By Tajudeen Sowole
Ahead of the yearly Africa Now art auction of Bonhams, in London, next month, which features contemporary works of artists across Africa, members of the Guild of Professional Fine Artists of Nigeria (GFA) hope to strengthen their growing presence in the U.K market.
DURING the last edition of the auction, GFA members were given a section that Bonhams tagged Works by Artists from the Guild of Professional Fine Artists of Nigeria. The special section codenamed ‘lots 191 to 215’ featured works of GFA members such as Lekan Onabanjo, Sam Ovraiti, Edosa Ogiugo, Abiodun Olaku, Duke Asidere, Ben Osaghae, Bunmi Babatunde, Reuben
Ugbine, Alex Nwokolo, Tola Wewe, Fidelis Odogwu, among others.
And having just returned from their maiden group exhibition titled Transcending Boundaries, held at The Gallery, Cock Street, London, GFA, according to its president, Abraham Uyovbisere, has more to offer in pushing Nigerian art into the global market.
Despite the controversy that trailed its formal entry into the Nigerian art scene, five years ago, GFA, it should be recalled had three major events in quick successions: debut group art exhibition, Threshold in 2008; an induction ceremony for patrons and awards for selected masters, in 2009; and another group exhibition, The Crux of the Matter, in 2010.
Largely populated by artists who have been credited with pioneering full-time or professional studio practice in Nigeria, between the mid-1980s through the early 1990s, membership started building up, informally, in the late 1990s and the guild’s first convention held in January 2008.
GFA as a group of artists in the middle generation of contemporary Nigerian art, and with high prominence at home, wielded much influence such that it was impossible for Bonhams to ignore.
“With the level of response we got during the Transcending Boundaries, it is only fair that Bonhams sustain the special section for GFA in the next auction. I don’t really have details yet. Last year, less than ten members took part in the auction, but now about 15, hopefully are featuring,” Uyovbisere disclosed recently.
|Some members of GFA, during Transcending Boundaries art exhibition in London… recently.|
Indeed, Transcending Boundaries marked a significant place in the recent resurgence of Nigerian art abroad. After the Osogbo artists wowed the west with largely native Yoruba-flavoured rendition for almost four decades, Transcending Boundaries was probably one of the recent gatherings of Nigerian artists in the U.K.
Speaking on what led to the show, Uyovbisere recalled that “the past president of the guild, Edosa Ogiugo introduced the promoter Aabru Art to us, who got a venue for in London. Through a jury process, the works were selected for the exhibition.”
Uyovbisre noted that the show could serve as another door opening, not just for Nigerian artists, but Africans as a whole. “For the first time, a show with different artists from Nigeria held in central London gallery, which is a very highbrow area for artists from this part of the world to show. And the audience, perhaps for the first time saw, in large number, contemporary works of African artists in a show, thinking we the exhibiting artists all studied in the U.K, whereas we all studied here in Nigeria.”
Before Transcending Boundaries, there was the Olympic art exhibition Imbued Essence courtesy of Bank of Industry (BOI) when works of some artists, including members of GFA were exhibited. That show, he curated with Olaku, “encouraged the guild more on the opportunity in the global art market. So Transcending Boundaries was a follow up of what BOI started. The whole idea is not to be regional, but be global in our art.”
The home market is no doubt evolving, even faster and against all odds including socio-economic environment that’s not so friendly. And if Nigerian art must aspire to the level of the Chinese art on the global scale, government, Uyovbisere said, should make input. He noted that even in stronger economy such as the U.K. where government contributes to the development of art, the artists are still asking for more. “For example, during the Olympics, I read an article in one of the newspapers in which someone advised that the British government should spend more in promoting art, if it wants to compete with the Chinese art at the global market.”
Sometimes government agencies are not properly informed or carried along by artists. Did GFA inform National Gallery of Art (NGA) or request support for Transcending Boundaries? “No, we did not. We could not just go begging them for support we knew they would not extend to us. However, we hope that after we have embarked on the trip on our own, they (NGA) would come to our aid when going for subsequent shows.”
He agreed that GFA cannot go on a mission of promoting Nigerian art abroad without carrying others along. “GFA is willing to extend cooperation to any organization, either government or others and individual to ensure that Nigerian art is appreciated home and abroad. For this reason, we featured a guest artist, Kolade Oshinowo in Transcending Boundaries. He is also featuring in the Bonhams auction, under the GFA section.”
The GFA, he insisted, has what it takes to take Nigerian art to the rest of the world. He supported his assertion with the fact that most of the GFA members were on the forefront of full-time studio practice in Nigeria over two decades ago. “We are among the first set of artists that went professional in Nigeria.” But it does appear that despite the efforts of his generation of artists in promoting art as a full-time job, more young artists, he lamented “ironically, are not even going professional meaning that only a few artists who leave schools every year are really committed. This is not a good trend for the development of art in Nigeria; all of us cannot end up in the classroom after training.”
Comparatively, with the Lagos art market, what is the value of works sold at the Bonhams, Olympic art show and Transcending boundaries? The value, he said, though is higher in the U.K. But the cost of freighting and other expenses incurred, he noted, “depletes that value.” However, showing abroad for now, he cautioned, is not about the money, “but the fact that we are exposing our art abroad, which we reflect higher value in the future if we are consistent.”
So far the response received at Transcending Boundaries, he stated “is worth going back; humbly speaking, a quarter of the works exhibited were sold.” It has been observed that the membership drive of GFA is too restrictive and non-inclusive of artists across the board. Maybe that was the case in the past, the president said and disclosed that the guild is ready to open up its doors to Nigerian artists who meet the conditions.
Aims and objectives of GFA include: to promote the appreciation of Fine Art in Nigeria; project the good image of professional artists in the society; establish ethical standards and rules that would encourage and enhance the proper practice of the profession in Nigeria; encourage interaction and unity between Nigerian and non - Nigerian professional Fine Artists and synergize and affiliate with any recognized art body; promote self-sustenance through professional art practice.