The use of an unconventional space in Lagos for displaying miniature artworks by the Lagos creatives inspires curiosity, writes Yinka Olatunbosun
Loud music sent vibrations through the stairs at the Mega Plaza multistorey car park, where the mega fair for miniatures was staged recently. This parking infrastructure, designed by DHT architects and completed in 2007, had served the purpose of creating adequate and safe parking spaces for shoppers while saving many motorists from the agony of having their vehicles towed to unknown destinations.
Equipped with split level ramp system, the car park’s purpose was thoughtfully changed to accommodate 1000 works from 100 artists in Lagos to give them a collective voice that cuts through the blaring honks and rapid movements of the chaotic city, forcing every passer-by to reflect on aspects of life that the works mirror.
On its part, the tradition of miniatures dates back to centuries ago with many renowned artists replicating existing works in miniatures for portability. As the Yuletide season approaches, miniature-sized works are among the most sought-after gift items in the art market. The works may look small in sizes but never in details.
With the theme, A Tale of 1000 Miniatures, the exhibition takes the viewer through a visual journey and a rare encounter with installations, paintings and photography on the third floor, while the fourth floor of the parking space was created for children to experience guided craft classes, music and refreshments.
Jointly curated by Ogirikan Art Gallery and Iwalewa Art Gallery, the view, though breathtaking, held affordable pieces for collectors. Being the first of its kind in Nigeria, it was a well-received initiative within the art circles in Lagos. One of the leading Nigerian artists, who is recovering from a protracted illness, David Dale offered the opening remarks at the 11-hour fair, commending the organisers for providing the rostrum for emerging artists to express their creativity.
One of the exhibiting artists, Anthony Babatunde Alabi is a photographer and a former photojournalist with THISDAY. Alabi’s pieces are drawn from his pool of works in abstract photography as he later explained in a guided view of his collection.
“I saw abstract rather than the whole object,” he explained. “Each time I look at anything, I focus on the shadow as opposed to the image. I thought of how best to present the abstract I see and this came about. These ones are from the ‘Submerged series.’ I stayed on top of the water to take the pictures. I took the pictures in my house. I staged my reality, and for the ‘ripple effect series’, I put my water down.”
Validating the argument that every photographer is an artist, he pointed out that what distinguishes one artist from another is the way they represent their reality.
For the Founder of Iwalewa Gallery of Art and one of the organisers of the fair, Femi Williams, the concern about space expressed by some collectors was part of what had necessitated this miniature art fair which will remain an annual tradition to usher in the festive season.
“We are showcasing the best of Nigerian art. Art is about passion and art is not determined by its size,” he said, amidst the din of blaring speakers at the venue.
The guest artist at the fair, Dil Humphrey-Umezulike better known as Junkman from Africa spoke of the underlying truth in his installation that appropriates fabrics and other found materials to make a distinct statement at the fair. His was an exception to the rule: not a miniature but a gigantic piece which is just a part of a whole.
“It is amazing how we overcome the challenges of space,’’ the enigmatic artist said in reference to the use of the unconventional space for the show. “Instead of a gallery in art, we find a way of adapting to space. I’m more of an observer at this fair. This one I called ‘The Politician,’ it was originally exhibited at the Goethe Institute in 2000. It is about the 16 powers of the state that makes it what it is. These powers include ‘The Pastor,’ ‘The Muscle Man,’ ‘The Orange Girl’ amongst others.
“From one angle alone, you don’t see the totality of the concept. This is ‘The Politician’ just appearing here; 26-feet long and it is one personality but different characters. It speaks of politician and their different characters- they keep going forward and backward.’’
Flaunting a rich portfolio of several international art projects, the Junkman, who is currently working on a private museum project in Lagos, presented at the fair an installation, which attains the age of maturity this year – yet is timely and spot-on in its thematic preoccupation. He couldn’t help but give a metaphysical interpretation.
“Art is an eternal thing. Thought is a spiritual thing. If the thought is not polluted by societal consciousness or wrong programming like attitudes, it stays as the truth. Truth is central. Anywhere you come from, you get to the truth. When work is created from an authentic source, it is eternal. Such art is not created for commercial or political purposes. If history is not polluted, misinterpreted, mistranslated, manoeuvred or manipulated, it is supposed to be the connection of the lines of truth.
“I gather the high stories of today and I put them together in forms and as mirrors for people to view them as history tomorrow. If you see what somebody does today, you can actually tell what his tomorrow will be because he is operating from the same attitude. Unless he changes the attitudes or beliefs, you will always get the same results. Albert Einstein said if you are doing the same thing over and over again and you are expecting a different result, it is called insanity.”