Victor Olaoye, this year's LIMCAF's overall prize winner

Besides being Nigeria’s longest running visual arts event, Life in My City Art Festival – better known by its acronym LIMCAF – represents a beacon of hope for its teeming young talents and reunites the crème de la crème of the country’s art scene in Enugu. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports

Like almost all the 100 finalists of this year’s Life in My City Art Festival’s competition, Victor Olaoye had arrived in Enugu that Friday, November 15 full of hopes. All he initially wanted was to produce a painting that would be the cynosure of all eyes.

And stand out, the charcoal and acrylic on canvas painting, which he titled: Angel among Gods, did. This was at the Lagos zonal exhibition, which was just one of the several zonal exhibitions of the annual festival, also known by its acronym LIMCAF. The feedback he got from fellow artists, collectors and critics at that exhibition buoyed his confidence and hopes. “I had an intuitive feeling that something massive was looming,” the fourth year sculpture major of Adeyemi Federal University in Ondo State disclosed.

On finally getting to Enugu and seeing the works his painting would be competing with, his confidence began to wane. Now, all he was left with was hope. “I was nervous,” he confessed.

The 19-year-old became even more nervous when he survived the elimination from among the initial 25 called to the stage. This was in the evening of the next day (Saturday, November 16). Shortly after that, he found himself among the last four standing. By this time, a consoling thought that he had at least been chosen as one of the artists who – through the courtesy of Professor El Anatsui – would be sent to the Dakar Art Biennale next year, lurked somewhere within him.

Suddenly, almost like in a dream, he found himself all alone on stage. A wave of excitement coursed through his slight frame, as he observed the activities around him. Relief, a sense of fulfilment and gratitude took their turns in asserting themselves in the hearth of his thoughts. So, he had won the overall prize! His being declared winner was only a matter of time and mere formality.

To clinch the prize, Olaoye had beaten the three other runners-up and category winners – namely, Samson Maduabuchi Ejiofor (whose work, “Headlines” won the Best Sculpture/Installation/Ceramics), Folashade Rashidat Fagorusi (winner of the Best Textile Art category with the work, “Hello”) and Toritseju Favour Clarke (who won the Best Graphics/Multimedia/Digital Art prize category with the work, “Inverse”).

Joining these four for the next year’s Dakar trip are Doris Onyinye Chukwuma, whose work “She Craves” won her the Justice Aniagolu Prize for Originality, and Emmanuel Dare Idowu, who won the Dr Pius Okigbo Prize for Technical Proficiency with his work “Ecstasy Within”.

Of course, the sifting process could not have been an easy task for the judging panel, led by the renowned Lagos-based artist Nsikak Essien. Indeed, the judges had acknowledged that it was a “challenging task” selecting the best from “a diverse collection of artworks from artists with varying ideologies or schools of thought in Nigerian contemporary landscape”.

Expectedly, adherence to the theme by the contestants seemed rather nebulous. Yet, their right to interpret it as they wished just has to be conceded to them. For each of the works, displayed at the grand finale exhibition held at the Enugu-based Institute of Management and Technology’s International Conference Centre, jostled for the viewers’ attention in their uniqueness. Many had favoured the conceptual approach in their interpretation, while quite a number addressed the theme tangentially.

For the jury, it was all about the “moderation of freewill; freewill of the artist to relate his/her creations to the various possibilities the theme offers.” Recall that these were the works that had survived the winnowing from 550 entries that had registered for the competition. The process of elimination was in stages. The jury disclosed that there was an “online elimination of some entries and a further critical selection by the zonal jury, from the various zones.”

The overall winning entry, Angels Among gods by Victor Olaoye

Even after the 100 for the grand finale exhibition had been selected, the judging processes became more rigorous and critical. This was evident in the pruning down of the works, first to 50 and then to 25 works. “With a fine-tooth comb, the 25 were independently assessed by each juror-using the criteria, to arrive at the different level winners,” the statement from the jurors further read. “Even after this point, critical deliberations ensued to place in context the outcome. The entire process was democratic.”

True, the artists might have deserved a standing ovation. But, so also does the jury, which besides Nsikak Essien also featured such accomplished professionals as Sam Ovraiti, Klaranze Okhide, Erasmus Onyishi and Dr Lasisi Lamidi.

Still on the grand finale gala and awards night, it was expectedly graced by distinguished personalities, who included the Enugu State Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi; the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe, Professor Bruce Onobrakpeya (who chaired the occasion) and Professor Ola Oloidi (who delivered the festival’s lecture the previous day). Of course, the capacity-filled auditorium (venue of the high octane event) was also teeming with such other eminent guests as the Chairman, Enugu State Traditional Rulers Council, Igwe Lawrence Agubuzo, the MTN Foundation’s Dennis Okolo (whose presence confirmed the unflinching support of the telecommunications company MTN), Alphonsus Okoronkwo (who represented one of the festivals sponsors, FBN Holdings), Chief Robert Orji (the founder of the Life in My City Art Festival), Elder K. U. Kalu (the LIMCAF’s board of trustees chairman), Chief Lauretta Aniagolu (a member of the LIMCAF’s board of trustees), Dr Obiora Anidi (the chairman of the board of the Enugu State Council for Arts and Culture), the veteran broadcaster VinMartin Ilo and Professor Paul Modum (a former commissioner for information, social development, youth, sports and culture in the old Anambra State), among others.

In his opening remarks, Professor Onobrakpeya had commended “the continual growth in the quality of [the works featured in the] exhibition”, which he said was “the result of individual inner nurturing of the ‘child artist within'”. This quality, he added, was “bound to grow in strength even for those who do not win prizes. If they continue to strive in that way, then surely there is no limit to what they can achieve.”
“In this regard,” he continued. “Life in My City has scored very highly. Not only do some of the young contestants have opportunity to sell their productions, but some also get to win cash prizes on the spot, while some of them will be exposed to art at much higher levels through the sponsorship offered by Professor El Anatsui.”

More speeches as well as musical presentations by the Enugu Chamber Choir and cultural dances from the Akalaka Cultural Troupe trailed his speech and prepared the audience for the prize awards. Heart-warming was the presence of the Enugu State Governor Ugwuanyi, who assured the organisers of his government’s continued support.

Meanwhile, LIMCAF’s festival week had had to be shifted from its traditional last week in October to Monday, November 11 to Saturday, November 16, this year. This was primarily because of the inconveniences caused by the temporary closure of the Akanu Ibiam International Airport in Enugu. Yet, it couldn’t have been a coincidence that the gala and awards night held on the posthumous birthday of the late nationalist and first president of Nigeria – as well as its only governor-general – Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe. This was corroborated by the fact that the festival’s lecture, delivered by the University of Nigeria, Nsukka-based art historian Professor Ola Oloidi, had as its theme: “Nnamdi Azikiwe, Early Influence in the Development of Art – The Olasekan Example”. The lecture, which was one of the several activities held so far in the name of the late political icon, was tailored to the purpose of LIMCAF.

This year, which is LIMCAF’s 13th edition, flagged off its festival week on Monday, November 11 with the opening of the grand finale exhibition at the International Conference Centre of the Institute of Management and Technology’s campus in the up-market Independence Layout neighbourhood of Enugu.

Following closely on the heels of this opening was a two-day art workshop held at the National Gallery of Art, tucked away somewhere in the G. R. A. neighbourhood of Enugu. The workshop themed: “Wastethetics: Creating Treasures from Trash”, had Dotun Popoola as its guest artist and facilitator.

Another workshop – a three-day affair that featured 100 selected secondary school in Enugu – held from Tuesday, November 12 to Thursday, November 14 and created mosaic murals on the walls of the Enugu State International Conference Centre close to Okpara Square. Also on Thursday, November 16, an art exhibition, titled Resilience, held at the National Gallery of Art.

The excitement around the art fiesta gradually swelled to a crescendo with the arrival of the 100 selected artists from all over Nigeria on Friday, November 15. For many of them, LIMCAF was like open sesame to a brighter future. First-timer Samuel Ujadu Iye from Zaria zone, for instance, had made several previous unsuccessful attempts to be part of the LIMCAF final 100 during his undergraduate years at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. “It was not until this year that I emerged from the zonal stage and was allowed to come to Enugu,” he said. Francis David, who trained at the Auchi Polytechnic and is currently posted to the Cross River State capital, Calabar for his youth service programme, had out of his three attempts made it twice to the finals in Enugu. Though like

Iye, he failed to win any prize, he remains undaunted in his bid to make history by eventually winning the overall prize. Ditto 19-year-old Nsukka-based Daniel Edikan Nelson, who hails from Akwa Ibom State and was making his first appearance at the grand finale.
There is no gainsaying the annual festival’s growing acceptance among young artists across the country. Thumbs up to the organisers for staying the course despite the challenges the annual fiesta had faced since its inception in 2007.