How ‘art of alternative space’ may shape Lagos in 2017

Artists, David Akinola, Blessing Ibie and Chima Enwezor during the opening of Revolving Art Incubator at Silverbird Galleria

For the dual factors of contemporary expression and growing number of artists in need of art exhibition space, alternative outlets outside the traditional gallery facilities are most likely to be on the increase in the year 2017. Last year – strangely – the volume of art exhibitions in Lagos was shared almost equally between the regular art galleries and alternative outlets.

Non-regular art gallery space for art exhibition is not exactly new on the Nigerian art landscape, except that the last few years exposed a gradual increase. The non-art gallery space for exhibitions such as hotel lobby or reception, have been as old as the business of art. But in recent years, The Wheatbaker Hotel, Ikoyi, art exhibition space under the curator, Sandra Mbanefo Obiago, seems to have elevated alternative space for art to a new high. Also, Moorehouse, Ikoyi, joined the trend a few years ago and has been consistent with as many as three or more exhibitions in a year.

“The quality of traffic, particularly of foreign visitors that see our art exhibitions has been amazing,” Obiago discloses during a chat about alternative spaces last year. When the hotel opened for business in 2011, it made a debut with a presentation that was as formal as that of traditional gallery space. In fact, the quality of exhibition catalogue was commendable. But the sustainability wasn’t exactly clear to many observers.

About six years after – over 12 art exhibitions recorded – consistency has been established as The Wheatbaker is now seen as a “luxury boutique hotel.” While marking the fifth anniversary of the hotel last year with a solo exhibition of Gbenga Offo’s new body of work titled Freedom was an opportunity to stress its commitment in adding art content to the hotel’s luxury service.

“We are proud to have created a dynamic platform for international and local artists to experiment and present new creative expressions,” a director at the hotel Mosun, Ogunbanjo, stated. “We will continue to ensure that despite Nigeria’s current economic recession, The Wheatbaker provides quality services and strengthens creativity and innovation.”

Currently, the space’s first exhibition of the year, Permutations by Tayo Olayode, which opened a few weeks ago, is showing till March.Also, during the same period of approximately five years, a moving space art exhibition, Bloomart, led by Ugoma Adegoke, has been doting the Lagos art landscape with shows. Currently preparing to show a U.S.-based Nigerian artist, Marcia Kure, from February 17 through 19 at Cape Town Art Fair, Convention Centre, South Africa, Adegoke had shown quite a number of artists at different spaces in Lagos.

For example, under Life House and Bloom Gallery, she showed designer, Ghariokwu Lemi’s solo Own Kind at Didi Museum in 2013; and several others in different spots in Lagos.

With two spaces, The Wheatbaker and Temple Muse, Victoria Island, Obiago appears to be giving alternative space a new life. The Temple Muse, a designs and accessories shop managed by Avinash Wadhwani, has been exhibiting at least three times a year in the past three years under Obiago’s curatorial supervision.

Over the past 10 years, artists have been more expressive beyond the traditional confines of regular art galleries. Coupled with increase in the number of artists, particularly from formal training, there is no doubt that the existing art galleries couldn’t accommodate the plethora of expressions on display. Given the cost of sustaining the facilities, which are mostly located in prime areas or central business districts, very few artists fit into the cost texture of the galleries anyway.

“The galleries are doing their best, but we must not always wait for them to give us space for exhibition,” Jumoke Sanwo, a new entrant into alternative space, noted when she opened her Revolving Art Incubator (RAI) late last year at Silverbird Galleria, Victoria Island. With three artists – David Akinola, Chima Enwezor and Blessing Ibie – Sanwo has given Lagos contemporary art space a fresh texture.

INTERESTINGLY, the 2017 Lagos art scene actually opened with RAI, when the space showed Visual Representations: Past and Present, a photography exhibition that featured Matiu Idang, Bernard Kalu, Aderemi Adegbite and ASIRI magazine. And less than two months into the year, RAI is already adding its second exhibition with installation and ceramic by May Okafor in the artist’s first solo titled Of Consummates And Cannibalism.

When RAI opened last year, Sanwo assured: “The initiative is a partnership with the Silverbird Group in setting the pace for subsequent art interventions in public spaces all across the country.”

Arthouse -The-Space, a non-gallery, but moving exhibition sister company of auction house, Arthouse Contemporary Limited, is another outlet to watch in 2017. Since it opened at former Renault Show Room, Victoria Island, with photographer, George Osodi’s solo titled TransgreXion in 2014, the space has shown quite a number of other artists, including modernist master, Yusuf Grillo at Kia Showroom, Victoria. Island. And with more artists being “represented” by Arthouse –The Space, as well as those scheduled for Arthouse Foundation’s residency, there is no doubt that the alternative art space of Lagos in 2017 promises to exhale a lot of energy.

However, in a rare situation, an artist could also sometimes search for an alternative space without a promoter attached. That was what Polly Alakija did when she showed Art With A Social Conscience at Foreshore Harbours, Osborne Estate, Phase 2, Jetty Club, Ikoyi.

For over a year, Alakija, who shares her studio base between Lagos and Gloucestershire, U.K., has been using art to engage communities in select Nigerian urban and rural spots. Some of the works, produced from her Artist-in-Residence, form the bulk of the display. In 2017, the Lagos alternative art space would most likely see more of Alakija’s art of social conscience, particularly in public spaces.



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