Emergence of more art spaces in Lagos hints at a promising future for artists, Okechukwu Uwaezuoke discovers
T ricky thing, comparing cities! Really, would any of the best Lagos galleries compare to, say, a Tate Modern? Obviously not. Yet, Joseph Gergel’s upbeat take on the Lagos creative scene suggests that it is as “established” as in any global city. The American-born LagosPhoto 2012 coordinator cum co-curator waxed lyrical about the city’s creative “explosion”, which in his opinion, compensates for the near absence of infrastructure.
Rebecca Gebler, his German-born colleague at the African Artists’ Foundation corporate headquarter along Raymond Njoku Street in the Ikoyi neighbourhood of Lagos, seconded this opinion. “It’s not just about the infrastructure,” she explained. “There is so much more about the local art scene that hints at a promising future.”
Galleries – albeit not the typical Western types – seem to be sprouting up in recent times. Gergel described them as “all-business”, observing that artists split their time between self-promotion and their actual studio practice.
Among them is the Lekki-based Watersworth, which also introduces itself as art brokers. “We believe that art is to the soul [what] water is to the body,” said its curator, Chinaza Orji, alluding to the gallery’s name. “This conviction drives us to provide artists, collectors, connoisseurs, critics, historians and all interested persons with unique and innovative platforms to express and interact with art in all dimensions.”
Besides the operations of the gallery section, which is open to the public six days a week (including Sundays), the outfit holds experimental and exploratory art workshops, master and protégé mentorship programmes, an academy for the discovery and development of art talent in children as well as an online art market.
Explaining the art brokerage segment of the outfit’s operations, Orji said: “Art is the crossroads between creativity and capital. We facilitate artistic expressions and capital investments. In the international market, art has done better than the stock exchange in the past ten years. In other words, art is not simply about beauty. Watersworth enables artists, corporate bodies, collectors and investors interact and facilitate beauty as an instrument of producing values, building wealth, accelerating creativity and consolidating treasures. This is what art broking is all about.”
Intent on asserting its presence in the Lagos art circuit, the gallery has lined up a series of awareness-creating activities. One of them was an open-house exhibition, which opened on Friday with a cocktail reception and ends today. Among the artists whose works are featured at this exhibition are Tola Wewe, Bisi fakeye, Bunmi Babatunde, Kelani Abass and Sam Ovraiti.
The idea behind the exhibition, Orji explained, was not just to draw traditional aficionados to its gallery space, but also to attract non-art lovers. “Art is a lifestyle and can fit into our everyday life.”
Watersworth has also lined up a couple of other shows. One of them, titled Return of Ona, celebrates the coming back together of some of the Ona Movement’s leading lights. Another is an art performance show by Jelili Atiku, which holds in October.
Orji, a mechanical engineer, traces her interest in art to her uncle, who used to be a passionate art collector. “He collected pieces from Uche Okeke, Bruce Onobrakpeya and David Dale, amongst works of graduates from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.”
In Victoria Island, Didi Museum makes a comeback to the limelight after its unexplained retreat into obscurity. Its founder, Chief Newton Jibunoh, recently lifted the veil on what the art community should expect from the “born-anew” gallery. “A number of activities are being negotiated such as evening storytelling and poetry, reading, evenings of dance, drama and Jazz, art exhibitions and auction, book reading and reviews as well as lectures and debates for students and patrons of the arts,” he said.
From its modest beginnings, four decades ago, in a small studio in the seaport township of Apapa, the gallery has moved to its present location in the upscale Victoria Island. “In all these years a new art education and awareness has evolved and there was need to further pioneer an architectural and historical monument that will outlive every one of us.”
Didi Museum flaunts an enviable collection of contemporary Nigerian and African art in its gallery section. “We have donations from the main traditional rulers of Nigeria who are the custodians of our historical past. We have collections depicting the various stages of our development. We have collections from students of various art schools as well as collections from countries that owe their past to the African continent, like Brazil, Cuba, the rest of the Caribbean and some parts of North America.”
The gallery recently held a special photography exhibition to herald its reopening. The exhibition, titled Whispers from the Sahara, featured images from Jibunoh’s last desert crossing as documented by the ace photographer, Kelechi Amadi-Obi.
Amadi-Obi was among the quintet of desert enthusiasts, who had accompanied the founder of FADE (Fight Against Desert Encroachment) during that third trans-Saharan expedition.
Chief Jibunoh waxed poetical, as he explained the photography exhibition’s title to an interviewer. “There have been whispers since my first lonely expedition across the Sahara, whispers both in my sleep and in my dreams. Whispers on the disappearing farmland of the people, whispers from the disappearing water resources for the people and whispers on the degradation of the soil. Whispers of disappearing grazing fields, the drought and the famine that has caused so much strife, hunger and poverty...”
A literal stone’s throw from Didi Museum, along the same arterial thoroughfare, stands another gallery called Luminaire run by Mrs Chichi Abba Gana. The gallery, which is basically in interior decoration outfit, is almost its next door neighbour. Displayed tastefully in its pleasant interiors are paintings and sculptures by renowned contemporary Nigerian artists.
These emerging art spaces are joining forces with others like the Nimbus Art Gallery, Terra Kulture, Omenka Gallery, Centre for Contemporary Art, Nkem Gallery, Nike Art Gallery and Quintessence to light up the art scape. Even with their presence, Gergel observed that Nigerian artists lack gallery culture. “They market themselves and put up exhibitions, among other things they do.”