Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja

No doubt, Abuja lacks a thriving art scene. So enter Retro Africa, a contemporary art platform, to create a community of art enthusiasts, curators and collectors for emerging and established artists to showcase their talents.

The platform, in collaboration with Enigma Art Collective, recently organised an exhibition in Abuja with the theme, “Africa Modernism”. The exhibition’s offerings seek to transcend its title through questioning the inspiration and drive behind the contemporary African artist today. From the abstract to the realist, the platform hopes to either delineate or shatter the boundary between the traditional and the contemporary.

To achieve this, a range of creative outlets such as‎ pop-up exhibitions, art fairs, intercultural dialogues and an online medium have been put in place. Retro African aim is to spread awareness and encourage a cycle of growth and learning within the African art scene.

Arts lovers, who graced the occasion, were not disappointed. This is because the offerings collectively captured the central theme of the exhibition.
Eighteen artists were in attendance when the show opened on September 16. The exhibition hall offered an outlet for self-expression, but more importantly provided an opportunity to support young artists.

Participating artists included: Alimi Adewale, Joe Essien, Joseph Eze, Anthea Epelle, Anthonia Nneji, Bob-Nosa Uwagboe, Khenye Gager, Chika Idu, Chukz Oknokwo, Terna Iwar, Tolu Aliki, Tyna Adebowale, Emeka Ilechukwu, Frank Enebeli, Duke Asidere, Uchay Joel Chima, and Karen Gager.
Ironically, the co-founder of Retro Africa, Ms Dolapo Kola-Balogun, a graduate of Kings College, London, but studied politics, religion and society who never studied art. Buoyed by her passion to showcase African art, she co-founded the platform.

“I’m not an artist myself but I have passion and love for particularly for African art,” she said. “That was basically the inspiration behind my joining the platform and co-founding it with my colleague. Abdul and I started this platform basically because we wanted it to be network of galleries, art lovers, curators, basically a community for those who have interest in arts, but also those who are willing to showcase their talents.

“We realised that there was a necessity to have a thriving art scene in Abuja that we thought was lacking. And so, we talk to artists all over the country. Also we have a Sierra Leonean artist, basically to show that our reach goes beyond just Nigeria, it extends towards Africa. We are open to all art of stylistic forms of arts. Here, we display photography, mixed media, abstract, realism. We even have a live piece. We are basically trying to be the thread that pulls all of these different media together into one.”

She said, though the art scene in Nigeria is thriving, the need for more platforms unveiling talents in Nigeria is imperative, and Retro Africa is poised to fill that vacuum.

“The art scene in Nigeria is thriving. It is already established. If you go to Lagos, if you go to Jos you see there are a lot of artist that are already being displayed abroad and at home. So, I feel like the art scene is not lacking in any way, I just feel like there is need to [have] more platforms that are looking to basically unveil the talents that we already have. My assessment is that, in Abuja, there are a lot of talents, but not enough platforms to showcase [them]. There are a lot of struggling artists, they don’t have the platform, they don’t have the resources, they don’t have the capability to showcase what really they can do. So, that’s what Retro Africa is about, we did that assessment and we saw that there was basically a vacuum and we are willing to fill that vacuum.”

She believes that Lagos-based artists thrive because of the emphasis on collaboration, as nothing can be achieved in the art industry in isolation. Retro Africa aims to be an international network. The platform will be collaborating with a South African artist next year, and also will be looking to do a show-case in South Korea this year or next year. “We want to also have an exhibition in Lagos. Our aim is that anytime anybody calls us we are willing to respond.”
One of the works at the exhibition is a photograph, titled “The Albino Concept”. It is by Karen Gager. It engages the concept of prejudice against people who may look different on account of their skin colour.

The second piece is about the Herero and Namaqua genocide of the early 20th century Namibia. “I brought a life model. It is like I plucked them from their place and brought them here, so you can go and meet the person and say where you are from, what is this about, what your history is. The way you meet somebody in a show is the way I want you to meet my art.

You know when you see a painting, it can’t speak. But when you have a live model it can speak to you as well and you will have a different kind of interaction with the work. It is not just [about] looking, it is holistic experience. You are seeing, you can touch the fabric, you can read about it, everything at the same time, not just looking.”