By Tajudeen Sowole
Despite its relatively low 42 members, a Lagos-based group, Guild of Professional Fine Artists of Nigeria (GFA) has given the country her first, perhaps, the only professional body of artists, says the guild's Vice President Hamid Ibrahim.
Currently in his second tenure as executive members of the Abraham Uyovbisere-led GFA, Ibrahim who is a painter of over two decades in practice briefly reviews the GFA's five years in existence during a chat and argues that so far, the welfare focus of the group has been achieved. "It took us a long time to stand firm," Ibrahim says during a visit to Interlocking Energies, a two artists art exhibition featuring his works and Sam Ebohon at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos.
In 2008, the GFA, under its founding President, Edosa Ogiugo and Vice President Abiodun Olaku created quite a controversial dusts when the group made its existence formally known in Lagos. Some artists saw the new group as a parallel professional body to the Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA), the country's umbrella for all artists, founded 50 years ago. But the GFA members insisted that the new group was not a parallel body, but a necessary gathering to cater for the need of artists who live on their art. Between then and now, the dust of controversy has cleared and its time for reality. From its first induction in late 2008 to several group exhibitions in Nigeria and the U.K, as well as making impact as a group at auctions in London, GFA appeared to have proven that its formation was indeed "necessary."
However, the membership strength from 23 in 2008 to 42 - some months ago when over 20 new members were inducted - seemed too lean for a national body in a country that has visual artists in thousands. "GFA is the first body of professional artists in Nigeria," Ibrahim argues. Any other body of artists prior to the formation of GFA, he notes, was all inclusive. His argument seems to explain the deliberate slow pace of membership drive. "SNA is a body for all artists, including non-full time artists." The GFA, he explains is not much about numerical strength, but more of artists’ wellbeing. "The primary aim of the group is the welfare of members."
In its formative years, artists were "invited" to join GFA. Two years ago, the process changed to open entry. But the professionalism criteria have not changed; full-time practice is a must. From 10 years full-time experience handed down as criteria for membership five years ago to a review at the inception of the Uyovbisere-led administration four years later, there has been more flexibility. "The last set of members came in through open entries with a downward review from 10 to 5 years experience." The review, Ibrahim explains was necessary considering that the "guild is still young" relatively to the number of full time artists that exist in the Nigerian visual art profession. Also reviewed downward, he discloses, was the entry fee from N100,000 naira to N50,000 naira. The guild, he cautions was never in a hurry to get more members. "Every five years, we add new members."
Promoting works of members via regular art exhibitions and occasional art auctions abroad, particularly at the yearly Africa Now auction organised by Bonhams are two of the several advantages the GFA has. On two editions, some select members have had their works featured in the Special Sections of the Bonhams auction. And as Nigerian artists are seeking proper representations at home and abroad, GFA seems to have one already in Aabru Art, a London-based promoter. The promoters organised Transcending Boundaries, a show that featured many members of GFA and few other non-members last year. " Aabru Art represents us in the U.K currently, and we are working towards another show next year."
As an individual artist who has contributed to the promotion of full-time studio practice, in the past 20 years of post-training, Ibrahim set out early enough to define his kind of art. "I just wanted to be an expressionist," he responds to what is possibly a transitory period from realism to abstraction. After Interlocking Energies, his canvas, he discloses, will most likely be populated with abstract contents. He however quickly adds: "not shifting in the real sense, just that I won't go into as much realism as I used to." He admits, like most artists, that "after a while you get bored with realism." Analysing artists' shifting themes and styles or technique, Ibrahim who got his Higher National Diploma at Yaba College of Technology (Yabatech) in 1990, argues that "sometimes, the school factors are tributary." Abstraction and other non-representational form of art have always come under the suspicion of a section of Nigerian critics, more so when artist involved has not been known as skillful in other realism-based forms. Although contemporary art practice appears to have demystified some basics art knowledge such as drawing skills, Ibrahim still echoes the voice of art's purists. It is ideal to start from the known and prove yourself before experimenting, Ibrahim warns. This much, he boasts, he has done. "I have started from the known, and now heading for the unknown."
In 2010, Ibrahim's solo exhibition titled Content of Time, held at Mydrim Gallery Ikoyi, Lagos, asserts the artist's exploit of impressionism forms. Four years after, at Terra Kulture, contents of Ibrahim's work in the Interlocking Energies, reflect the dismal state of unprecedented degeneration, which Nigeria has been plunged in the last five years. While some Nigerians release their frustrations through venomous contents via the internet's social media, Ibrahim as an artist has the visual license to exhale the despair that most Nigerians bottled up daily. Just in case you have never been part of a group of protesters or physically got close to them in action, Ibrahim's painting simply titled Protests, brings the pains in the eyes and veins of the oppressed people very close such that the heat of the anger radiates from the canvas. Perhaps, Nigerians, as the adage goes, has found their future reduced to ashes in the urn of nemesis as a people who deserves the current leadership of the country, so suggests another painting, Our Leaders, Us and Nemesis.
As artists - all of a sudden - are being pushed to add voice against the declining state of the nation, Hamid says that the two works "are inspired by the disturbing and endless search for responsive leadership in Nigeria." He laments that the hope of truly responsive leader for the country was cut short by the death of Umar Musa Yar'adua, President of Nigeria (2007-2010). "We saw hope in Yar'adua, a president who declared his assets and created atmosphere for rule of law through freedom of the judiciary," he argues, noting that the relief brought by the late president during his three years "is now the opposite currently."
Showing with Ebohon in Interlocking Energies,, he discloses, was to consolidate the closeness between him and the artists he has known right from school years at Yaba College of Technology, Lagos.
Our Leasers by Hamid Ibrahim
Ibrahim's build-up to a fulltime studio artist started over 25 years ago when he was Illustrator/Visualiser: at Concept Unit and Laurel Graphix Advertising Agencies, Lagos (1988-1990); Art Teacher: Command Secondary School Jos (1990-1991); Freelance Cartoonist: Sunday Standard and Lagos Weekend (1990 -1991); Illustrator, Lantern publications; and Illustrator/Cartoonist: Hallmark Newspaper.
As a student, he won the Best Life Drawing at the School of Art, Design and Printing Technology, Yabatech, (1990) and later picked Award for Excellence in Painting organised by Academy Press (1990).
His exhibitions include Heritage, National Museum, Jos, (1991); Reflections of Our Mind, National Museum, Lagos (1992); Essence Russian Cultural Centre (1995); Content of Time, Mydrim Gallery, Ikoyi (2010); Celebration of Colors (ADSA) Art and Design Student Association (1990); Exhibition of Art and Design, Art and design Students (1990);
Young Masters Art Trust Saloon Exhibition, Ikoyi (1990); National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Exhibition, Abuja (1991); Mydrim Gallery Opening Exhibition, Sururlere, lagos (1991); Transcending Boundaries, London. (2012); A Few of My Favourite Things, Parkburst, Johannesburg (2009) and Society of Nigerian Artist, National Theatre (1991), among others.