architect Nihinlola Shonibare who took journalists round the edifice revealed: “Most of the materials used in the construction were sourced locally, only a few were imported.” She explained that the building is also solar-paneled to connect to the national grid, adding: “We want to avoid the use of generators in order to reduce gas emissions.”
In a press release presented to journalists, the organisers revealed that the second building in Ijebu designed by Papa Omotayo of MOE+ with Temitayo Shonibare, providing the interior design, is already completed. Farm produce such as cassava, maize, cashew and pepper are cultivated on the 54-acre Ecology Green Farm which also has residency space for artists, researchers, scientists and agriculturists.
In line with the foundation’s guiding principle of “sustainability first” which emphasizes food security and use of local materials for construction, locally sourced materials, including 40,000 bricks produced from soil dug up for the foundations, are used to erect a state-of-the art artists residence and four workshop buildings dedicated to craft practices such as weaving and ceramics. There are also gardens and greenhouses, reflecting the dominance of local craft at the centre.
Other leaders of the foundation who spoke at the event include: Adebimpe Nkontchou, Director, GAS Foundation and YSF, who is also Managing Principal of London-based W8 Advisory LLP and Head of Tax and Legal Services, Nigerian-American artist and curator, Temitayo Ogunbiyi, GAS Foundation Director, whose works have featured in group exhibitions at Tiwani Contemporary, London (2016); Museum of Contemporary Diasporan Art, Lagos (2013), Pulitzer Art Foundation, St. Louis (2012) and Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos (2012) and Belinda Holden, MD, YSF, formerly Head, Sydney and Australia for Futurecity, a UK-based Arts, Culture & Built Environment Consultancy organisation.