A 2017 painting titled 'Entangled' by Olufemi Arogundade
In the increasingly competitive Lagos art space, most young artists are always stranded at the crossroads of art appreciation. But Olufemi Arogundade, who came into the world of art from architecture background, would not accept the traditional rules of the established galleries in Lagos. After several frustrating attempts at pushing his art onto the city's mainstream market space, Arogundade chose to take the battle ofsurvival straight into the realm of the city's art business. The result is a moderate one-floor space, Zarnellia Art Gallery, Lekki Phase-1.
Why should serene choice area like Lekki Phase-1 be the place to set up a new art gallery business? In reality, the Lekki Phase-1 Estate seems to have lost its exclusive residential status, as Arogundade's art business adds to quite a number of other commercial spaces, even on the same street. For Zarnellia, it's not exactly an unfamiliar terrain in art business. Across on the other side of the main express is Nike Art Centre, a five-year-old facility with commercial art gallery as its main focus.
But the new art space is cutting its own niche from the traumatic experience of his founder. On the walls of Zarnellia are unknown, but fresh names of young artists whose skills - in styles and techniques - exude prospect in art appreciation. Interestingly, Arogundade's eclectic styles, perhaps reflecting his experimental art periods, add to the rich variety of displays on the walls. Among such works of his are set of series, which he says reflect how he thinks Lagos has changed since he left the city eight years ago.
"These series are all about my reconnection with Nigeria after eight years," he said, noting that "I realised that everybody has changed on my return."
Whatever he perceived as change would not, however, slow him down. In fact, his art skill got him "a job as art director for the movie titled Sisterly.” And being the artist behind the art content direction of Sisterly appeared to have given him quite a fortune to confront the Lagos art establishment.
"I made enough money from the movie to get the gallery set up," he stated.
As an artist-gallerist, who has identified an area of strength in showing young artists, there seems to be genres and by-products of art up Arogundade's sleeves. From the first quarter of 2018, for example, "showing photography," he discloses, "is the focus of the gallery in January." And the by-products of selling art, which Zarnellia engages include "teaching art to young and adults enthusiasts" saying, "we offer art tutorials such as life drawing for adults, expressive acrylic and watercolour classes for kids (age 3-12) and art history through practice for young teens and adults."
Some of the artists showing at the gallery, he explains, support the art tutorials as resource persons.
Zarnellia, a wing of two duplex facility, but ‘remodelled’ to generate art space, is actually still evolving despite what looks like segmented rooms based on thematic renditions and categories of works on display.
"And by next year (2018), the space will change further," he assures.
While in search of brand identity, an emotional, motherly - attachment came to mind and which generated the name of the gallery. Arogundade recalls that Zarnellia was the name of his mother's rested interior design showroom.
“I wanted to carry on this name as the next generation and revive the brand," he enthused.
Between interior design showroom and art gallery, there exists a thin line. However, setting up a gallery at the time when the Lagos art space is sprouting new ideas and fresh artists, no doubt, suggest increasing prospect in the city's art market.
"Art market in Lagos is already big," Arogundade, who holds a Bachelor and Master degrees in two areas of architecture, concedes. But one's experience, over the decades, has shown that ‘big’ is relative in the context of art appreciation. Apart from showing young artists, Arogundade, 25, seems to know which direction to focus, particularly in generating patronage for fresh collection on the walls at Zarnellia. In this context, he has his architecture background on which to build the gallery's art patronage.
"We are trying to reach out to a lot of interior galleries and construction people," he enthuses. "We are also reaching out to a lot of young collectors." In fact, his hope lies on what he describes as: "Young collectors investing in young artists is the way to go."
Perhaps, one of the two youngest art gallerists under 30 in Lagos, Arogundade warns that if the market must expand, art business should not be the exclusive preserve of the established professionals, noting, "I am like the youngest in the gallery business in Lagos, which is encouraging. More young Nigerians with passion are welcome on board."
To strengthen the gallery's concept of 'young investors’ buying young artists’ works, "there is a new exhibition every month for artists to have strong platform."
Artists of Zarnellia are no doubt of fresh signatures: Akintomide Okanbi, Awobusoyi Yomi, Igbinovia Omon Sophia, Nwaneri Queen, Ogbuefi Pascal Tochukwu, Roanna Tella, Senibo Nelson Jaja and Abisola Gbadamosi. Others include Onyekachi Bertha, Opedun Damilola, Madu John, Waring Luc, Opeyemi Mathew, Paul Oke, Ogunsola Tayo, Nneji Anthonia and Obinka Vincent.
Arogundade holds degrees in Interior Architecture from the University of Brighton and Masters in Sustainable Architecture from the University of Portsmouth, both in the U.K. His work experience before setting up Zarnellia includes luxury residential architecture sector as well as group and solo art exhibitions. He was voted best Art Director in the hit show, First Stars, which aired on Ebonylife TV in 2016.