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.