Yinka Olatunbosun

It’s no longer news that the 2016 National Art Competition has come to a close. What a race! At the finishing line, 12 contestants made their mark at the 9th edition of this annual contest, which is a visual feast.

Organised by African Artists’ Foundation and sponsored by the Nigerian Breweries, the quest as usual was for participants to submit their art project to stand the chance of winning in three categories namely, the Outstanding Production, Outstanding Concept and Overall Winner.

After a special retreat for the artists, which took place between October 17 and 19, the artists develop their ideas into concrete forms and are presented to the public for the first time on the evening when the winners are declared. Some participants worked individually while others worked in duo or trio.

It was quite interesting to see a former winner of the competition, Erasmus Onyinshi again in this competition and when he appeared at the grand finale with his students with whom he worked on the art project; one could not help but wonder if he was going to win once more. But the suspense lingered as the disc jockey and his itchy fingers dropped some party tracks and classics that were constantly punctuated by the compere, simply called Larry.

The little garden at the African Artists Foundation building in Victoria Island, Lagos provided the space but certainly not the comfort for a good view of the winners. Art audience is certainly growing in Lagos especially on a special occasion as such.

Soon, the winners were announced amidst clicking of cameras. Atonye Lamie walked through the applause as he was declared the winner of the Outstanding Production for his project, “On a Second Thought’’. A very pleasant surprise was the winner of the Outstanding Concept, named Ayinla Oluwajumoke. She is a young expectant mother who enrolled for the competition with the hope that she might make a good impression on the judges. Her joy at winning was unquantifiable.

“It wasn’t easy,” said the excited winner of N1 million. “Even if I wasn’t an expectant mother, it couldn’t have been any easier. I am not an artist. I work with fabrics and I work with paper. It is a new ground for me. I had never tried this before. I used compact discs and broken mirrors to make Moving Pieces. These pieces reflect colours, giving hope.

I also used it to illustrate the thought that in everything you see a piece of yourself. My friend Damilola Daniel sent the link to me because she knows that I love trying new things. I was discouraged at first because the requirements seemed so long. But one day I just looked into the mirror and I got inspired. So I gave the project a try and I know it is grace that I have won.”

The suspense around the identity of the winner lingered as attention began to shift to an anonymous artist, Black Fart, who arrived at the venue in a black mask. Though he didn’t win in any of the three categories, his unusual presence commanded some attention. Now the overall winner of the N2 million cash prize is the artist, Uzoji Godwin. By any judgment, he had the most interesting piece in “Homelessness, Despair and Hope”, which he assembled carefully using drilled coconut shells. His artist statement was also very lucid, with theme developed around the condition of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)

“I see boundaries as the edges of ones’ comfort zone and any shift in this which is not voluntary, most often result in unpleasant conditions,” he explained. “Hence there is a seeming shelter which cannot shelter one against the elements, the negative spaces created as the coconut shells lay side by side reveals the vulnerability of
the IDPs.”

The winner’s work is very topical as it addresses the harsh social reality in many places ravaged by war and insurgency such as north-eastern part of Nigeria.