AGAINST ALL ODDS, GREAT EXPECTATIONS LINGER IN ARTS SCENE

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Yemi Alade

Riding on the crest of optimism, the Nigerian arts scene seems primed for yet another successful year despite the vagaries of the economy. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports

Hope, that presence that never quite goes away, lurks around in the arts community’s darkest alleys. And that is a good reason why, even in these uncertain times, the creative mills have not stopped turning. Rather, the industry has, even against all odds, chalked up series of remarkable success stories in recent memory.

Hence, the new year holds so much promise for local visual artists, writers, stage and screen actors as well as the movers and shakers of the entertainment world. Understandably, the exploits of the industry are stoking the enthusiasm for this year.

Starting with the visual arts sector, some of its members should be looking forward to the Dakar Biennale, a. k. a. Dak’ Art, albeit as non-participants. Among those expected to swell the number of the Nigerian attendees of the event, which will be holding in the Senegalese capital city, are the top 12 winners of the 2018 and 2019 editions of Life in My City Art Festival – more often referred to by its acronym LIMCAF. This is thanks to the largesse of its keen supporter, Professor El Anatsui. Talking about LIMCAF, the annual event which holds in Enugu. It enters its 14th year this year as one of Nigeria’s longest-running art event.

Of course, the spotlight should shift to Lagos, which – as both Nigeria’s and the West African subregion’s hub of the visual arts – will expectedly host most of its events. Besides the city’s many random solo and group exhibitions, aficionados will be drooling for such leading annual constants of the sub-sector as the three Arthouse Contemporary Limited auctions – the fifth edition of its Affordable Art Auction holding early this year as well as its 24th and 25th auctions of Modern and Contemporary Art holding in May and November, respectively – the Arthouse Foundation’s exhibitions, the fifth edition of Art X Lagos, the 11th edition of the LagosPhoto Festival and the Art Meets Tech art fair.

Then, there is also Bruce Onobrakpeya – one of the surviving members of the long-defunct Zaria Art Society and the iconic convener of the annual Harmattan Workshop in the Delta State town of Agbarha-Otor – who will formally be celebrating his 60th year of studio practice. Onobrakpeya is still expected to continue his exert his influence on the contemporary Nigerian art scene this year through his now-legendary Harmattan Workshops in the rustic Delta State town of Agbarha-Otor.

Talking about influences, more and more locally-based artists will continue their unabashed adherence to unorthodox aesthetic canons. In any case, aren’t the uncertain gropings of Western-based artists wholeheartedly accepted as straightforward prescriptions for their local confrères? Or, could it just be t a natural revolt against the numbing predictability of the largely conservative art scene?

In the literary scene, The Nigeria Literature Prize, which is being endowed by the NLNG, will shift its focus this year to prose fiction. Recall that the prize – worth $100,000 – has since its inception in 2004 been rotating annually among the four literary genres: prose fiction, poetry, drama and children’s literature. Hence, with the conclusion of a cycle with last year’s spotlight on children’s literature, the prize’s keen watchers are already anticipating the next logical literary genre in its spotlight.

Not to be outdone, the annual 9Mobile Prize for Literature, which preens itself on being the first pan-continental literary prize, should be keen to assert its presence this year. This is especially after its recent apparent dithering in the award of the £15,000 prize to the 2017/2018 winner.

Then, slowly but surely, the Quramo Writers’ Prize is expected to consolidate on its progress so far as one of the few homegrown literary prizes. Its Festival of Words, which has become an annual feature of the literary scene and during which the prizes are awarded, should also hold Eko Hotels and Suites in the upmarket Victoria Island neighbourhood of Lagos.

Of course, the Committee for Relevant Arts-organised Lagos Book and Arts Festival (more often known by the acronym LABAF) will continue its uninterrupted dominance of book-related activities, which has been the case since 1999. Indeed, it has been the favoured book gathering for leading publishers, bibliophiles, literary activists and their kindred souls in the other sectors of the creative industry as well as the members of the public, who include both primary and secondary school pupils.

Not even the country’s possible economic lows can trammel the glut of literary talents seeking outlets for publication. With the self-publishing option still open, it is expected that more books will be published this year, even if it is only to be able to vie for the available literary prizes.

Meanwhile, expectant local theatre buffs will be looking up to the Bolanle Austen-Peters Productions for more entertaining Broadway-style musicals this year. Perhaps, the production outfit – known as BAP – will resurrect a couple of its previous well-loved stage plays like the Fela Republic and His Kalakuta Queens and Moremi the music to meet up this demand.

Besides some random theatre production companies seeking to gain more devotees to stage plays, more avant-garde fares are expected to enliven the scene.

Meanwhile, with the recent release of Nollywood films on the American streaming platform Netflix, bolder ventures should be expected in the industry this year. Indeed, there are good reasons to expect better quality Nollywood productions and, of course, another shot at the Academy Award best international feature film. Talking about the latter, the never-say-die Nigerian spirit won’t be so easily discouraged by the disqualification of its last year’s entry Lionheart.

Newer Nigerian sitcoms, series and feature films are expected to grace the M-Net movie channels owned by the South African pay-TV satellite network Dstv.

Surely, the last has also not the heard about such leading Nigerian musical greats as Flavour, Wizkid, 2 Baba, M.I, Timi Dakolo, Olamide, Phyno, Davido, Tiwa Savage, Yemi Alade, Tekno Miles, Rema and Burna Boy, among others. If the music industry’s chart-busting feat is not expected to wane this year or any time soon, it is thanks to the possibilities offered by digital music streaming platforms like Spotify.

With the Grammys looming in the horizon, the Nigerian music sensation Yemi Alade has already submitted her album for the award’s Best World Album Category. Trust other industry’s leading lights to follow in her footsteps.

Obviously, the activities this year will ride on the crest of optimism of the previous years.