ART X 2019: Of Gallant Galleries, Audacious Artists and Solid Statements

Hair-Salon by Henry Mzili-Mujunga, 2018_-540x371 from Circle Art Gallery

Yinka Olatunbosun writes that the 2019 edition of ART X Lagos is a wholesome gathering that has broken the barrier of culture and nationality to make authentic statements on contemporary African art


Art aficionados are on a roller-coaster ride through countries across Africa and beyond through the works of artists and galleries present at this edition of West Africa’s premier art fair, Art X Lagos. Away from its traditional venue, the fun is only heightened at its new spot, the Federal Palace Hotel and Casino grounds in Victoria Island, Lagos. The event has remained a simmering pot of artistic offerings that are fresh, contemporary and impactful.

Positioning itself, not just as an art and multi-cultural event, Art X Lagos is a refreshing family event and it is more interesting as it gives room for graffiti, interactive media art, video art and the thrilling experience with the virtual reality world. The atmosphere of controlled audience allows each one to engage with the works and some of the artists.

For this 2019 edition, the exhibiting galleries include Addis Fine Art (Ethiopia), Afri Art Gallery (Uganda), Arthouse- The Space (Nigeria), Artyrama (Nigeria), Circle Art Gallery (Kenya), Ed Cross Fine Art (UK), Everard Read (SA), Galerie Cecile Fakhoury (Cote d’Ivoire), Galerie MAM Douala (Cameroon), Galerie Voss (Germany), Gallery 1957 (Ghana), Goodman Gallery (South Africa), Nike Art Gallery (Nigeria), OOA Contemporary Art Gallery (Spain), Retro Africa (Nigeria), SMAC Gallery (South Africa), SMO Contemporary Art (Nigeria), TAFETA (United Kingdom), Thought Pyramid Art Centre (Nigeria), Tiwani Contemporary (United Kingdom) Bloom Art (Nigeria) and Mydrim Gallery.

It is common to find the same people coming into the fair for the two days, because with the number of visitors around, it is hard to spend enough time with the works. Sometimes, the opportunity to see artists and curators, especially the globe-trotting ones, is just at the fair. Fancy running into the Nigeria-born Abe Odedina, who left Nigeria to study as an architect but has only returned to his homeland as an artist.

“It wasn’t until a trip to Brazil when I saw the vigour of the popular art that started a series of change in me that led to the idea of wanting to make art directly,” he explained.
Speaking on what informs his work and how he engages the viewer, he added: “A central part of my practice is trying to find a legitimate way to communicate. When you look at my work, you feel you can get to grips with it that it opens up in front of you.”

For Ayesha Feisal, capturing the essence and the spirit is the focus of her work.
“I do that through the use of colour to capture light within the works,” the artist said.
Soaked in the world of his works, Evans Mbugua is very people-centred and this is reflected in his artistic style.
“My artistic expression is inspired by people who I live with, the people I meet. I want to celebrate these people,” he said.
But he is not the only one who is inspired by his society, Boris Nzebo also maintained that “art means learning to reinvent everything. It’s a way to observe our environment and surroundings.”

Another artist, Othman Wahaab, vents his anger in a creative way. “People have different capacity on how they acquire things,” he said. “When I am angry, I work better, it affects my work. I think we are born artists. We all have the capacity to express ourselves through one medium or another.”

For the Access Bank Art X Prize winner, it will be a case of “All Eyes on Me” as she will be showing for the first time, the amazing winning work, a multi-media piece titled, “It Is All in My Head” in the 2020 edition of the Art X Lagos. Etinosa is a self-taught documentary photographer, based in Abuja. Originally from Benin City, Etinosa considers photography as a medium of expression; a tool to drive social change and well, a hobby-turned work. Etinosa leverages on the power of visual storytelling to create awareness, educate and inform people about causes and issues she is passionate about.

“It explores the coping mechanisms of survivors of terrorism and violent conflicts in Nigeria. I use the project to advocate for a long-term access to psycho-social support for the victims which will in turn improve their mental health,’’ she began.
Drawing upon a documentary film on a serial refugee living in Jordan, Etinosa realised that many victims of violent conflicts deal with trauma and are often misunderstood. After watching the documentary, she drew a parallel between what the docu-drama treated and what is happening in some parts of Nigeria.

Some of the exhibiting galleries have set the internet abuzz with colourful pieces such as the one from the Beninese artist, Moufouli Bello whose paintings address the representation of the black woman and question the gendered society in Benin.
SMO Contemporary Art also brings back to his root, Emeka Udemba who runs a vibrant art studio in Germany. Udemba has exhibited in Switzerland, Germany, France, Spain, Austria, Italy, Iran, Brazil, South Africa, Nigeria and Indonesia. Perhaps, he is best remembered as the curator for the Molue Mobile Museum of Contemporary Arts in partnership with Goethe-Institut.

Another artist whose works are on display at the SMO Contemporary Art booth is Data Oruwari. Data is a Nigerian-raised and Brooklyn-based visual artist, creative strategy consultant, user experience designer and energy healing enthusiast.

“I combine my interests in the healing arts with my love for the visual arts to create highly-detailed, hand-rendered sacred works of art that serve to heal and reconnect humanity with spirituality from an African perspective,” she explained on her webpage. “I draw inspiration from African mythology, the visionary art movement and contemporary tattoo dot work techniques.”
Meanwhile, SMO Contemporary Art has an electronic catalogue, in which information on the artists and their works can easily be accessed.

Bronze pieces aficionados would love the Mydrim Gallery’s offering of Ayobami Barber’s piece, “Ola Edu I” at the newly added ART X Modern section. Bringing nolstagia to the fair, Mydrim is also parading some works by one of the most influential African painters and sculptors in 20th century, Ben Enwonwu and the master artist, Demas Nwoko and of course a founding member of the Zaria Art Society, Yusuf Grillo.

This year’s edition has witnessed an increase in the number of participating galleries with 23 larger booths. At the Contemporary section of the fair, the works of Jimoh Braimoh, Ngozi Schommers, Kassou Seydou and Kehinde Balogun. ART X Talks will wrap up today with the theme, “Collective Live” featuring Reni Folawiyo (collector) and Kathryn Weir (curator). Also, in memory of the first curator of Art X Lagos, Bisi Silva, the second session, titled, “The Progress of Love: Bisi Silva Remembered” will feature Antawan Byrd, N’Gone Fall and Emeka Ogboh. Away from the exhibits and artists, the food court is a blend of local and international cuisine this year.

The interactive project exploring the theme, “Play” inside the Balmoral Hall of the Federal Palace is curated by A Whitespace Creative Agency.