FOR THE ART SCENE, A BREATH OF FRESH AIR

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A digital photo exhibition at the fair

For Eritrean-born and Frankfurt, Germany-raised Hana Omilani, infusing elements of technology into art is the logical way forward for the creative sector. Beyond the Impart Artists’ Fair, organised by her company Lasmara, she has other big innovative plans for the art sector, she tells Okechukwu Uwaezuoke

So much about Impart Artists’ Fair deserves plaudits. First, there is its innovative and unobtrusive inveigling of technology into the local visual arts aficionado’s consciousness. Then, the spectacular transformation of the basement of Eko Atlantic’s Alpha One Tower into a creative wonderland, thanks to the three-day event, is a real eye-popper. Of course, there is also the fact that the event has, even with its first edition, earned its seat of honour among the Lagos elite art shows that annually light up the October-November season.

A virtual tour of the numerous stands – which display over 450 works by a coterie of artists from Nigeria, Kenya, Cameroon, Eritrea, Sudan, Ghana and Ethiopia alongside cutting-edge technological offerings – reveals a rich harvest of talents. Given that the actual event has ended since Sunday, October 27, two days after its opening on Friday, October 25, a physical tour of the exhibition is no longer possible. Hence, aficionados from all over the world have the possibility of reliving the experience by visiting the fair’s website and clicking on the relevant link.

Besides the works of such already-known contemporary Nigerian artists as Uche Edochie, Nkechi Nwosu-Igbo, Ibe Ananaba, Ato Arinze, Burns Effiom, Sor Sen and Clara Aden, there are others by not-so-well known artists jostling for the viewer’s attention. Indeed, harnessing home-grown talents and creatively rousing an innovation-weary art scene from obvious complacency seems to be the whole point of this one-of-a-kind fiesta. Thus, with the theme “Art Meets Tech”, the organisers, Lasmara, seek to direct the search for creativity beyond the arts and created so much buzz in the Lagos art community.

“I believe that the tech sector has a huge creative amount of potential that is not exposed, especially in our African market,” Lasmara’s founder and chief executive officer Hana Omilani explains. “There are some creatives in the tech sector that are working, that nobody has heard of. But, they are artists in their own rights.”

In the fair, there was an obvious appropriation of home-grown technology for the promotion of the visual arts. Besides featuring conventional paintings and sculptures, technologically-driven artistic expressions also asserted their presence here. For instance, while the fair lasted, the visitors had the opportunity to use an electronic spray paint to produce graffiti on a digital wall. There was also a screening of Joel Kachi Benson’s award-winning documentary, The Daughters of Chibok on virtual reality. The documentary, which tells the story of Yana Galang whose daughter was among the 276 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in April 2014, was premiered at the Venice Film Festival, where it had won the award. There were, in addition, several animation film screenings, holograms as well as soundless discussion panels at the three-day event. “We want to use technology to enhance the art and give our audience something fresh,” Omilani adds.

Then, there was a digital exhibition offering a crash course on Nigeria’s past leaders and its history in an ever-shifting kaleidoscope of black and white photographs. This exhibition was set up by Moving Pictures, one of Lasmara’s collaborators.
“Technology, for us, is very important and vital. We cannot be left behind in the creative sector. If we don’t catch up with technology, we will be left behind. If we are left behind in the tech sector, that means, even out traditional artistes are going to be left behind even more. We also use it as a tool to promote them.”

On the choice of name Impart, Omilani says: “Impart is a platform to share and experience our continent’s arts and culture, unite us as a continent and make an impact on individuals. Visitors have the opportunity to meet artists directly and artists are given the platform for their voice to be heard whilst imparting their ideas.”

The fair’s inclusiveness explains its continued appeal to over 6000 locally-based and international art collectors, artists, critics, students and starry-eyed enthusiasts from different socio-economic backgrounds. Besides being an opportunity to officially launch Impart as a platform, the organisers have ongoing plans to empower artists. They are actively involved in such social non-profit endeavours as community-building, portfolio-management, talks, artists’ workshops, residency programmes as well as special workshops for women to help increase the representation of female artists in the sector.

Thus, the fair became a platform for the promotion of African art by making it available to everyone as well as for providing both emerging and established artists with the needed exposure to local and international markets. “We facilitate fair contracts for artists,” the Eritrean-born woman married to a Nigerian further discloses.

Works displayed at the fair were selected through a very transparent vetting process done by the selection committee, which was made up of 11 international art professionals, collectors and critics.

Among the aims of the fair was to increase the awareness of the African arts and culture sector. This is, of course, in addition to improving the African art recognition on the global scene. “This is where technology plays a vital role and we believe that through technology we can reach a larger audience,” Omilani explains. “This the audience that is needed to create volume in the transaction of African art.”

Lasmara, an independent art consultancy firm, has its sights set on African art. It currently offers a wide range of specialised art services, which orbit around commissioning artists and sourcing works as well as creating strategies for investments and exhibitions.

“Our database of artists is constantly expanding, both well-established and up-and-coming, but always exciting and original. Our speciality is African but our interests are global, and we work with clients, galleries and art houses all over the world.
“In addition to sourcing and acquiring artworks, we can also assist with the liquidation of art collections, resale of artworks, art handling, administration of loans and consignments, shipping and storage, and much more. We look forward to working with an expanding array of Nigerian and international clients, to meet their requirements while increasing awareness of African art and African artists across the globe.”

To organise Impart Artists’ Fair, it needed the support of the law firm Templars, the Consulate of the United States in Lagos, the telecommunications company 9Mobile, Mirinda Apple, AXA Mansard and Iron Capital.

Of course, organising the fair was not without challenges. Nonetheless, Omilani remained resolute till the end. “We experienced logistic challenges but when you believe in what you do and work hard at it you find solutions for all challenges and as we say in German ‘Ende gut, alles gut!’ (All that ends well is well).”

In the end, she is consoled by the fact that she was able to provide a platform that contributes to the empowerment of artists in the continent. “Therefore, the advancement of our industry makes the entire endeavour absolutely worthwhile.” An avid art lover, Omilani had previously worked in the finance sector before delving into art consultancy. Raised in Frankfurt, Germany, she studied international relations and business psychology at the University of Warwick in the UK. Besides also studying art business at Christie’s, she enjoys visiting museums and galleries.

Besides her plans to move the art fair to different cities in Africa within the year, Omilani is also devising other ways of imparting on the visual arts sector.