Tayo Fagbule and I have produced for the Foundation for Contemporary and Modern Visual Arts (FCMVA) a Nigeria Art Market Report for the year 2014.
It is available for downloading here or at the website of the Foundation: NAMR 2014
I hope you find it useful.
We are already working on the one for 2015.
THE EARTH AND THE PEOPLE THAT LIVE IN IT
A few weeks ago Ugoma Adegoke asked me whether I could write a brief introduction for the catalogue of Uchay Joel Chima’s new exhibtion. Uchay is an old friend and an artist I respect, so, I agreed happily.
Crafts and ordinary objects, no matter how skilfully executed, are rarely able to communicate with the viewer or user. Instead, with good works of art, it is possible to connect. If the viewer looks and listens attentively to them, she can discover what they quietly say. The more complex and richer the work, the greater its capacity to permit different levels of interpretation and allow multiple readings.
Uchay Joel Chima’s works on canvas might look simple enough at a first glance. Probably, some viewers will be happy with it and not go beyond a superficial reading of them. Those conversant with Uchay’s experimentation over the last 15 years know that there is in them more than a cursory look will tell.
Uchay Chima continues in this exhibition with his untiring effort to explore the possibilities of materials. This has been a constant in his works since he came out of the Institute of Management and Technology in Enugu in 1997 as a fresh graduate. For years, Uchay has used paper, newsprint, ropes, strings, cloth, charcoal, sand and other ordinary materials to look for ways of conveying meaning through his works. His main concerns move around two axes: issues and materials.
Uchay sees his work as a commentary and a vehicle for action on the land and her peoples. As if to prove it, one of the works on display in this exhibition is titled “The Earth and the People that live in it”. This is an apt title for his approach to art creation. Societal and environmental issues pervade and give meaning to his artistic production. These works have a strong formal presence and character, but at the same time, they are rich in embedded narratives.
In this exhibition Uchay presents works of three main types: the “string” paintings, the mixed media, high-relief works and the “string” line drawings. The first two groups of works are familiar territory for him and have been frequently incorporated in the past in Uchay’s oeuvre. The works of the third group, the large size line drawings using strings and threads, are new.
Though in the past he had experimented with small size works –what he calls miniatures- using this medium, it is only with this exhibition that Uchay shows his excellent draughtsmanship and his capacity to create highly expressive works while using such a meagre vehicle as a plain canvas and some yards of string and thread. These works are much lighter in meaning than the other ones but they have a playfulness and freshness that –in their simplicity and economy of means- makes them particularly successful.
For a good numbers of years, Uchay has used strings as a metaphor and a medium for expressing connections, links and ties. As he said referring to them: “I have elected to work with materials that I believe are synonymous with the notions of bonding, togetherness, intimacy and entanglement: strings, ropes and knitting wool. In an era where global upheaval; whether natural, economic or social are the issues of the day – in terms of survival, there is a desperate need for people who can and want to make a positive difference to others”.
These are ambitious aims for anybody, let alone for an artist striving to make artworks that embody some meaning and armed only with his creativity, a canvas, some pigments and a few ordinary materials. This is a truly worthwhile endeavour, and one to which Uchay is applying his not few abilities and talents. It is good to have him back, reminding us that we all play our role in caring for “the Earth and the people that live in it”.
Nsukka’s influence is unmistakable. The best of those who have passed by that Fine Arts Department show a confidence, a focus and an understanding of art within contemporary discourses rarely seen in graduates from other institutions.
A few days ago I had the chance of expending some time with one of them: Ikechukwu Francis Okoronkwo, or Ike Francis, as he prefers to be called. We have known for a good number of years and, when we meet, we always have a good chat. Though he did his first degree in art at Port-Harcourt (1995), the years of his Masters (2001) at Nsukka had a determining influence on his approach to art making and his understanding of the role and place of the artist in society.
Like many others who had the opportunity of listening to and learning from El Anatsui, Chike Aniakor, Ola Oloidi and the rest at Nsukka, his work has been, for years, centred on issues, materials and society. Like a good number of his contemporaries at Nsukka he interested in the use of waste as material for his artistic experimentation. He is now working on a series of works that have as their focal point the Internet and the relations it generates. For almost a decade, he has been using motherboards, circuits and pieces from discarded computers and other electronic devices, incorporating them into two dimensional “pictorial” compositions or -more recently- using them as building blocks for fully three dimensional pieces.
There is big difference between his recent works and the ones I saw at Dak’Art four years ago. Painting on canvas has gradually disappeared and mixed media has almost completely taken over. But his four-piece work, “universal man” still uses pigments, lines and shapes that work as a pictorial vehicle for his concerns about man and society.
Since 2008 Ike is a lecturer at the Fine Arts and Design Department of the University of Port-Harcourt. Presently, he teaches three subjects: painting, drawing and mixed media. Being a lecturer and confronting students on a regular bases forces him to vocalize ideas and articulate thoughts. He is, definitely, quite adept at “explaining” his works, even if, at times, they do not fully succeed in embodying concepts.I say that, at times, they do not succeed, but it is remarkable that, often, they do.
His use of stencilled letters is not as sharp and punchy as in Christopher Wool’s works, but they are able to communicate quite effectively. Few other artists in Nigeria can match him in this approach to art.
Two pieces attracted particularly my attention: “Of Black Mail and Black Boxes”, a work made of three square panels and nine hanging cubes, mostly black with some silvery hues and, especially, his installation titled “Power Tale” made of three polycarbonate boxes containing high relief idealized representations of three cities: New York, Dakar and Lagos.
While the work “Blank mails”, with its references to spam messages and unwanted mails marketing the unmarketable, is a clear and obvious piece, “Of Black Mails and Black Boxes” is a dark one, and not only because of the colour covering the reliefs; the chunks of coal, the barely legible references to fraud emails, the computer circuitry succeed in bringing to mind how technology can also be an instrument for dehumanizing activities. Ike Francis had tried the black charcoal before, but the results had not been so successful. The symbols of letters and numbers –with their rigidity and rationality- have a dominant presence that balances the organic and casual character of the coal, the randomly scattered electronic parts and the other small blocks that fill the piece; and all this, within the constricted confines of small square panels (just 60 x 60 cm). Even without the addition of the hanging cubes, the three panels successfully tell a story.
I asked Ike to tell me more about his interest on the internet and its impact of the lives of peoples the world over. He referred me to something he had written recently: My work is primarily inspired by the changes spurred by computer centered information technologies. Today, the Internet is a cultural tool that has had great impact in the mobility of our global culture. New breakthroughs in information technology have precipitated an unprecedented chain of events. Among these is the mass participation of people in an emerging global culture as mediated through information technology, primarily the Internet. New technologies have generally affected human expressions, including art. Artists seizing the inexhaustible possibilities available in new media continue to create new works reflecting the attitudinal change and shifting paradigms. The world-wide-web and the information disseminating from it have become common sources of inspiration and central agents of change, resulting in the re-negotiation of our global futures. My work sets out to shed light on the appropriations and re contextualizations of used and discarded information technology materials, as metaphor for the fluxes of our present global culture.
The work on which Ike Francis has invested a greater deal of time and emotional input is his installation “Power Tale”. Three glass cubes containing idealized representations of three cities. Each of them with anonymous, repetitive building blocks made of circuitry and each of them with an emblematic building or monument that identifies them: The Statue of Liberty in New York, the Monument to the African Renaissance in Dakar and the National Theatre in Lagos. The three icons stand out among the amorphous city layouts. They work as markers and they have a clear historical and cultural significance within their locations. This is not just pretty formalism. These works talk to the eye, but above all, they talk to the mind. They interpellate the viewer.
Power Tale (detail – NYC)
Ike explains how the Statue of Liberty and the Renaissance monument point upwards, towards the future, while the National Theatre in Lagos, is horizontal, static. The introduction of tiny LED lights adds a new dimension to the work. Those in New York are densely distributed reaching all corners of the box; in Dakar they are more thinly present. In Lagos there are only a few of them and, unlike in the boxes for New York and Dakar, the lights go on and off. This treatment of the problem of unsteady power supply in Lagos might be a little oversimplified, clichéd and literal, but definitely, it works well in this installation as a device to convey meaning without words.
The fact that the works are encased in highly reflective glass boxes multiplies the visual effect and de-materializes the physical components of the piece. In the darkness, the motherboards, circuit panels and electronic junk become something else: skyscrapers, massive building blocks, densely stacked apartment buildings. There is a pervading illusion of perspective and distance. This is a piece that could equally be understood and enjoyed by an untutored child or a detached intellectual. It shows as a toy or a metaphor depending on the onlooker. It admits a multiplicity of readings.
These works will form part of his coming exhibition in Lagos. I am already looking forward to it.
Seven years ago, I was invited for an exhibition at the National Museum, Onikan by an artist unknown to me at that time: Raoul Olawale da Silva. It was a good thing I decided to “risk” and visit the show. Surely, I was not the only one among the visitors that felt excited in front of Raoul’s works. The exhibition goer in Lagos –and there are a few regulars, out there- is rarely confronted with works of such intensity and character. Without knowing the artist, his background or his artistic trajectory I was immediately struck by the works before my eyes.
Just two years ago, when I was exploring some contemporary art collections in Lagos, I visited Agatha da Silva –Raoul’s mother- and was able to see in her house a good number of works left behind by Raoul. This time the experience was more intimate, deeper. These works -some of them uncompleted- were challenging me. I could not remain indifferent in front of them. A couple of months ago, thanks to the good efforts of Sandra Obiago and –of course- Agatha da Silva, we were fortunate to have him back in Lagos -the city he left in 1981, when he was just 12 years old- for another exhibition.
Raoul is a complex and intensely independent artist. His rich personal history is, no doubt, marked by the fact of having a Nigerian father (a Neurosurgeon from a well known Brazilian-Lagosian family) and a Swiss mother. His is a multifaceted creativity finding expression through different media: painting, photography, craftsmanship, music. Perhaps, I should add skateboarding, an activity he considers a true –though ephemeral- form of art. He is passionate about it: “I am street skater for more than 20 years now. Skateboards, boarding is an art and an art form always crossing borders and boundaries, influencing and being influenced, always developing and staying young for the young state of mind. Maybe just like dance or Asian martial arts, it is a most direct and sincere forms of expression”.
It is difficult to fit Raoul’s works into a neat, clearly defined artistic pigeon hole, to associate them to a recognizable name or qualifier. But, perhaps this search for “sincere forms of expression” provides the key to access the paintings, drawings and installations in this exhibition. His works appear as an externalization, an “expression” of a many-sided personal world. And in this process of expressing -of bringing out- inner realities, spontaneity plays a central role. This is the way he explains how he starts a new work: “I start from somewhere deep within almost on a subconscious level letting the canvas or working surface to get stained or “randomly” marked, trusting that there is enough material inside me to work with that will come to show an idea or at least a route I can follow… This process is being repeated over and over till I feel I have something that can evolve into meaning for me. Then I try to transport/transform that aesthetic to a plane where I now sharply observe and act and react to what is going on on the surface and around it. Taking off, scratching off, peeling off paint and then putting on, slapping on, dripping on, brushing on paint till a harmony or dissonance starts to create tension which is a sign that I am on the right path”.
More than 60 years ago, the critic Harold Rosenberg coined the expression “action painting”. He wrote in his well known essay of 1952, “The American action painters”: “At a certain moment the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act — rather than as a space in which to reproduce, redesign, analyse or ‘express’ an object, actual or imagined. What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event. The painter no longer approached his easel with an image in his mind; he went up to it with material in his hand to do something to that other piece of material in front of him. The image would be the result of this encounter”. Rosenberg’s expression “an arena in which to paint”, seems particularly apt to refer to most of Raoul da Silva’s works.
In this exhibition Raoul juxtaposes works produced over a span of ten years (2003-2013). This allows the viewer appreciate the continuity and evolution of his oeuvre. Two formal elements call immediately our attention. First, there has been a progressive increase in the size of the works. The use of larger canvases (some of them over 2.00 meters wide) shows a much more self-confident artist, not afraid to face increasingly challenging works. Second, the “painterly” works of ten years ago, with their blurred contours, broken shapes and overlaid colours, have evolved into pieces in which lines and boundaries are more defined and prominent than in earlier works, when gestural brushstrokes had pre-eminence. The organic, fluid, dream-like creatures have given way to more defined shapes taken from the real world. While some of these older works brought to mind references to Osogbo artists (specially, Twins Seven Seven), or to de Kooning and Pollock, the recent ones are more akin to the explorations of Basquiat, Bacon or Ritcher.
In addition, there is a more subtle development: these new works engage the outside world in a much more distinct and direct way than the older ones. For instance, the insertion of four telephone handsets in one of the 2013 works would have been totally out of place in the ones produced ten years earlier. It seems there is a gradual shift from works emerging from an “inner”, self-referential universe to a messier, more real world.
But despite the development of his artistic identity, Raoul’s works still grow from inside out. Their strength -and they are undoubtedly, strong- continues coming from within. Perhaps, that is the reason why they are so intensely personal. Like with good music, or with dance, the viewer is not encumbered by the demands of meaning, rationality and context. His works need not to be “understood”, but to be enjoyed, letting them tell each of us a different story.
This is an exhibition to enjoy quietly. Raoul da Silva is allowing us a view of a personal, intimate, suggestive world of great formal beauty. This is a privilege rarely available. I am glad not to have missed the opening. The works are on display till August, 15. I might go to see them again.
His web site is www.rods.ch/home.html
The Nigerian art world continues gathering strength and growing in depth.
A vibrant art scene needs many actors: artists, private and institutional collectors, scholars, galleries, art schools, art critics, art historians, curators, auction houses, dealers, Museums and art institutions, publishers, art educators, sponsors, tourists, interior designers, investors… One more piece in this complex structure has just been put in place. A new art magazine, called Omenka, is already available on the stands.
Published by Revilo in association with The Ben Enwonwu Foundation, it is described by its editor as a magazine with “focus on contemporary African art, business and lifestyle… Written for the serious collector, Omenka will provide the latest news and insider intelligence on the African art market including auction reports and art transactions. It will investigate key trends and showcase the artists who drive the industry”. The scope of the project is ambitious –perhaps, over ambitious- for a new publication: it aims at covering not only the Nigerian art scene but to look as well at continental art markets and developments. That’s a tall task. On the other hand, making it initially a quarterly publication will facilitate its sustainability.
Looking at the magazine, the first thing that calls attention is its material quality and great visual appeal. The design, layout and printing are surprisingly good. But the worth of a publication of this type is measured not simply by the glossiness of the paper, the readability of the text, or the sharpness of the images. What differentiates the best from the others is the quality and relevance of the content and the competence and prestige of the contributors. Here, this first issue, also scores high.
The 75 pages of the magazine are organized around seven sections: Editor’s letter, Antennae (art trends and events), Focus (interviews and profiles), Lifestyle, Feature, Market file (art business: auctions, galleries, art as investment), and Reports (reviews, studio visits). The scope is ambitious. Despite the unmistakable focus on the business side of art, the magazine tries to cover a broad ground. Definitely, this is not an academic art journal with heavy historic-critical articles, but this not a shallow publication with news and gossip about art celebrities either.
There is an aspect of Omenka that might worry some readers. By including a section on “lifestyle” and giving it prominence throughout the magazine, there is always a risk of presenting art as one more piece in a “luxury lifestyle”. The generous inclusion of luxury brand adverts does not help in assailing this danger. Perhaps, this is the price a financially viable art magazine for the general public has to pay to remain in business, but the peril of the “commoditisation of art” remains there: portraying art as the ultimate “commodity” to posses in an affluent lifestyle.
Generally, art magazines have one of two main possible focuses: either they are centred on art or they look primarily at the business of art (the art “industry”). Depending on what side readers are, they will be interested on a type of art related magazine or another. A university professor in a department of fine arts will be interested primarily on academic journals and learned peer-review publications. A collector/investor will be more interested on publications that provide in depth information on the art market trends and results. In this respect, Omenka succeeds in having something of interest for a broad spectrum of readers. It is significant that the first issue of the magazine includes, on the one hand, interviews with two serious players in the Nigeria art market, Robert Mbonu, founder of The Art Exchange, a venture set-up to promote art as an alternative asset class and with Giles Peppiat, director of sales for African Contemporary Art at Bonhams. On the other, the magazine includes articles on three artists: Nnenna Okore, Yusuf Grillo and Kelani Abass. In the middle, there are a good number of titbits of useful information.
All in all, Omenka is a valuable and promising contribution to the development and deepening of the Nigerian art world. The challenge is now for the publishers to sustain the initial high level achieved in presentation and content. Taking into account the calibre of those involved in the project, it is not difficult to guess that the next issue, devoted to photography, will maintain the quality of this first one. This, will undoubtedly, benefit the whole art sector in the country and beyond.
I have added a few more books published recently. If you know of better ones, please let me know.
B.A. ADEMULEYA, Akin ONIPEDE & Mike OMOIGHE (ed.) Creative traditions in Nigerian art, Culture and Creative Art forum. Lagos 2003
Cornelius O. ADEPEGBA Nigerian Art. Its traditions and modern tendencies. Ibadan, Nigeria, 1995. JODAD Publishers.
Agbarha-Otor 2000: the 3rd Harmattan Workshop Lagos: Ovuomaroro Studio and Gallery, 2000
Agbarha-Otor 2002: the 4th Harmattan Workshop Lagos: Ovuomaroro Studio and Gallery, 2002
John Tokpabere AGBERIA (ed.) Design History in Nigeria. University of Port Harcourt, 2002, National Gallery of Art and Association of Art Designers.
Chike C. ANIAKOR and C. Krydz IKWUEMESI Crossroads. Africa in the twilight. Lagos: The National gallery of Art 2000
Ulli BEIER Thirty years of Oshogbo art. Bayreuth: Iwalewa-Haus, 1991.
Chukwuemeka BOSAH and George EDOZIE, A celebration of modern Nigerian Art: 101 Nigerian Artists. Ben Bosah Books, 2010.
Jess CASTELLOTE (ed.) Contemporary Nigerian art in Lagos private collections. Ibadan: Bookcraft Publishers, 2012.
Jimoh BURAIMOH My life and Arts. Ibadan 2000, Spectrum Books.
Kevin CARROLL Yoruba religious carving. London 1966, Geoffrey Chapman.
Chinedu C. CHUKUEGGU Contemporary Nigerian Art and its classifications Abraka, Nigeria, 1998. Delsu Consult Publishing House.
G. G. DARAH and Safy QUEL (Ed.) Bruce Onobrakpeya. The spirit in ascent. Ovuomaroro Gallery. Lagos, 1992.
Clémentine DELISS (Ed.) Seven stories about modern art in Africa organized by the Whitechapel Art Gallery; Paris; New York: Flammarion, 1995.
Paul Chike DIKE & Pat OYELOLA The Zaria Art Society: a new consciousness Lagos, 1998. National Gallery of Art, Nigeria
Paul Chike DIKE & Pat OYELOLA Uche Okeke and Modern Nigerian Art Lagos, 2003. National Gallery of Art, Nigeria.
Osa EGONWA African Art: a contemporary source book Benin City, Nigeria, 1994. Osazu Publishers.
Okwui ENWEZOR and Chika OKEKE-AGULU Contemporary African Art since 1980. Damiani, 2010.
Kunle FILANI Patterns of culture in Contemporary Yoruba Art Symphony Books, 2005
Kunle FILANI, A. AZEEZ & A. EMIFONIYE (eds.) Perspectives on Culture and Creativity in Nigerian Art Culture and Creative Art Forum. Lagos, 2003
Kojo FOSU 20th Century Art of Africa Zaria: Gaskiya Corporation, 1986 and Accra: Artist Alliance, 1993.
C. Krydz IKWUEMESI, Ayo ADEWUNMI (Ed.) A discoursive bazaar Enugu: Pan-African Circle of Artists 2001
C. Krydz IKWUEMESI (Ed.) The triumph of a vision: an anthology on Uche Okeke and modern Art in Nigeria Lagos: Pendulum Art Gallery 2003
C. Krydz IKWUEMESI, Emeka AGABAYI (Ed.) The rediscovery of tradtion: Uli and the politics of culture Lagos: Pendulum Centre for Culture and Development 2005
Jean KENNEDY New currents, ancient rivers. Washington, Smithsonian, 1992
Sidney L. KASFIR. Contemporary African Art. London: Thames and Hudson, 1999.
Bernice M. KELLY & Janet L. STANLEY Nigerian Artists. A who’s who and Bibliography. London, New York: Published for the National Museum of African Art Branch, Smithsonian Institution Libraries, Washington, DC, by Hans Zell, 1993
Nkiru NZEGWU Contemporary Textures: Multidimensionality in Nigerian Art Binghamton. The International Society for the Study of Africa (ISSA). 1999
Onyema OFFOEDU-OKEKE Artists of Nigeria . Five Continents, 2012.
Sylvester Okwunodu OGBECHIE Ben Enwonwu, The making of an African modernist . New York, University of Rochester Press, 2008.
Olu OGUIBE Uzo Egonu, an African Artist in the West. London: Kala Press, 1995.
Olu OGUIBE and Okwui ENWEZOR, eds. Reading the Contemporary: African Art from Theory to the Marketplace. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999.
Moyo OKEDIJI African Renaissance / Boulder, Colorado. University Press of Colorado, 2002.
Uche OKEKE Art in development: a Nigerian perspective / edited by Leclair Grier Lambert. Nimo, Anambra State: Documentation Centre, Asele Institute; Minneapolis: African American Cultural Center, 1982.
Bruce ONOBRAKPEYA Sahelian masquerades: artistic experiments, November 1985-August 1988 / edited by Safy Quel. Papa Ajao, Mushin, Lagos: Ovuomaroro Gallery, 1988.
Simon OTTENBERG New Traditions from Nigeria: seven artists of the Nsukka group. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1997.
Simon OTTENBERG (Ed.) The Nsukka Artists and Nigerian Contemporary Art. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2002.
Pat OYELOLA Everyman’s guide to Nigerian art. Lagos. Cultural Division, Federal Ministry of Information, 1976.
Pat OYELOLA Nigerian Artistry. Ibadan, Nigeria, Mosuro Publishers, 2010.
Peter PROBST Osogbo and the Art of Heritage: Monuments, Deities, and Money. Indiana University Press, 2011.
Chris SPRINGAngaza Afrika. African Art Now. London. Laurence king Publishing. 2008.
Grace STANISLAUS (Ed.). Contemporary African Artists: Changing Traditions. New York: The Studio Museum in Harlem. 1990.
S. J. TIMOTHY-ASOBELE Contemporary Nigerian arts and Artists: A modern guide. Lagos. Upper Standard Publications. 1992.
Obiora UDECHUKWU Uli: Traditional Wall Painting and Modern Art from Nigeria Bayreuth: Iwalewa House, 1990.
Susan M. VOGEL Africa Explores: 20th Century African Art. New York, Munich, 1986.
AA. VV. The nucleus: a catalogue of works in the national collection on the inception of the National Gallery of Modern Art . Lagos: Federal Department of Culture, 1981.
More than two years ago I proposed to the Pan-African University to create a virtual museum that would show to the wider public some of the best modern and contemporary art from Nigeria. The idea was accepted and we started working on it. We called it the Pan-African University’s “VIRTUAL MUSEUM OF MODERN NIGERIAN ART”.
With the help of Akinyemi Adetunji, Patrick Enaholo and a few others, in September 2011 we launched the web site (www.pau.edu.ng/museum), within the university’s site. Since then, we have continued working on it. Akinyemi, the Museum’s Assistant Director has done a great job on expanding and deepening the content. We already have more than 800 artworks online!!!
We have now prepared a 2012 REPORT that gives more information on the journey so far. You can read it here: The VMMNA 2012 Report