As a Bastion of Creativity, Next of Kin Nurtures Future Masters 

As a Bastion of Creativity, Next of Kin Nurtures Future Masters 

Stomping into its sixth edition, the Next of Kin competition and exhibition organised by Thought Pyramid Art Centre now includes entries beyond Nigeria. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports  

There are unmistakable hints that the Thought Pyramid Art Centre is gearing up for another edition of its Next of Kin exhibition—the sixth in the series, to be precise. Titled Renewed Hope: Exploring African Narratives of Resilience and Transformation, it opens on Sunday, April 7, with an exhibition that will feature 20 talented artists from across Africa. And here is one good reason why this yearly mini-art fiesta at the gallery’s Lagos outlet should be stirring up a lot of excitement: it is increasingly living up to its billings as a credible platform dedicated to highlighting up-and-coming artists who would not otherwise have had the opportunity to present their work to the public.

Obviously, this laudable initiative has come quite a long way with a conceptual framework, dating back to sometime in 2008, that ought to guarantee its sustainability. This was during the Thought Pyramid Art Centre’s exhibition director Ovie Omatsola’s visit to Lagos-based artist Emmanuel Dudu’s place in Ikorodu to source artworks for a presentation. But because Dudu didn’t have many paintings to show his visitor, he introduced him to his younger brother Stanley’s charcoal drawings, which he found captivating. “They were lovely works, and I had to buy them all, notwithstanding the fact that he was still a student, rounding up his higher national diploma programme,” Omatsola says about the drawings.

One curious neatness of fate thus set a series of other events in motion, culminating in a sold-out solo exhibition titled New Episode, which Omatsola organised for Stanley Dudu at Omenka Gallery in the leafy, upmarket Lagos neighbourhood, Ikoyi. That exhibition’s overwhelming success opened his eyes to the fact that many talented artists, who like Stanley Dudu deserve recognition and support, are still hiding their lamps under a bushel out there. This was how he eventually came up with the high-wattage idea of Next of Kin.

The concept only took on a more coherent form in 2017 with the official launch of the Thought Pyramid Art Centre in Lagos and fully materialised in 2018 with the unveiling of the first Next of Kin series, which featured ten meticulously selected artists.

As the project gained traction, its later iterations sought submissions from a broader pool of emerging talents beyond the organisers’ immediate network, thus guaranteeing that worthy artists were not overlooked. This opening up of submissions for each new edition—a thoughtful, inclusive approach—not only enriched the diversity of the exhibitions but also provided a platform for artists to gain exposure and build connections within the art community.

Thus far, Next of Kin has spawned a vibrant network of artists, collectors, and aficionados—one that creates a lively forum for collaboration and creativity. Moving forward, its goal remains steadfast: nurturing budding talent, celebrating creativity in all its forms, and cultivating an arts-supportive and appreciative culture.

On the choice of the sobriquet “Next of Kin,” Omatsola explains that he sees these emerging artists as the next generation of masters that will take over from the present ones. “They are the ones that would inherit the art space from the current masters, hence Next of Kin. And truly, our selection of artists has been really commendable because 80% of participants in the Next of Kin have been dominating the Nigerian art space even globally.”

Indeed, a cursory glance at the annual art fiesta’s annals attests that quite a handful of its alumni have done well for themselves. There was, for instance, Anthonia Nneji, who, in July 2022, was celebrated by Forbes, which listed her among its prestigious 30 under 30 list. Nneji, whose artistic journey hit a high note when she clinched the crown at the inaugural Next of Kin art competition and exhibition back in 2018, stands as a beacon of unbridled talent nurtured by the innovative wings of the Thought Pyramid Art Centre’s initiative. Similarly, Omofemi Oluwole, another 2018 Next of Kin competitor who made it to the top 10, etched his name into the annals of global artistry as the celebrated “last official artist to have painted Her Majesty (the late Queen Elizabeth II).”

Some of the emerging talents who sprung from its ranks and have flourished in esteemed local and global art competitions and exhibitions include Access/Art X Prize 2023 champion Julius Agbaje, the gifted Emmanuel Idowu, who won the 2023 edition, and the remarkable artists Michael Igwe, Elizabeth Ekpetorson, and Sotonye Jumbo. Also worthy of recognition are artists such as Ikechukwu Ezeigwe, who claimed the 2019 title; Christian Allison, the 2020 champion; Unyime Edet; Bertha Onyekachi; and other brilliant creatives like Fortune Anuforo, Odinakachi Okoroafor, Odiabhehor Odibo, and Kareem Tobiloba, making their mark in the vibrant art scene through the diversity and depth of their artistic expressions.

Meanwhile, the prognosis for the future of this initiative, which remains a bastion of creativity and for nurturing and propelling the local art scene’s brightest talents, seems bright. “I personally wish that Next of Kin becomes a brand that will outlive me for sustainability,” Omatsola says. “I’m also working on franchising it to other African countries, including once every six years hosting the Next of Kin art fair.”

In the early stages of planning and executing Next of Kin Series 1, he would never have imagined that the first main prize winner would later achieve Forbes recognition in 2022. Nor could he have foreseen that one of the Series 1 finalists would become the last official artist to paint Her Majesty, the late Queen Elizabeth II. “Would I have imagined that, before Next of Kin even reached its 10th year, we would expand our reach to discover talents beyond Nigeria, as evidenced in Next of Kin Series 6? Despite these unforeseen developments, my aspiration for the future is that Next of Kin will persist as a steadfast beacon for uncovering future masters of our arts. I envision Next of Kin fulfilling its destiny over the next decade, particularly by establishing itself as the premier platform for visual arts in Africa, akin to the Amazon of the art world.”

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