Sunday, 23 August 2015

Nwokolo Charges Art Galleries In Nigeria To Think Global

By Tajudeen Sowole

If anyone was in doubt of the growing potential in Nigerian art at the international market, a solo art exhibition of Alex Nwokolo's paintings and mixed media, which just held in London confirms the rising interest for art from Africa. Nwokolo is not exactly new to the art appreciation space in the Diaspora, U.K., specifically. His works have been shown at several group exhibitions in London. Among such shows was the Transcending Boundary series, which feature artists largely from Guild of Professional Fine Artists of Nigeria (GFA).
 
A section of guests at the opening of his solo art exhibition in London, U.K, a few weeks ago. PICS: C/O OF THE ARTIST

Organised by a London-based art promoter, Careta Gallery, the exhibition, according to Nwokolo "was a success, even on the opening day." His success story is similar to that of a number of other artists from Nigeria who had taken a leap for a solo show in London.

Nwokoko's London show, promoted by a gallery based outside Nigeria, is, perhaps, a case study in the international potentials of Nigerian artists, which galleries in the local space hardly see. Apart from very few galleries that participate at art events, mostly of yearly calendar featuring artists from Nigeria, a lot of the outlets here hardly organise their own show outside the country.

 "Art galleries in Nigeria are not ready to take risk in showing artists abroad," Nwokolo informed during a chat at his studio at Onikan. He noted that the art world was getting bigger and African artists were seeking wider space. Not exactly taking anything away from the resilience of some of the leading art galleries in Nigeria, Nwokolo argued that more needed to be done.
   
Whatever impact Nigerian artists are making in Europe and other places overseas today cannot be divorced from the consistence of the local art galleries who have built art patronage and appreciation over the decades. Nwokolo, who also operates a small gallery space and framing shop agrees, but insists that the efforts of the local galleries in investing in the system over the decades could be better appreciated and not end up as wasted effort only if they went further to exhibit artists abroad. He stressed that pushing Nigerian art, particularly through the works of established artists, was the way to go.
   
Nwokolo's experience traverses studio, gallery management and framing business. His creative and management strength lies more in studio practice, so suggest the impact his work has had on the Nigerian art exhibition circuit. His last solo held at Terra Kulture in 2012 exposed the artist's skill in contemporaneity. The acceptance of some of the new techniques he showed appeared to have encouraged him to project that he might return with another show soon.
   
Would the interception of the just held London exhibition affect his projection of having a follow up solo to Authenticity of Thought? "For some personal and private challenges, I would not be able to have any exhibition this year," Nwokolo clarified, disclosing, "I need a better frame of mind to have a major solo."
  
He recalled that Authenticity of Thoughts takes "much energy to put together and got such a widely accepted body of work." Anything short of that in his next solo, he stated, was unthinkable. However, he assured that between time, "I will have my works in group exhibitions." He had, in 2012, showed his last major exhibition, Authenticity of Thoughts in Lagos.

 It 's about three years after the regime of the foundation president and vice president, Edosa Oguigo and Abiodun Olaku at GFA, of which Nwokolo was a treasurer. What is his assessment of the current regime of Abraham Uyovbisere, who is in the second year of his second term? Nwokolo recalled that the foundation period, particularly with the first executive members, "has done quite a lot to pave way for easy management of the guild for subsequent executives."
   
GFA, a group he founded with other artists is, perhaps, the only professional body of artists that is currently pushing for strong exposure of Nigerian art abroad. The profile of GFA is apparently attracting new members, particularly young artists, to join the group. But Nwokolo, a founding Treasurer of GFA cautioned, "being a member is not automatic criteria for exhibiting abroad." The promoters of the exhibitions and auctions determine which works make the list. He cites Bonhams auction for example. "Though Bonhams feature many works from the guild, it is based on individual artist's merit." He, however, added that "membership of GFA could be an advantage to feature in the auction." As much as the increase in numerical strength of GFA membership is a laudable step, Nwokolo appears apprehensive that there might be a challenge in managing the expectation of some of the new members, suspecting that the reason most of them joined the guild was to have their works exhibited abroad and get into the international secondary art market. More worrisome, he alerted, "when these artists, particularly the young ones, pay their yearly dues to the guild, and yet they don't, for example get their works featured abroad courtesy of GFA, it could be a complex thing to handle." Again, he insists that merit - based on the definition of the guild's foreign partners - not just membership is one of the major criteria.
   
Alex Nwokolo

Nwokolo is among the generation of artists who, over the decades, have been traditional and modernist in their practice. However, he has also been contemporary in his works, particularly in his last art major solo exhibition Authenticity of Thoughts, Specifically, what has been Nwokolo's experience in the last three years when it comes to massive imploring of materials as well as medium that are fast changing the texture of art landscape?
   
Among quite some shades of sentiments that have been put forward for or against the contemporary trend of art, Nwokolo's argument appears more as a guide. He noted that behavioural patterns of art collectors and other enthusiasts change from one generation to another, so the artists too could not be on one spot.
   
"As we (artists) keep meeting new people who see your work in different views, from one generation to another," and warned that some collectors seek new excitement. There are those who derive much joy in remaining conservative. He explained that even the much-battered repetitive theme still appeal to a lot of collectors. "There are people who have not collected your so-called old styles; they are always ready to pick one or more whenever such comes."
   
For Nwokolo, an artist whose experience cuts across studio and gallery management as well as entrepreneurial of art, "there is no hard rule approach; it's all about the artist looking at a theme from different angles and comes up with one." Art, he argues, "starts with ideas before it becomes appreciated."
   
Indeed, relativity of appreciation appears to be the core of the controversy that surrounds contemporary art. "I believe in sustainability," Nwokolo said, adding, "you produce art that can sell or be appreciated in whatever form."
   
If you are tracking Nwokolo's periods in the last six years or less, a theme he calls, Oju (Face) made its first prominent appearance in the artist's solo show Untitled, at Omenka Gallery, Ikoyi, Lagos in 2011. A year after, at Terra Kulture, Nwokolo, in another solo Authenticity of Thought turned 360 degrees from painting to flattening of metal sheet. However, the new technique still carries his style in collage along, in more textured surface, which his painting is known for.
  
 In 2014, a solo titled Possibilities, a Miliki, had Nwokolo going deeper into the realm of contemporaneity with  such pieces as ‘Society,’ ‘Dominion II,’ ‘Isale Eko’ exuding resplendence of a growing new concept.
   
Between 1978 and 1980, Nwokolo started cutting his interest in art as a member of National Museum Art Club, Onikan, Lagos. He later had formal training, got National Diploma in General Arts (Distinction) from 1986 – 1988, Higher National Diploma in Painting (Distinction) from 1989 – 1991 and Master of Fine Arts (MFA) from 1998 – 2000.

Faces and Phases of emerging change in Lagos art


By Tajudeen Sowole

The tone and texture of Lagos art landscape, which has remained stuck to its traditional and conservative style, appears to be giving way to more diverse direction in recent years. Interestingly, additional fresh direction is coming this time around from young artists, so suggests the works at Faces and Phases, a group art exhibition led by Adeodunfa, currently showing at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos.
 
One of the workRaces of Life’ by Hakim Ijadunola
The exhibition has come to stay as a series, so it seems, coming almost one year after Adeodunfa led a group of young artists in a debut of the same title. On this slightly wet Saturday afternoon, the opening of the 2015 exhibition had a mix of art collectors and other enthusiasts trickling into the gallery space at Terra Kulture. The turn out was like what one usually saw at the gathering of established artists or masters. Apart from Adeodunfa, nearly all the nine other exhibiting artists are up-and-coming artists who have not had major solo exhibitions.

Whatever induced the turn out would have to be really good. A life-size floor sculpture, mounted almost in the middle of the immediate room of the gallery, appears imposing, despite the dominating numerical strength of paintings. But creating a sort of balance is a wall mounting of another sculptural piece at the far side of the same room. Coincidentally, the two ‘star’ works at the welcome room of the gallery come from one artist, Olumide Onadipe.

Onadipe represents the signs of new energy coming out of young artists in Lagos. In fact, at Faces and Phases 2015, nearly all the works of the exhibiting artists exude the new energy. Perhaps, the central focus of the gathering is a new tone and texture, so suggest Adeodunfa's works of mixed media assemblage of tablespoons and forks. As much as paintings dominate the gathering in the works of Kehinde Oso, Chinedu Uzoma, Lateef Olajumoke, Habbeb Andu, Titus Osikoya and Adekunle Omofemi, the wall sculptural pieces by Hakim Ijadunola, Adeodunfa and Onadipe thicken the creative texture of the works.
  
 "The concept of Faces and Phases is all about working with young artists," Adeodunfa states during a chat at the opening. Apart from him, Oso and Onadipe were the only artists from the first show of last year.

 Bringing the technique of pointillism into relief space, Ijadunola, painstakingly applies pieces of cane, cut in dot sizes and lined up in a painterly rendition on board. For example, in ‘Races of Life,’ a depiction of running horses, the natural but brownish feel of wood is replicated almost perfectly by the artist in his use of different hues or shades.
   
In paintings come the monochromatic skills of Andu and Uzoma, classic representation by Omofemi and Osikoya and assemblage of retrospection from Oso, including a small version of his auction record sale, ‘I Can’. Recall that Oso made a surprise sale with the work that depicts a child’s learning process at one of Arthouse's auctions in Lagos a few years ago.
   
In gathering stainless spoons to create three identical design-like  pieces of sculptural forms, Adeodunfa brings a sharp deviation from paintings of canvas, which he has done for over a decade. "It is part of my experimentation into new medium," he explained.
   
But Olajumoke, in contrast, thinks differently, as he displays the boldest of colours on canvas at the gathering with works in full frame. Figural in themes, Olajumoke's paintings throw multi-coloured images at you without little or no space to assimilate the environs of the captures. Rightly or not, his style of filling the frame with bold figures could be a strength in his style of communication via art.
   
For Onadipe, whose wall sculptural pieces, ‘Lean on Me’ and ‘Map of Identities’ appear like moulds from Nnenna Okore's studio, the similarity between the works of the two artists is, perhaps, mere coincidence. Onadipe explains how “I was inspired by many situations, images over the years such that producing these works is a subconscious effort, not particularly linked to Okore or any person." A few months ago, he showed ‘Map of Identity’ in a solo titled Twist and Twirl at Pan Atlantic University, Ajah, Lagos.
   
As the momentum of Faces and Phases rises, there comes a window to put the gathering on the global view as, coincidentally, a CNN crew, courtesy of Prince Yemisi Shyllon came visiting. Terra Kulture, according to Shyllon, was being used as part of content for a documentary on him. Among the beneficiaries of the impromptu visit was Onadipe whose work was a focus, and perhaps the centre of attraction.  

For Balogun, Alimi, Swedish experience boosts creativity


Adeola Balogun (sculptor) and Adewale Alimi (painter) are currently in the second phase of their residence programme in Uttersberg near Stockholm, Sweden, courtesy of Quintessence Gallery, Parkview, Ikoyi, Lagos. The artists' residency adds to the list of beneficiaries of Quintessence's yearly support for Nigerian artists who enjoy such grants to the Scandinavian country.
 
Guests at the exhibition of Adeola Balogun and Adewale Alimi during the artists’ residency in Sweden

Dr. Kunle Adeyemu (printmaker) and Balogun, among others, had been given similar opportunity by Quintessence in the past three years. Balogun and Alimi, according to Quintessence, are working with renowned Swede curator, Anders Nyhlen, who runs Galleri Astley and a studio for residency in Uttersberg. 

"Yearly, Quintessence Gallery supports Nigerian artists in its international residence programme in our desire to help connect them to new ideas," Moses Ohiomokhare, curator at Quintessence said recently. "We also expose the artists to a variety of contemporary art and social practices, giving them character of international exposure through exhibitions."

For 2015, Balogun and Alimi continue the tradition, which include exhibiting works produced from workshops during the residency. "After three weeks in Trollhatan, Balogun and Alimi have just had an exhibition organised by Gunnar Ternstedt at a pump house call Pumhuset. The exhibition titled Connection was well received by the community."

The statement explains further, "To prepare for this exhibition, Gunnar, their curator, spent the last one year collecting materials for work. From burnt bike to horseshoes to help make things a lot easier for the artist. Apparently, this is not Adeola’s first encounter in Sweden and so he was on a familiar ground to work. Adeola produced six sculptural pieces and 10 drawings, including a life size horse.

“Alimi, who is in Sweden for the first time, was able to produce 21 medium sized paintings that have global themes and acceptance. The impressions were social, economic and political.”
   
Galleri Astley under the guardianship of Anders has been supportive of the exchange programme with Sweden. In 2008, Anders and Eva Zettervall were in Nigeria to exhibit at Quintessence Gallery and also had workshop for the art students of Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, courtesy of the local gallery. The event marked the beginning of exchange programmes between Quintessence and the Swedes art community.

 Past beneficiaries included ceramists and other artists like Ato Arinze, Umaru Aliyu and Adeyemi.
Gunnar Ternstedt, Mariannes, and Sture Agby. Chief Aino Oni-Okpaku has also supported the project. From August 29, Balogun and Alimi will be having the second exhibition at the end of their residency, which will be opened by the Chancery of the Nigerian Embassy in Sweden.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

in Lagos, Faces and Phases opens with top Nigerian collectors, CNN crew


CNN crew (right) during interview section with Prince Yemisi Shylon and Bolanle Austen-Peters at Faces and Phases, a group art exhibition led by Adeodunfa, currently showing at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Through Surreal, Mysticism, Arinze Excavates The Root Of Change

Guests at the opening of The Root of Change
 By Tajudeen Sowole
Known more for sculpture, particularly ceramics, Mr. Ato Arinze has, however, dug into his archive to excavate some of his old drawings. Rendered mostly in surreal, the works, which are currently on display as The Root of Change at Alliance Francaise, Herbert Macaulay, Yaba, Lagos, showing till August 22, 2015, attempt to rescue the mind from being stranded at the crossroads of change. 

Quite coincidental with the wind of political 'Change' blowing across Nigeria, Arinze's works of pencil on paper are over-laced with deep spiritual, perhaps, mystical content; in fact, they have no link to any political identity whatsoever.

 "It focuses on our spiritual understanding of life," Arinze told a guest during the opening. Framed in small sizes of plexiglass, the works attract attention, and curiosity too, the figures and objects either remind one of fairy tales or nightmare scenes as well as imaginary setting of some occult leaning. Such works include a stylised and highly modified cross image, ‘Crucifixion Before the Alter of Inverted Triangle’, a nude couple captured in some occultic space, ‘The Willing and the Unwilling, I and II’, and a transgender warning ‘Before the Separation of Man From Woman and Both’ among others.
  
 Highly infested with a diverse spiritual interpretation that could raise issues across faiths, Arinze's The Root of Change - as odd as it appears - breathes fresh air into Lagos art space. Such a loaded surreal content exhibition has not been seen here for a long time and the all black and white exhibits could be one risk too many for Arinze. Exactly one year ago, he led a group of 12 artists under Artzero for Thought in Drawing, a largely monochrome textured display at the same venue.
   
Contrary to the behavioural patterns of Nigerian visual arts conservative establishment, Arinze has been consistent in challenging norms. While connoisseurs and aficionados are keenly observing, perhaps, waiting for a terminal end to his 'adventure', the philosophy of 'art for grassroots' on which Arinze-led Artzero group was founded, keeps getting stronger. 
  
 ‘The Shadow of a Trekker’ is one of the works on display
  
Despite appearing at a number of group exhibitions in Lagos and Victoria Islands for nearly two decades, Arinze recalled keenly looking "forward to my first solo exhibition on the Mainland." The current outing, The Root of Change, he enthuses, fulfills that dream. His passion in promoting Art on the Mainland, a movement within the Artzero group knows no bound. In fact, he assured that "I would show at Oshodi if the space were available".
   
Arinze started compiling the works for the show since 1993 after some galleries "rejected my choice of themes." So, what exactly has changed in the last 22 years that led to the revival of his passion? Response he got from sharing some of the works on Facebook, he disclosed, "inspired the exhibition".
   
Part of his Artist Statement stresses how change is more of individual attitude: "The Root of Change lies in our spirituality, in our readiness to embrace the responsibilities and consequence of change", and recommends, "the conscious awareness of our identities and the understanding of our android existence should be our primal goal in facing the revolution that comes with the wind of change."
  
 With over two decades of studio practice as a ceramic sculptor, his love for the clay medium and perfection in handling the material has been well established, as shown in the collection of art patrons. He has organised and facilitated many seminars and workshops on creativity, art business, pottery and sculpture. Arinze graduated from the prestigious Art and Design Department, Yaba College of Technology in 1991.
   
Born in the mid 60s in Onitsha, Anambra state, he has participated in many exhibitions both within and outside the country with his work well represented in private and public collections. In 2002 he received the Solidra Award for Sculpture and Pottery. Also in 2008, he was honoured by Society of Nigerian Artists (Lagos State chapter) with the SNA Distinguished Artist Award.
  
 Arinze is the co-founder and co-ordinator of Artzero Group, which, in the past decade, has been the platform for promoting the works of young and upcoming artists living within and outside Lagos, with a flagship yearly exhibition Art On The Mainland.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

For Future Histories, 12 finalists set to pick national art prize


By Tajudeen Sowole
 After a Retreat in Lagos, 12 finalists who have been shortlisted from over two hundred entrants are currently on their way towards articulating the concept for the eighth edition of national art competition organised by African Artists Foundation (AAF), with the sponsorship of Nigerian Breweries (NB) Plc.
 
Gallery Manager, AAF, Mr. Olayinka Olatoye (left); AAF Director, Mr. Azu Nwagbogu; Corporate Affairs Adviser, Nigerian Breweries Plc, Mr. Kufre Ekanem (8th from left); 2008 winner, Mr. Emmanuel Dudu and CSRI Sustainability Manager, Tonukari Emete at the unveiling of the finalists for 8th National Art Competition… in Lagos.
While unveiling the artists at NB Plc's Bar, Iganmu, Lagos, the

sponsors traced the trajectory of the competition through its primary aim set eight years ago. Corporate Affairs Adviser, NB Plc Mr. Kufre Ekanem recalled that the competition was aimed at promoting "conceptual development of contemporary art in Nigeria and raise awareness on relevant social issues through the use of diverse creative, artistic expressions."

For one week, the 12 finalists: Adetunwase Adenle, Funmi Akindejoye, Michael Ametuo, Chinenye Emelogu, Maryam Kazeem, May Okafor, Komi Olafimihan, Ngozi Omeje, Babatunde Oyeyemi, Folami Razaq, Sabastine Ugwuoke and Stacey Okparavero engaged the theme Future Histories at Artists Retreat in preparation for the grand finale, which holds in November this year. A few months ago, the organisers released the theme with a focus on projecting into artists' contribution to the socio-economic as well as political development of their immediate community.
   
"This year’s edition is challenging budding artists to come up with interpretation to the theme, Future Histories,” Ekanem told select guests during the unveiling. “With this theme our intention is to stimulate our participating artists to think laterally about the social, political and cultural climate of their local communities while exploring their creativity."
   
The journey to the selection of 12 finalists started with a call for entry, the artists’ retreat and currently heading to the final exhibition and announcement of winners.
   
Ekanem explained the competition's aim of supporting the dreams of emerging artists in as many as diverse mediums as painting, sculpture, photography, mixed media, installation and video art. He boasted, "We are proud that the National Art Competition has become a leading platform for the development of contemporary artists in Nigeria."
  
 Primarily, NB Plc, Ekanem stated, has what he described as "our philosophy of winning with Nigeria" by recognising the strength of ‘the arts’ in promoting "cultural values of our society." He added that sponsoring the competition would remain "a significant part of a broad spectrum of initiatives which cover diverse areas such as health, water, education, talent development and youth empowerment across the country."
  
 Director of AAF, Mr. Azu Nwagbogu encouraged the 12 finalists by invoking the revered name of the chair of the selection panel, Prof. El Anatsui. He argued that Anatsu, being a great art scholar as head of the jury, adds strength to the competition.
   
The grand finale closes with a juried exhibition, scheduled for November when winners would emerge. The prizes include N2 million, solo exhibition and a trip to Dubai for the first place winner while Outstanding Concept and Outstanding Production get N1 million each. Beyond the prizes, all the participants would have felt the impact and got the benefit of the competition.

 "More importantly, all the finalists would have been provided a platform to launch their careers as future greats in the arts," he stated.
   
The panel of judges led by Anatsui, according to the organisers, "considered each proposal on the grounds of its originality, creativity and clarity in relation to the theme." Also placed in consideration was the description of materials and technique submitted in each artist’s application. But the selection, despite the criteria, was said to have come with its challenges.

 "These criteria made the selection process difficult, especially as the works employed diverse mediums and ideas in their portrayal of the theme," a statement said.
  
 Present at the event was a former winner and beneficiary of the competition, Mr. Emmanuel Dudu who shared his post-national competition experience.

Doherty’s Coherence In Duality, A Bridge For The Arts, Sciences

 
By Tajudeen Sowole
 Within the artistic space, Dipo Doherty extracts the essence of man's sojourn on earth and beyond from the complex world of science. This much he expresses in the solo exhibition titled Coherence in Duality which recently held at Nike Art Gallery, Lekki, Lagos.
 
One of the works from Dipo Doherty's Coherence In Duality

 Coming from a science background, specifically engineering, Doherty appears to have employed art as a window in expressing his views on subjects that are traditionally scientific. While the strength of art affords him the space to extend his engineering views within the context of dealing with human emotions, bringing raw science into art appears like a complex hybrid of expressions.
 
Viewed in soft copies after the close of the exhibition, some of the works, however, appears more traditional in rendition. This helps in diffusing possible technical tension between the flexibility of art and the rigidity of science.
   
As he clarifies, "My works, most often, start with the human form. It is so integral to my art because it’s the medium via which we experience these energies. I begin to intertwine physical and sensory interactions with matter to emotions, search for the mathematical undertones, and geometrically express them as my creativity dictates".
   
From a piece of cubism texture in semi design to a mix of traditional drawings, in some cases, Doherty emphases the role of geometry in linking his thoughts in art with science through figurative expressions. He agrees that his science background is unavoidably loud in his art, noting, "My technical drawing and scientific background have thoroughly informed my art".
   
Having set out on both worlds of art and science as early as 14, when "I began assembling and drawing cross sections of machine elements and architecture," expressing himself in diverse dimensional spaces, he notes, "put me in awe".
   
However, he thinks the merging of art and science should take another level beyond the ordinary, adding, "Tied with my concurrent scientific studies, I began to draw bonds between the chemical and physical nature of matter and their forms. This led me on a path of inquiry".

  
 In the age of contemporaneity where art is being opened up to accommodate the reluctance of craft and blurring the line of design as well as taking the resilience of modernity into consideration, scientific contents of Doherty’s art appear to have arrived at the right period.

 "Forms are spiritual," he confirms a common belief in art parlance. "These regular arrangements hold secrets that thoroughly expatiate the experiences we perceive on a human level: Emotions, Karma, Personalities and Psyches."
   
Doherty began his studies in Mechanical engineering in 2009 at the University of Virginia, U.S., where “I came across the deeper order to my geometric reasoning: Cohesive forces in water, thermodynamic efficiencies of fins on heated elements, and sound barriers created by compressed air. Various physical phenomena adequately reasoned out by elegant equations and being influenced by mere virtue of its shape. I strongly felt, like Einstein did, that hidden amongst all these experiences, the laws governing the universe from subatomic quarks to planetary systems were coherent and uniform. If I wasn’t discovering it mathematically, then a consistent inquiry through art would reveal this secret to me.
  
 “Slowly, I began to approach my engineering knowledge base from an artistic perspective. I was more inclined to feeling the emotion of my studies rather than the discrete data. I dedicated sketchbooks in the wee hours of the day to free my mind on scientific topics that fascinate me and geometrically express equations and ideas. Later on I discovered about cubism and its pioneers. Picasso resonated with my ideas on geometry by elaborating the difference in realities perceived by virtue of perspective and relative position in space. I felt a kinship with these masters and took the onus on myself to continue this inquiry, equipped with modern day knowledge.”