Against all odds, the annual Life in My City Art Festival (called LIMCAF) chalked up a successful 10th anniversary outing in Enugu recently. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports

It just had to be Mayrose Onyinye Ezennia’s “Bleeding Rose”. The work, contrived with threads and nails on board, clinched this festival’s overall prize worth N500, 000. A going-over of the exhibits alone would have been enough for any discerning mind to choose it as the winning work.

Finally, the Life in My City Art Festival huffed and puffed into its 10th edition. All thanks to the efforts that preceded the breasting of this landmark edition’s tape. The head of the festival’s competition’s jury, Dr Peju Olayiwola, aptly chalked it all up to one word: commitment. This was at the festival’s gala and grand awards night at the Institute of Management and Technology’s International Conference Centre on Saturday, October 29.

She had, in her remarks, lauded the “commitment to art and culture shown by the board of trustees, the organising committee, the patron of LIMCAF, the Obi of Onitsha and members of the LIMCAF family…” while sensing “the possibilities that exist in the private sector and the strength in fostering partnerships with one another”.

Hailing the festival as “a shining example to all”, the University of Lagos-based academic also acknowledged the efforts of the sponsors for providing “a wide range of prizes” and those of “the esteemed members of the fourth estate of the realm who continually spread word about this great event.”

Close up on this year’s competition. Guided by the theme “Riches Within”, the jurors sifted their “selections from 94 entries from all the geopolitical zones of Nigeria comprising relief sculptures, sculptures in the round, textiles, paintings, photography, installations and ceramics,” Professor Laywola explained.

“I must confess that the artists gave us some real good work to do in selecting the winners for this year’s event. My co jurors have worked very hard in the past few days- Prof Muazu Sani, ABU, Dr Kenny Badaru, Ike Francis, and the Cultural Attaché of the French Embassy, Mr Aurelien Sennacherib. The standard of entries for this year is very high and I can confidently say that like new wine, it gets better each year.”
Her appraisal of the entries is not unusual for competitions like this. There were good entries that skirted around the theme but did not address it.

The festival’s chairman, Elder K.U. Kalu, who the previous night had hosted participants to a buffet dinner in the garden of his private residence, said that “these ten years have been like a ride on roller coaster stretches of good years and not so good years, anxious years and years of devising answers to tricky logistic and funding challenges all of which make it all so worthwhile.”

Hence, Dr Layiwola’s optimism that this annual event will, by the special grace of the Most High, “continue to grow from strength to strength” is premised on the overwhelming goodwill that has trailed it from its inception. Take this year, for instance. It has been able to add the Lagos-based business mogul Dr Oba Otudeko, who is both the chairman of Honeywell Group, Bharti Airtel and First Bank of Nigeria, PLC, to its ranks of eminent attendees.

Prominent in this rank is the Obi of Onitisha, Nnaemeka Achebe and the Enugu State governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, personally graced the occasion and toured the exhibition in the company of the French Consul-General Laurent Polonceaux shortly before the festival’s official opening.
Dr Otudeko believes that the festival, which has come to be known by its acronym LIMCAF, “will surely continue and grow the tradition of vibrant interest in art and culture for which Enugu was very famous in the past.”

Indeed, informed prognoses hint at an upward trend in its narrative chart. This is despite the reprises of difficulties trailing each edition. Dr Otudeko’s allusion in his remarks to the plummeting fortunes of Nigeria’s oil revenue made a case for events like LIMCAF. “There are many examples from other parts of the world that indicate that fully developed art tourism industries have contributed to economic growth and development,” he said, citing the Paris-based Louvre Museum and Gallery, which hosts over 9 million visitors a year. “Can anyone imagine the economic impact of that? If yes, than can we also imagine the economic possibilities from a fully developed art tourism industry in Nigeria, which would include festivals such as this?”

Of course, as the business mogul aptly pointed out, there are also the economic ripple effects like promoting careers and empowering young people as well as aiding the prosperity of the business activities around the sector. “The potential I see here also is that festivals like this are great examples of the many prospective areas of growing our economy, and also recreating and consolidating our past through visual history, strengthening cultural understanding and national cohesion. I am told, for example that there are 11 centres across the country where mini exhibition entries are held before the final grand exhibition here in Enugu.”
Back to the competition, Ms Ezennia was joined in the podium of fame by Michael Onyekachukwu Okoye, Chinedu Lucky Izundu and Taofeek Abiodun Badru as the winners of the N250, 000 prizes for the Best Painting/Mixed Media/ Drawing, Best Sculpture/Installation/Ceramics and Best Textile Art, respectively.

There were also John Samuel Nnorom (Justice Anthony Aniagolu Prize for originality worth N100, 000), Samuel Ilori (Dr Pius Okigbo Prize for Technical Proficiency worth N150,000), Ibrahim Afegbua (CCA Lagos Prize for Best Lagos Entry orth N100,000), Emmanuel Otobong Usoro (Mfon Usoro Prize for the Best Uyo/ Calabar Entry worth N200,000), Adeshina Adeodu (Mfon Usoro Prize for the Best Uyo/ Calabar Entry worth N200,000), Henry Alohan (Thought Pyramid Prize for the best Auchi/ Benin/ Delta Entry worth N100,000), Kingsley Ifeanyichukwu Ayogu (Enugu Art Council for Experimentation worth N30,000), Valentine Izuchukwu Ani (Vin Martin Ilo Prize for Best Enugu Entry worth N50,000), Samson Ejiofor (Art is Everywhere prize worth N50,000), Emmanuel C. Brendan (Most Prominent Young artist), Bede Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (French Embassy Prize) and Folashade Rashidat Ibrahim (Oyekola Prize for the Best Ibadan Entry worth N50,000) as well as the ten consolation prize winners: John Olawale Ojo, Jachimike Henry Nwasogwa, Ibrahim Babatunde Babalola, Ismail Babalola, Joshua Aondona Avav, Ebute Jonathan Okewu, Abimbola Oladipupo Akolade, Israel Ayodamola Fatola and Elizabeth Chioma Ekpetorson.

The festival’s growing acceptance among the art cognoscenti gives its adept devotees another reason to remain optimistic. Besides the presence of the jurors like the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria-based Professor Sani Muazu, Federal College of Education, Abeokuta-based Dr Kenny Badaru and the University of Port Harcourt-based Ike Francis as jurors, the event was also graced by the Centre Contemporary Art, Lagos’s Bisi Silva, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka professor emeritus El Anatsui, Enugu-based artists like Bona Ezeudu and Obiora Anidi, Andy Okoroafor, the Cultural Attaché of the French Embassy, Aurelien Sennacherib as well as the University of Nigeria, Nsukka-based Dr Krydz Ikwuemesi, among others.

Yet another reason is the personal attendance of Governor Ugwuanyi as the first chief executive of Enugu State to personally grace the grand awards and gala night. The governor “not only granted us the privilege of a courtesy call on him at our very first asking but also promised support in these very difficult times for the State and has now followed it up by being here to see things for himself,” Elder Kalu disclosed.
“No less encouraging and heart-warming is the highly significant hand of friendship extended to LIMCAF and the people of Enugu and the South East from West of the Niger by the very distinguished presence of the Chairman of this very significant anniversary, in the person of Chief Oba Otudeko, Founder and Chairman of the Honeywell Group of Companies.”

Elder Kalu also commended the sponsors of this year’s top prizes Professor El Anatsui and Engr. Gesi Asamaowei, Managing Director PELFACO Ltd.
He also commended “other supporters and donors … members of the Board and the Organising Committee and of course to our Founder Chief Robert Oji and particularly our Patron, Agbogidi, Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe, Obi of Onitsha” for their “unbelievable sacrifices of time and resources”.