The year 2016 will be remembered for cultural arousals, controversies and indefatigable creative energy, writes Yinka Olatunbosun
The echo cannot be louder: Nigeria is diversifying into creative economy as the next major revenue-earner. For this reason, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed initiated town hall meetings and conversations around building a larger-than-life industry that- will compete with the extractive industry.
But what does the Nigerian art and culture sector have to offer the world? The year 2016 was replete with the answers to this question as Nigerian creative ideas delivered with ingenuity and resilience a parade of Nigerian art in spite of the biting effects of economic recession. In no particular order, here is a retrospective account of the unforgettable moments in art and culture for 2016.
One of the most brilliant creative ideas of the year is ARTX, initiated by Tokini Peterside. The debut international art fair in Lagos which lasted for three days in November was a huge success in terms of attendance and organisation. Fourteen galleries and select individual artists of international repute showcased eclectic pieces in visual and media arts while artists’ talks featured the University of Nigeria, Nsukka-based art professor emeritus El-Anatsui and the priceless painter, Bruce Onobrakpeya.
Still on the visual arts, the Life in My City Art Festival and competition (LIMCAF) held its 10th anniversary celebrations at a new venue in Enugu. This year, the annual visual arts event – which has the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe, as its patron and Elder K.U. Kalu as its chairman – was able to attract the Honeywell and FBN Holdings chairman Chief Oba Otudeko to its grand premiere. Also at its grand premiere were the Enugu State Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and Professor El- Anatsui.
The Arthouse Contemporary Limited successfully held its bi-annual auctions at The Wheatbaker Hotel in Ikoyi, Lagos. This was in addition to an affordable at the Kia Showroom in Victoria Island, Lagos.
In performing art, Lekki got a new theatre space in Theatre Republic which was opened in the last quarter of the year to the public. In spite of its size deficiency, the building has been designed to accommodate art administrative offices, artists in residence and trainees. It is managed by Wole Oguntokun, a trained lawyer and practising theatre artist.
For Nigerian television, Funke Akindele’s Jenifa’s Diary was an addiction for many viewers of the television series, which was first broadcast on the digital network but is currently broadcast on terrestrial television as well as online channels. The series is star-studded, with each episode ended at a well-timed climax. Jenifa’s Diary is a comedy around the character of a crude Yoruba lady in search of success in Lagos. The plot is woven around themes of global relevance such as human trafficking, love, fraud, prostitution, drug abuse and survival. Also, the MTN Project Fame season nine sustained its tempo for being one of the most sought after music competition while giving its platform free for “an enthusiastic wannabe” in one of the elimination nights.
The British Council held the biggest theatre festival in Lagos that brought many theatre companies together. What is most instructive about this festival is the use of space. Many parts of Freedom Park were transformed into acting arena as no fewer than six performances took place simultaneously on a daily basis at the venue.
Dancers seemed to have migrated gradually from the Shoki to dab dance. The trend became very popular especially at curtain calls in many dramatic performances. It is competing with the new Bugatti dance but the dab is internationally recognised as a celebratory dance which gained popularity among soccer stars and hip hop artists.
Wakaa the Musical, produced by Bolanle Austen-Peters Production, was staged in Shaw Theatre, West London making it a major cultural export of the year for Nigeria. The show enjoyed many international as well as critical reviews as the Minister of Information was among the audience at its London Premiere. The same production company launched its first movie, 93 Days, which is based on the recent history of Ebola Viral Disease in Africa’s most populous city, Lagos.
The MUSON festival continued its bigger and more inclusive run this year before a growing audience. Ditto the two-day Lagos Jazz Series, which held at the Muri Okunola Park in Victoria Island, Lagos and the Moorhouse Sofitel Hotel in Ikoyi.
One of the most disconcerting moments of the year was the demolition of some parts of the Artists’ Village at the National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos. In the wake of the Minister’s plans to remove the shanties that hide criminals around the Ijora axis, some pre-emptive bulldozers launched their sharp teeth into the earth, destroying art works, dance and art studios leaving a sculptor, Smart Ovwie, injured with a bullet shot from an angry police man. He was refused treatment at the hospital as he could not obtain a police report as required by the law. This led to a meeting convened by the Nobel Laureate Professor Wole Soyinka to condemn the cycle of impunity that follows police brutality and mass demolition and dislocation of people from their comfort zones. The Minister of Information waded into the matter quickly to calm the angry artists who were about to lead a massive protest into the busy streets of Lagos, with a promise to rebuild the village and support artists who have contributed to Nigeria’s glory beyond our shores.
The controversial performance artist, Jelili Atiku, was arrested after performing in Ejigbo with fliers that point accusing fingers at the community head. The call to release Atiku was ignored by the Nigeria Police and he was charged to court on a four-count criminal charge including felony, causing an outrage in the art community. He has since been released following a favourable court judgment in Lagos.
Likewise, controversy crossed border as an artist from the Republic of Benin, Imorou Sanda accused Signature Gallery, Ikoyi of publishing his work in an auction brochure without his permission and altering one of his paintings with the imposing of lizards. He claimed that the gallery had not fully paid him for the work in question and THISDAY investigated the matter, examining the legal implication of artist-gallery owner transaction. Chief Rahman Akar who owns the gallery refuted the claim and promised to appear at the Citizens’ Mediation Centre where the matter was being resolved. In the latest finding, Sanda had been recruited by Quintessence Gallery and his works were part of the displayed works at the ARTX Lagos.
In the second quarter of the year, the National Summit on Arts, Culture and Tourism was convened in Abuja to reposition the sector as Nigeria’s next pot of gold. Artists, policy makers, ex-governors, ex-ministers and other stake holders converged on the Transcorp Hilton for three days as they charted a new path for the wheels of progress.
One great shock for writers came when the well-decorated musical legend, Bob Dylan, was honoured with a Nobel Prize in Literature for his lyrics. Many argued that it was not a sign of good judgment to elevate this genre of art over the conventional literary writing. This initiated arguments and counter-arguments with a view to rethinking what qualifies to be called literature. It was one of the issues raised at the Lagos Book and Art festival in November.
Felabration, an annual posthumous celebration of the Afrobeat musician, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti took place as usual in Lagos, activating debates and musical performances in the week-long event. Although no foreign artist was invited this year due to paucity of funds, Felabration retained its place in Nigeria’s cultural calendar and has recently won one of the best festivals in the world. The annual music concert offers employment opportunities for thousands of people while boosting the city’s tourism potential. Same goes for Africa Meets Reggae, a day music concert initiated by Victor Essiet of The Mandators’ fame. Like many music concerts of the year, the concert experienced shrunken audience but set a record for secured venue, well-arranged seating area for the audience with affinity for young and talented artists. Though Ras Kimono, Orits Wiliki and Majek Fashek, the reggae revolutionary who checked into a rehab earlier in the year were not at the last edition, the presence of Seyi Shay, Malaika and Nkulee Dube made up for their absence.
Sax Appeal, organised by Mike Aremu made good its promise to bring the African-American soul musician, India Arie to Lagos. Arie praised Nigeria for her wealth of brilliant artists and unwittingly prolonged her performance for the sake of her pocket-size fans who sang the lyrics of her songs along with her at the concert.
Wizkid, Nigeria’s famed afro-pop artist earned his first Grammy Nomination after winning big at the MTV Africa Music Awards. It came as no surprise at all to those who have critically reviewed his songs. He is the first home grown Nigerian artist to entire the Album of the Year category with a collaborative work done with Drake in “Views”.
The IRep documentary film festival was one of the first cultural highlights of the year that include workshops and film screenings. But the euphoria of the festival had since been lost on film buffs, who are currently moving in throngs to the cinema to see the historical movie titled ‘76, produced by Adonaijah Owiriwa and Izu Ojukwu with the latter as the director. It stars in the lead roles Ramsey Nouah, Chidi Mokeme, Rita Dominic and Ibinabo Fiberesima.
The film culture in Lagos was given another twist with the homecoming of Newton Aduaka, a Nigerian based in England who screened his award-winning movie, Ezra for the first time in Nigeria at the Nigerian Film Institute, Ikoyi. Also, the Toronto of The Wedding Party at the Toronto International Film Festival is good indication for the movie industry in Nigeria as having great international impact on international cinema. The glamorous movie, directed by Kemi Adetiba, later premiered in Lagos before the Nigerian society’s crème de la crème, is star-studded and is based on the theme of love and infidelity. In terms of solid thematic structure, Nollywood is gradually shifting towards balancing glamour with message.
The Lagos at 50 celebrations provided a platform for masquerade displays, discourses and cultural reverberations. Held at strategic cultural locations in Lagos including the Glover Hall, the arts and culture community used the event as canvas for painting other cultural events such as stage plays, film screenings as well as the “Vision of the Child” art competition targeted at primary school-age children who are passionate about art and writing.
Public spaces were given a facelift with the annual photography festival titled, “Lagos Photo’’ organised by the African Artists’ Foundation and sponsored by Etisalat. The event remains the largest for photography and this year’s edition featured the best of African photo artistry. The best thing that happened to Lagos Photo was the presence of Jonathan Mannion in Lagos. The legendary hip hop photographer who had worked with the likes of Jay-Z was on a tour to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of his career.
The Abuja Carnival was held at the Federal Capital Territory against the odds of logistics and state funding with Kogi State emerging the best overall state. The carnival featured contemporary dances, three-day music concert, boat regatta, children fiesta, masquerade display and durbar performances. The international carnival remains rooted in fostering national and global unity, projecting Nigeria as a tourism destination while creating value for Nigeria’s creative industry.
Finally, the year witnessed the shocking demise of great artists such as the octogenarian actress, Bukky Ajayi; the playwright and scholar, Elechi Amadi, Henrietta Kosoko, Festus Aguebor, , Elder Maya Martins Njubuigbo, as well as upcoming actors such as Fred Ekata Isiaka Adewale Najeem and Abdul Lateef Ashimiyu. It was also a year that witnessed the demise of art patrons like Sammy Olagbaju and Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi.