Professor Anatsui with LIMCAF's 2017 top four winners in Dakar, Senegal in 2018

With a proposed Off exhibition at this year’s Dakar Art Biennale or Dak’Art, the Life in My City Art Festival hopes to breathe new life into the Nigerian art scene, Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports


It’s been some time the idea of a Nigerian off exhibition at the Dakar Art Biennale – a. k. a. Dak’Art– appealed so much to art stakeholders. Back in 2008, the then Joe Musa-led National Gallery of Art had come up with the bright idea of organising an all-Nigerian show at the Senegalese capital’s prestigious Hotel Teranga. Apparently, this show – even when it was not part of the Dak’Art Ins or main events – was supposed to make a loud statement about Nigeria’s presence at the continent’s foremost contemporary art platform.

Before that exhibition, titled Naija, there had been perfunctory efforts by a handful of individual Nigerian artists – albeit alongside those of artists from other countries – which drew the plaudits of the festival’s regulars.

More than a decade on from 2008, the Life in My City Art Festival’s board has given its assent to a proposed all-Nigerian Off exhibition at this year’s Dak’Art. Life in My City Art Festival, also known by its acronym LIMCAF, is arguably the longest-running Nigerian annual contemporary art event, whose grand finale exhibition as well as awards and gala night would be held for the 14th consecutive year in Enugu sometime by late October this year.
The fiesta’s organisers have Professor El Anatsui, one of the event’s main patrons, to thank for its planned participation in this year’s Dak’Art. Perhaps, it was because he thought the annual event was “getting better and better” that the Ghanaian-born former University of Nigeria, Nsukka art lecturer first sponsored its 2017 top four winners to an all-expenses trip to the biennale’s 2018 edition. Later, he would extend this largesse to the top six winners of LIMCAF’s 2018 and 2019 editions.

Hence, this year, LIMCAF’s top 12 winners – six each from the 2018 and 2019 – are being sponsored on the same terms by Professor Anatsui. Only that this time, the 12 young Nigerian artists – consisting of five from Lagos, three from Ibadan, two from Enugu and one each from Lafia and Ondo – will be leveraging on this privilege to mount a group exhibition of their works in Dakar under the banner of LIMCAF, according to a press statement signed by LIMCAF’s executive director, Kevin Ejiofor.

Talking about the artists, the chosen 12 are Ifedilichukwu Chibuike, Nurudeen Popoola, Sale Godday Okwosi, Okewu Jonathan, David Olatoye Babatunde and Edward Samuel, who are the 2018 winners, and Victor Emma Olaoye, Samson Maduabuchi Ejiofor, Toritseju Favour Clarke, Idowu Emmanuel Dare as well as the only two female artists in the group: Rashidat Folashade Fagorusi and Doris Onyinye Chukwuma, the 2019 winners.

Meanwhile, the proposed Dak’art Off exhibition, whose venue has not yet been disclosed, will be featuring 24 new works – two each from these 12 participating artists – and is being organised in partnership with Mor Faye, a Senegalese artist who had been a jury member in one of LIMCAF’s previous editions. Ejiofor hopes that the outing would contribute to the rich diversity of artworks that make the biennale so fascinating for visitors from all parts of the world.

Another statement by LIMCAF’s art director, Dr Ayo Adwunmi, disclosed that the itinerary of the top 12 winners has already been mapped out. They would first be hosted to an evening reception in Enugu by LIMCAF’s board and organising committee members on Sunday, May 24, he said. Afterwards, they would embark on a trip to Nsukka, where they would meet Professor Anatsui for a guided tour of his studios, the next day. From Enugu, they would depart for the Senegalese capital on Tuesday, May 26 through Lagos and return to Nigeria on Friday, June 5.

Professor Anatsui envisages that the proposed trip to Dakar would broaden the scope of these young artists, who have won prizes at a national level. “They need to be encouraged to go and see what is happening out there,” he said.

It is just for this reason of exposure that the artists have been scheduled to arrive Dakar two days before the event’s official opening on Thursday, May 28. This, at least, would give them enough time to witness the installation of works by the Dak’Art In exhibition participants and interact with the works.
“You know Dak’art is also competitive,” Professor Anatsui explained. “Artists from all over Africa and the diaspora would submit their works and a committee would make their selection based on the strength of their works. The whole idea is having won competition at the local level, I wanted the selected LIMCAF artists to see what is happening at the continental level.”
Of course, the broadening of their outlook by seeing what precisely is happening in the art world would boost their confidence enough to eventually want to compete at the Dak’Art. Besides, Professor Anatsui sees the biennial event as a very fertile forum for networking since it attracts museums, galleries and curators from all over the world.

While acknowledging the improved quality of entries in the recent LIMCAF editions, he criticised the fixation of much of entries in the annual event on the human body. This applies even to cases, where the artists had commendably appropriated non-traditional media for their works. “There are more exciting things to do with such media than the human body. When you go into the art world now, you will see that people have gone beyond depicting human figures.”

This is the whole point of his sponsoring the LIMCAF winners to Dak’Art. He envisages freeing the young Nigerian artists from this fixation.
Meanwhile, a call for participation has gone out for LIMCAF’s 2020 edition, whose theme is: “Vision 2020: So Far, So What?” The theme, a metaphor for a projected dream, and subsequent hopes and impediments that characterise Nigeria’s social, economic and political realities over the years.

Intending participants, who are not expected to be more than 35 years by October 31 this year, are expecting to have been residing or studying or working in Nigeria for at least five years before their application. Their entries could be in any of the following six categories: painting/mixed media/drawing, sculpture/installation art, ceramics, graphics/digital art, photography/video and textile art/fashion design.
All entries, which should be submitted online in the first instance, should get to the organisers by Sunday, May 31.

Professor Anatsui with LIMCAF’s 2017 top four winners in Dakar, Senegal in 2018.JPG and LIMCAF’s 2017 top four