Olufunke Adepuji

Late last year, the Cultural Arts of Waco in Texas, USA, decided to hold an annual competition of African crafts in Nigeria for the benefit of Nigerian artists. This competition was designed to be an annual event, during which the top three winners would be issued with certificates. Also, artists who made the shortlist were to receive certificates of participation while the overall first-prize-winner would get an all-expenses-paid trip to Waco to participate in the city’s main cultural festival, a major event which holds annually and enjoys a mass regional appeal.

In addition, works on the shortlist of the competition would be exhibited as a culmination of the competition process in Nigeria.

On Tuesday August 1, an exhibition featuring the works of the artists on the shortlist during the first edition of the programme was opened at the Yusuf Grillo Hall, Yaba College of Technology, Lagos. It was attended by a large enthusiastic audience comprising of some major Nigerian artists and staff and students of the School of Art, Design and Printing of the college.

Since one of the objectives of the exercise was to provide a platform especially for, but not exclusive to, younger studio artists, the choice of the venue for the exhibition could not have been more appropriate.

Among the leading artists in attendance were Adeola Balogun, Hamidu Ibrahim, Kehinde Sanwo and Sam Ovraiti (who also served as judges) with Ato Arinze, Aderinsoye Aladegbohungbe, Festus Akindolie and Tony Emodi.

The show was opened by Dr. Kunle Adeyemi, a prominent artist and art historian who is currently the Dean of the School of Art, Design and Printing. In his opening speech, he thanked the main sponsors of the programme, Cultural Arts Waco, and their president Doreen Ravenscoft as well as the national organisers of the competition, Back Page Productions, a multimedia (publishing and film-making) company based in Ikeja, Lagos. He hoped that the cooperation between the institution and Waco would grow and that many more artists would participate in the competition next year
According to Dapo Adeniyi, the Back Page Productions’ managing director, one of his own missions is to capture space and opportunities for workers in arts and culture. He also said the programme stemmed from a long-abiding belief in Africa by the main organisers in Texas and the possibilities that the continent embodies. He also thanked the artists for their enthusiastic response and the hard work that went into the preparation of the works submitted for the competition and thanked Doreen Ravenscroft and other team members back in Texas that include Sandi Horton and Vivian van Gorder.

The original plan was for the leadership of the cultural centre in Waco to be present at the exhibition but other competing engagements made it impossible at the last moments. They, however, regretted not being able to attend this inaugural edition. Hopefully, they would be present in 2018.

Adeola Balogun, who spoke for the judges, said it was a very hard task choosing the top winner. The quality of the submissions were so high and so intense. Monsuru Alashe emerged the overall winner because of the added criteria such as originality and resourcefulness in the employment of innovative media.

The second place went to Enitan Raji whose mixed media works were especially captivating. The third position was won by Ibrahim Afegbua a sculptor specialising in wrought wire. One of his works is used as the visual for the exhibition poster.

Other artists on the shortlist whose works are being exhibited are Akinrinola Hamed Abiodun, Djaku Kassi Nathalie (Lagos-based, Cameroon-born ceramist), Sotonye Jombo, Kessa Babatunde and Eni Bassey. The exhibition was on until Tuesday, August 15 of August.

Meanwhile, Monsuru Alashe who leaves for Waco in October will be a guest artist at the Waco Cultural Festival where he will show his works, hold workshops and interact with audiences from all over Texas.

The annual theme and the emphasis for the competition is “Telling African Stories”. Waco Cultural Arts, in a statement, explained that they desire African artists to tell Africa’s own stories.