Goethe forum okays Nigeria offering at Dak’Art
By Tajudeen Sowole
(First published in June 2008)
DESPITE constraints faced by the organisers of the country’s art exhibition at the just concluded biennial, Dak’Art 2008, in Dakar, Senegal, the show got a clean bill from the stakeholders, back home.
At the Goethe Institut, Victoria Island, Lagos, last Saturday, where a postmortem on the Dakar outing was held, participants pointed out some grey areas. However, at the end of the day, the effort of the National Gallery of Art (NGA) commended for coming up with the exhibition in Dakar.
The show, Naija: An Exhibition of Contemporary Nigerian Art, held during the biennial at the Conference Hall of Sofitel Terenga, in Dakar’s Central Business District, it was agreed, projected the country’s image in good light. It featured works of Jacob Jari, Jerry Buhari, Kaltume Gana, Funmi Abiodun, Chizoba Pilaku, Ike Francis, and Ufuoma Evuarrche. Other artists whose works were included in the exhibition were Uchenna Mbefele, Chris Obadan, Helen Uhunnuagbo, Uwa Usen, Frank Enahoro, and Umah Udosen.
During the post-event gathering titled Review of the Dak’Art 2008, organised by the International Association of Art Critics (AICA) Nigeria, in collaboration with Goethe Institut discussants included
Akin Onipede of Culture and Craft Art Forum (CCAF); director of Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA), Lagos, Bisi Silva; Publicity Secretary of Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA), Chuka Nnabuife; a member of Art Writers Organisation of Nigeria (AWON), Okechukwu Uwazuoke; NGA’s Education and Research director, Dr. Kweku Tandoh; a member of Art Galleries Association of Nigeria (AGAN). The moderator was the secretary of AICA, Ademola Azeez.
Though not among the discussants at the roundtable (NGA), the Director-General of NGA, Joe Musa who was present shed more light on selection of artists for the Dakar event. The exhibition, he agreed, was hurriedly put together due to the circumstances then. Musa however pointed out that among other gains of the event, was an international exposure for young up and coming artists whose works featured at the exhibition.
When the contingent returned home, emotions, it was observed, took the air at several informal gatherings on the outing of the country at an event that is regarded as the largest gathering of African artists, home and in the Diaspora.
However, critics sprang into action so soon: it started with CCA’s gathering 8th Edition of Dakar Biennale Review, which held shortly after the arrival of the contingent. If the CCA gathering was not satisfactory, the ‘police’ of the art hoped for another day.
And when the AICA event was announced, it was almost certain that emotions would reach a feverish peak. Reason; the secretary of AICA, and moderator of the day, Azeez, in recent times, has been the most vocal critic of the NGA. However, at the end of the day, constructive, and not destructive criticism won the day.
The lead to the discourse, according to the organiser were: “What are the current tendencies of the art scene in Africa - and especially West Africa? To what extent is the Nigerian art scene up to par with the international discourse?”
The review which was well attended also examined “what extent did the exhibition project NGA’s bid to host the First African Regional Summit and Exhibition in Visual Arts (ARESUVA) in September 2008?” There was also searchlight on the concepts, the artists and the works.
From the first presenter, Uwazuoke who took an overview of the Dak’Art 2008, to Silva’s thumb down of the organisers of the main event and Unabuife’s similar position that faulted its lack of curatorial format, one got the feeling that the Senegalese organisers ran out of steam.
This feeling became more glaring when later, Silva, a well known who was a member of the curatorial team of the previous event, Dak’Art 2006 disclosed that the 2008 edition was nearly shelved as a result of Senegal’s political class’ indisposition towards the event.
From the point of view of a gallery operator, Ohiomokhare believed that the Nigeria outing should have been better. “Maybe because it was an OFF, I think it could be better,” he argued.
For Onipede who disclosed that he was at Dak’Art for the first time, art, he noted, was everywhere in Dakar and commended the level of public awareness by the organisers. A biennial, he stressed, remains a dream for most artists here. “Biennial is a dream most of us want for Nigeria. Sad that we have look up to smaller nations in Africa for direction.”
The leader of the NGA contingent to the event, Tandoh explained that the Naija show was organised because of the NGA's dissatisfaction with a one artist representation of the country in the MAIN event. At this point of the review, it was time for questions and comments from the audience, one thought. But the format was different as all the questions put to each of the discussants came from the moderator.
Perhaps the forum needed to probe more into the lack of curatorial format of the 2008 edition. Azeez asked Silva to share her 2006 experience with the house.
Explaining that the 2006 edition had curators selected across the continent which provided a level playing field in choosing artists who make the main event, Silva argued that the just concluded edition which “had Germans as curators of African contemporary art was problematic.”
Though the forum could gain something in deliberating on what went wrong or right in the main event of the Dak’Art, but the AICA-organised review, at a stage, appeared to be dwelling so much on a biennial that is fundamentally defective, yet pretends to be pan-African. But for lack of stronger gathering of artists on the continent, the Senegal event has been elevated – mostly by adventurous outsiders such as Nigerian participants – beyond the imagination of even the Senegalese organisers. Usually the posture, sometimes arrogance of the organisers suggest that they owe nobody any explanation that Dak’Art is a Francophone business.
As time was running out on the review, one suspected that ARESUVA, the nation’s biggest art project, which is coming shortly would get little attention, even though this was part of the agenda of the day.
Aside Musa’s mentioning of ARESUVA during his explanation on NGA’s ultimate purpose of going to Dakar, the review lost the opportunity to probe into the preparedness of NGA for an event that has no model anywhere in Africa.
From several questions the moderator threw at the discussants, non afforded the house an opportunity to make input into ARESUVA. Two questions directly brought up the country’s appraisal of its participation in Dakar. While one, directed at Tandoh was on the NGA’s criteria for selection of artists for the OFF event, the other at Ohiomokhare wanted the curator of Quintessence Gallery, Falomo to explain how the works of the NGA-sponsored artists represented the prospects in Nigerian art.
Given a three weeks period that NGA had to get the event organised, Tandoh explained, there was no time for formal selection of artists.
Ohiomokhare, while noting that the works presented were not good enough compared with works of the other OFF events in Dakar, argued that three weeks was not too short to organise a good exhibition. “That was not a good excuse,” he faulted Tandoh’s position.
But the president of AGAN, Frank Okonta, Silva, Dr. Kunle Filani and Soni Irabor disagreed with Ohiomokhare.
Okonta while narrating his experience based on his interaction with visitors during the Dak’Art event said, “Nigeria made an incredible impact.”
Filani in his own contribution stated that the NGA-sponsored event was “one debut that must be encouraged,” noting that the rest of Africans are afraid of the intellectual and artistic ability of Nigerian artists.
Silva who said NGA contacted her in January to curate the exhibition, but couldn’t take part, also gave kudos to the agency for coming up with the quality of presentation within the time frame they had to work with.
Irabor who did not hide his emotions in disagreeing with Ohiomohkale and any other person in the curator’s line of thought cautioned that destructive criticism would not move the art anywhere.