Image from the previous edition of the National Arts Competition
As tomorrow’s take off of the National Art Competition looms, the African Artists’ Foundation engages two more foreign experts for the programme. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports
“I was surprised that I adapted so easily to life in Lagos.”
The straight-haired American’s voice wafts towards me from his position behind a little desk. Well, isn’t this a fresh angle! Especially, after years of asking foreigners about their first impressions of Lagos and being regaled with numbingly predictable answers.
Still on first impressions, he has also been able to discern the similarities between Lagos and other major cities in the world. First, there’s the traffic. Then, there’s also the fact that the Lagos art scene seems “established.”
And what does the German lady who has just joined us think? She pauses while she mulls over the question. “Could I describe it in three words?” she finally asks.
“Sure, why not?”
“Colourful, lively and fast,” she says. That describes Lagos, right? “Well, maybe the fact that everyone here is trying to make a business. There are possibilities and opportunities in everything, if you have a little bit of creativity in you.”
Lagos, she adds, shares some similarities with Germany’s colourful capital city, Berlin. For one thing, they are both populated by young people. For another, they swarm with a lot of creative people.
He’s Joseph Gergel. And she’s Rebecca Gebler. They are both new faces at the African Artists’ Foundation’s corporate office along Raymond Njoku Street in the Southwest Ikoyi neighbourhood of Lagos. Well, that’s not exactly correct.... Gergel arrived here sometime around the end of June and Gebler arrived here a month earlier. So they have both been here for a while. At least, long enough to have an informed opinion about their new environment.
With antecedents are like chalk and cheese, both will play vital roles in the foundation’s two annual flagship projects – the National Art Competition and the Lagos Photo Festival. This natter is taking place in one of the top floor offices of the African Artists’ Foundation, better known by as AAF.
Gergel enthuses about a kind of “explosion” he has so far perceived in the Lagos art scene. Yeah, it might not be the typical gallery scene in a typical Western city. But one get’s the feel of a vibrant scene. “I think that’s what I find exciting.”
Gebler chips in something about the dearth of infrastructure being of no consequence. That, she thinks, will come. She sees lots positive developments, which hints at a brighter future for the art scene.
She has good reasons for her hopeful prognosis. From tomorrow (July 30) to Saturday, August 4, 12 finalists of the fifth edition of the Nigeria Breweries/African Artists’ Foundation-sponsored National Art Competition will be participating in a retreat. A similar retreat was held for finalists for the first time during the previous edition at a golf resort in the Delta State town of Abraka.
Unlike during the previous editions, the artists were asked to submit their ideas rather than their finished works. The shift of the spotlight, from the end product to the artistic process, is consistent with the AAF’s aims of unearthing talents, creating social awareness and promoting the development of art in Nigeria.
“This year saw a record number of strong, conceptually-driven entries concerning the theme, ‘Consequences’,” says a statement from the AAF office. “After a rigorous deliberation of proposals led by Professor El Anatsui, we are especially excited about the quality of submissions of the 12 finalists.”
This year’s chosen ones are: George Emeka Agbo, Emmanuel Dudu, Chinenye Miriam Emelogu, Joseph Eze, Pris Nzimiro, Francis Umendu Odupute, Zemaye Okediji, Maie Okafor, Folakunle Oshun, Alafuro Sikoki, the duo Papa Omotayo and Folarin Shasanya and the duo Omoligho Omoye Udenta and Affiko Obadina.
“These 12 artists have been chosen to explore the interpretation of the theme, ‘Consequences’ through a variety of mixed media and installation practices,” continues the statement. “While previous National Art Competitions engaged medium-specific approach to selection criteria, this year we wish to embrace a hybridity of artistic disciplines and forms, one that places primary focus on the conceptual threads of the artistic message. Mediums to be included are: sculpture, installation, video art, photography, mixed media, sound art and editorial cartoon.”
The chosen 12 will be involved in workshops by leading artists and scholars as well as interact with other finalists.
The winners of the competitions will emerge during the final exhibition holding in early September. The cash prizes to be won at the ceremony have been allotted as follows: N2 million (for the first prize), N1.5 million (second prize) and N1 million (third prize).
The inclusion of such relatively less-explored mediums as video and sound art as well as the involvement of the revered Professor Anatsui sends out a strong signal about the thrust of this year’s competition. This also explains why over half of the 12 finalists do not belong to the known names of the local art scene.
Perhaps, much of the excitement about this annual art competition buzzes around its rich diversity of expressions. These in turn revolve around the central theme, “Consequences”.
“Consequences necessarily imply a temporal linkage,” explains the press statement. “We do not live in a bubble of our present time; everything is relational. Our present actions are determined by past events, and these actions will in turn have consequences for the future. Consequences can be negative or positive, but they are never clear cut. Consequences are about paradox, contradiction and overall a condition of uncertainty.”
As the workshop for the 12 artists kicks off tomorrow at The White Space, a literal stone’s throw from the AAF office along Raymond Njoku Street, keen followers of the local art scene will be on the lookout for remarkable creations from this rare cross-fertilisations of ideas among creative minds. These creations will provide additional fodder for the optimism of the duo, Gergel and Gebler.