A previous stint as a gallery attendant in the old Nimbus Art Centre, Lagos stood Jeff Ajueshi in good stead to establish the Thought Pyramid Art Centre a decade ago in Abuja. This year, the gallery has begun operations in Lagos from a prime location in the South West Ikoyi neighbourhood. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke
Mornings at the Nimbus Art Centre were usually this quiet.
Somewhere at its main exhibition hall, an ebony-complexioned youth, was gesticulating, as he tried so hard to make himself understood to his much older interlocutor. The latter, a standoffish art writer, was obviously in a surly mood that morning. Apparently, the youthâ€™s energy and enthusiasm did little or nothing to lighten it.
Back then, the thriving art gallery was gradually morphing into a cultural centre and was arguably the leading art space in Lagos. It used to occupy a sprawling duplex building, which was in a large compound, opposite the present location of Bogobiri House, along Maitama Sule Street in South West Ikoyi.
The youth, whose name was Jeff Ajueshi, was one of the gallery attendants, employed by the Nimbus Art Galleryâ€™s director and curator, Chike Nwagbogu. Anyone could easily tell from the way his eyes gleamed as he spoke that he was really in his element.
Years later, fate beckoned. This was sometime in 2007. Ajueshi found himself in Abuja. In this Nigeriaâ€™s culturally-sterile capital city, it occurred to him that he could replicate his Nimbus Art Centre experience and personal vision.
Thought Pyramid Art Centre thus emerged from out of the blue and stands proudly in Wuse II, one of Abujaâ€™s trendy neighbourhoods. It had first started in a more modest rented space as Thought Pyramid Gallery before moving into its own purpose-built space eight years later in the same neighbourhood.
At its new two-storey edifice, situated along Libreville Road, the art centre provides training facilities to help budding artists become more proficient.
Thus, this space barged into the art publicâ€™s consciousness as the federal capitalâ€™s art hub. Reports about the visits of such distinguished international personalities as the former German president, Joachim Gauck, to the gallery competed with those of exhibition openings graced by diplomats, local dignitaries and aficionados. It was not surprising, therefore, that it was listed among West Africaâ€™s top ten galleries by howafrica.com.
Shortly before this bold Abuja venture, Ajueshi had established a facility he called FACT â€“ acronym for Foundation for Arts and Creative Training â€“ in his home town Oghara in Delta State. His aim, he said, was to empower the hordes of unemployed youths in the locality.
This probably would explain his relatively recent endowment of two category prizes in the annual Life in My City Art Festival (known as LIMCAF). The prizes, worth N100,000 each, reward the best artists emerging from the Edo/Delta axis and Abuja.
Ajueshiâ€™s venture into the Abuja art scene was as audacious as it was illogical. First, there was the fact that the bulk of the activities in the city swirled around politics. Then, even the handful of its already existing art ventures hardly seemed to be thriving. â€œWe knew that Abuja was not a city in which people were so much interested in the art,â€ the art entrepreneur acknowledged. â€œBut, do not forget that it was not as if the Abuja people had an offer for visual art interface that they turned down.â€
Actually, all it took was a healthy blend of passion and patience for the Abuja venture to pay off. Abuja residents gradually warmed up to visual arts events, thanks to the efforts of Thought Pyramid Art Centre and a miscellany of other art galleries including the National Gallery of Art. â€œI can assure you that in a very short while, Abuja would give Lagos a very stiff competition, in terms of art patronage,â€ Ajueshi enthused.
In addition, promoting art anywhere at a time of a gloomy economic climate was fraught with risks. â€œThat period came as a disaster; it was rough [what] with plummeting home values, sinking stock prices, and frozen credit markets. So, we had to pay more heed to our peculiar risk management principle which I hold dearly to heart. We were able to spot the flip side of risk which is an opportunity for survival. Of course, you know that there is a direct relationship between risk and reward: the greater the potential upside, the greater the risks involved, though not in all cases. We then tried to avoid perfection because it became obvious to us that it would be stupid for us to think that any product, especially artwork, would ever be â€˜finishedâ€™ in the sense that it would make all users completely happy.â€
Thought Pyramid Art Centreâ€™s entrance into the Lagos scene this year was somewhat surreptitious. It had quietly established itself along Norman Williams Street in South West Ikoyi â€“ a stoneâ€™s throw away from where the Nimbus Art Gallery (the precursor of the Nimbus Art Centre) had first started operations and the location where the Mydrim Gallery still operates from. This was happening at a time hardly any member of the Lagos art community seemed to be paying attention.
But soon the galleryâ€™s presence was proclaimed from the rooftops with the well-attended opening of the LIMCAFâ€™s Lagos zonal exhibition on Saturday, September 30, by the former media proprietor, Senator Chris Anyanwu.
Now that the Thought Pyramid Art Centre has formally opened its doors for business in Lagos, it has joined the ranks of the commercial capital cityâ€™s top-notch galleries. It has also extended the frontiers of Ajueshiâ€™s art business empire, which revolves mainly around his lifelong passion. But, above all, it is seeking new ways to meet a need: â€œfor art to be professionally housed and managed with the needed expertise, as it is done in the developed world.â€
Its peculiar name, he explained, â€œwas derived from a â€˜thoughtâ€™ of a symbol that can be identified with the cradle of civilisation, which historically can be found in Egypt. And it is in Egypt that you can find â€˜Pyramidâ€™. Hence, the name, Thought Pyramid Art Centre.â€
Despite his laudable efforts so far, Ajueshi is constantly goaded by the urge to grow his market. Sometimes, charlatans inveigle their wares into the art market to divert countless unsuspecting ill-informed buyers. These, in any case, would readily snap up cheaply-made art works displayed in the streets. Could this be part of the â€œavalanche of challengesâ€, he said he had faced â€œdifferent points?â€ As he put it: â€œI think that one of the biggest challenges to my continuing on full scale, and to my being in a full-time art business, now is the pressure of competing with the cheaply-made items brought in from other countries.â€
The Thought Pyramid Art Centreâ€™s Lagos outpost, like its main base in Abuja, displays a choice collection of both modern and contemporary Nigerian star artists. Adjoining the gallery space at the back is a restaurant, which Ajueshi said, would soon begin catering to the culinary needs of the visitors.