2017 art year: The rundown continues
Nigeria’s contemporary art space has witnessed an unusual boom in the past few years. In the outgoing year, artists made many interesting strides, both by rookies as well as the masters. A major feature of the strides is the interest brands like Sterling, Union and Access Banks showed in supporting the sector.
Aderenle Sonariwo’s Rele Gallery raised the curtains with The Young Contemporaries, exhibiting five fresh and talented artists – Marcelina Akpojotor, Rewa Umuna, Sejiro Avoseh, Ezekiel Odifeso, Oladimeji Coker. Rele had some other exhibitions that were less loud, but which were of significance. There were two such shows – Ayoola, which showed works by Ayoola Gbolahan and Transparent that showed works from the late Erhabor Emokpae’s protégé, Isaac Emokpae.
Obviously, 2017 wasn’t a good year for the Sole Adventurer, an online platform for art news across Nigeria and Africa. Its founder, Bukola Oyebode, was on a course on curatorial studies in Venice. However, editing the Nigerian version of Intense Art magazine was no justified reason for making an orphan of her offspring. Still in the spirit of Venice, Nigeria, for the first time since the inception of Venice Biennale, had a Pavilion of it’s own. The space was curated by Sonariwo and Emma Iduma, who showed works from Victor Eikhamenor, Qudus Onikeku, Peju Alatise and Jelili Atiku.
A couple of solo shows also spiced up the year, but the one that kept tongues wagging was Arthouse Contemporary’s the S’art exhibition, which showed works of Diseye Tantua. The exhibition kept the Lagos art scene agog for two weeks. Commentators called him the master of ‘Pop Art’ in Nigeria, as he went beyond the conventional into re-purpose Art. He broke down cars into furniture while showing works from his existing style.
Beyond exhibitions, there were also art publications. 2017 saw the realisation of four significant publications – Intense Art Magazine, The Art of Nigerian Women, Collecting Art and A`siko`: On the Future of Artistic and Curatorial Pedagogies in Africa.The copycat syndrome that exists in every creative sphere was also visible. One could see numerous art wannabes parading themselves, as art curators and advisors.
The first edition of Lagos Biennale happened. Its organisers confronted the old Railway compound at Ebutte-metta, Lagos, to create visual interactions. The Biennial encapsulated mostly installations, supported by art performances, talks and a satellite exhibition. Jeff Ajueshi, CEO of Thought Pyramid Art Centre and Peju Alatise added two new art spaces to the existing ones. Thought Pyramid Art Centre has begun full operations in Lagos while Alatise birthed the Alter Native Artist Initiative (ANAI), an artist residency and studio space. Artwentyone wasn’t left out, as it launched its online gallery, ARTOJA.
Also, it was eventful for Nigerian art and artists in Diaspora. Njideka Akunyili Crosby made a whopping sale of USD$3,075,774 at Christie’s, London. The painting is a standing portrait of a lone female figure. The mixed media painting was made in 2012 during her residency at the Studio Museum of Harlem. Still in London, ‘Anyanwu’ by famous Nigerian sculptor and painter, Ben Enwuonwu, was sold for an auction world record price of 353,000 pounds, not forgetting that a version of same work sold for N54,050,000 at the 18th Arthouse auction.
For the legendary Bruce Onobrakpeya, it was a double – a Honorary Doctor of Arts award from Delta State University and the National Merit Award’s Nigerian National Order of Merit (NNOM). Lagos State Government’s support for the arts is commendable, from the 2017 Art Expo to the commissioning of sculptural pieces all over Lagos to mark the states 50th anniversary.
• Bright is a student of fine arts, University of Port Harcourt
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