Reliving the Local Arts Scene’s Landmark Moments in 2022

A flashback through the year 2022 reveals moments of excitement, celebrations, loss and hope for the future of arts in Nigeria. Yinka Olatunbosun reports.

Return of Looted Treasures

The new wave of consciousness that birth conversations and actual return of stolen treasures from Nigeria continued to sweep through the art calendar.  This year, the National Gallery of Art (NGA), the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art (NMAfA) and the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Museum held a joint ceremony in Washington, DC, to mark the return of 31 Benin bronzes from their respective collections to Nigeria, marking the latest milestone in a growing movement to return the looted treasures.

The cockerel was one of up to 10,000 artifacts stolen by British troops from the royal palace in the Kingdom of Benin (in present-day Nigeria) in 1897. The pieces were dispersed throughout the world and, in the decades that followed, several were acquired by or donated to US museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Chicago’s Field Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and others.

Recently too, Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock handed 20 artefacts-a set of Benin bronzes- looted in 19th century Nigeria at a ceremony in the capital, Abuja. It was the first time a European country had entered into this kind of agreement aimed at mopping up the stains left by the dark colonial history.

Bruce Onobrakpeya at 90

From conferences to exhibitions, the celebration of Nigeria’s leading artist, printmaker, painter, and sculptor, Bruce Onobrakpeya at 90 was a year-long affair. A conference was held in Agbarha-Otor, Delta State in August featuring academics and other associates of the legendary artist. At the Lagos Book and Arts Festival (LABAF), Onobrakpeya was the highlight of the festival with performance arts and exhibitions held in his honour. The Visual Printmakers Association of Nigeria also staged a show in his honour at the new Tim&Carol Gallery in GRA, Lagos.

Goethe-Institut Nigeria at 60

White cake, sumptuous meals, audio and muitimedia showcase as well as performances marked the climax of the Goethe Nigeria at 60.  The German Cultural institution held an open day to felicitate with friends, while sharing deep insights into the interceptions between Goethe Institut and the Nigerian cultural landscape.

NLNG Prize Winner Romeo Oriogun Shares His Ten Percent  

The winner of the 2022 Nigeria Prize for Literature, Romeo Oriogun announced that he would share ten percent of his winnings with the other two finalists, Saddiq Dzukogi and Su’eddie Vershima Agema. Romeo Oriogun is the author of The Gathering of Bastards (University of Nebraska Press, 2023) and Sacrament of Bodies (University of Nebraska Press, 2020). An alumnus of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he lives in Ames, Iowa, where he is a postdoctoral research associate at Iowa State University.

Echoes of EkoNAFEST 

At the Mobolaji Johnson Arena, Onikan, Lagos, the 35th edition of the National Festival for Arts and Culture (NAFEST) was opened and closed with Lagos declared as the overall winner. Founded on the objectives of promoting peace and marketing the best of Nigeria’s cultural heritage, NAFEST 2022 had the theme “Culture and Peaceful Co-existence.” Having hosted the festival in 1970, 1974, 1988, expectations were high for Lagos, the host of the 2022 edition. While accommodation and transportation arrangement appeared to be adequate, the National Stadium venue hit below the mark for the command performance and annoyingly too because Lagos boasts of several theatres and performance venues perhaps more than any other state in Nigeria. The ease of commuting remains a major consideration for art festivals and with the new blue rail project and new bridges under construction in Lagos, the city would be better positioned to host larger cultural gatherings in future.

Tech Meets Arts

A new chapter for visual arts in Nigeria was flipped at the maiden edition of NXT.Art Fair organised by AfricaNXT, a Pan-African platform. Held at Landmark Event Centre, Lagos, the fair was a coalescence of curated conversations and an exhibition of varied art forms, including crypto art, marking celebration of tech-driven solutions for African arts.

Return of Art X, AKE and Lagos Fringe

The ART X Lagos season kicked off with a call for application in October, a grand return from the pandemic for Art X Lagos from November 4 to 6 and the unveiling of winners for the two categories of Access Art X Prize. Dafe Oboro, a 28-year-old artist won in the Nigerian category while Belinda Kazeem-Kaminski won in the African/Diaspora category. Tokini Peterside Schwebig, the founder and Creative Director of Art X Lagos also announced her pregnancy to the ART X family during the opening while also clamouring for a bigger venue for West Africa’s Premier Art fair.

Ake Arts and Book Festival made a beautiful comeback with drums of celebrations rolled out in Lagos. Now in its tenth year, Akefest lived up to its international status with the ilk of writers and artists featured at the three-day event. From music to film screenings, the festival was packed with fun activities that further validate the truth that the book is not synonymous to boredom. The engagement with select cast of Elesin Oba, a movie inspired by Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman and the winner of the 2021 Nobel Prize for Literature, Abdulrazak Gurnah heightened the experience that is indeed a cultural staple.

Lagos Fringe at Five

Held at Freedom Park, Lagos, the fifth edition of the Lagos Fringe had the theme ‘New Narrative,’ parading performances, seminars and workshops. Icons in the theatre circle such as Olu Jacobs, Joke Silva, and Ifeoma Fafunwa were honoured alongside other distinguished culture industry personalities in celebration of their contributions to the arts over the years at the Lagos Fringe Festival that turns five this year. Lagos Fringe was launched in 2018 as an open-access multidisciplinary arts festival and a not-for-profit ongoing development initiative committed to improving the livelihoods of artists as well as finding new voices in the Lagos creative scene.

UNWTO Global Conference 

With the theme ‘Linking Tourism, Culture and Creative Industries: Pathways to Recovery and inclusive Development,’ the United Nations World Tourism Organisation Global Conference was 

held in November, featuring interactive sessions with top creatives. The main conference was declared open by Prof. Yemi Osinbajo SAN, the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, representing Muhammadu Buhari, President, Federal Republic of Nigeria. His remarks about Nigeria’s burgeoning music scene went viral on the internet afterwards.

Ablade Glover Show 

At 88, the foremost Ghanaian artist and educator, Ablade Glover, had a solo show at The HourGlass Gallery, Victoria Island, Lagos. It was a moment to reminisce on his footprints on African arts, art scholarship as well as his participation at the Festival of Arts and Culture held in Nigeria in 1977.

Prof Duro Oni at 70

All paths led to Afe Babalola Hall, Iniversity of Lagos sometime in December to celebrate the 70th birthday anniversary of theatre scholar, Professor Duro Oni, FNAL. The former Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Management Services) of the University of Lagos was received by colleagues, mentees, friends, and family members who lauded him for his exemplary professional life.

Tim&Carol Opening

Another art space, Tim and Carol Gallery of Art, was opened in GRA, Ikeja Lagos. The proprietor of the art gallery Mr. Wale Fasuyi is the son of Pa Timothy Adebanjo Fasuyi, a renowned artist, art teacher and educationist. The former whose life has also revolved around the arts is deeply passionate about establishing an art gallery and connecting artists with collectors.

Bidding Biyi Bandele Goodbye

The death of Biyi Bandele at 54 sent shock waves around the world. The Acclaimed novelist and filmmaker was a prolific author, playwright and filmmaker whose work includes the adaptation of famed Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton. Bandele was considered one of the finest filmmakers and storytellers of his generation for his unique ability to work as a transmedia storyteller. His latest flick, Elesin Oba was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival before it hit the streaming platform, NETFLIX to critical reviews.

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