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Leaping forward: A look at Nigeria’s art space in 2017

The year 2017 opened with projections of bright prospects for the African art market. These projections were predicated on the successes of 2016, a year in which Africa enjoyed being the toast of the art world, but also on the concentration of events for 2017, some on the continent and some elsewhere with focus on the continent. These included the Bonhams’ auction Africa Now – Modern Africa (15 Feb.), the Cape Town Art Fair (17-19 Feb.), the Art Africa Fair in Cape Town (24 Feb.-3 March), the Art Paris Art Fair (30 March-2 April), the New York edition of 1:54 (May 4-7), among others.

On the strength of these, art professionals reckoned that interest in and demand for modern and contemporary art from Africa would continue to grow in the year and beyond.

This growing interest, said Tayo Fagbule, co-author of The Nigeria Art Market Report 2015, was partly thanks to annual art fairs like 1:54 in London and the focus on art from Africa at the Armory Show in New York in 2016.

“Last year, Art X Lagos, the first art fair in West Africa, drew collectors from the continent. The value and volume of artworks by Nigerian artists in Lagos and London did better, rose significantly in 2016. Expect more shows: New galleries or art spaces are opening, some which held some of the major exhibitions in 2016,” Fagbule said at the beginning of 2017.

As the year rolled by, this optimism did not wane as Nigeria, a key factor in the African art market, saw many interesting developments taking place on its art scene.

In April, Jess Castellote, renowned art critic and co-author (with Tayo Fagbule) of The Nigeria Art Market Report 2015, was almost ecstatic writing about these interesting developments on his personal blog on contemporary art in Nigeria, A VIEW FROM MY CORNER.

“We have now in Lagos an art fair, an art biennial, an international photo festival, auction houses, several new art galleries, an art museum under construction at Pan-Atlantic University, a couple of art foundations offering art residences, a well-funded art competition,” Castellote wrote.

“Piece by piece, Lagos is developing the art infrastructure needed for a sustainable artworld,” he said.

Victor Ekpuk, Washington, DC-based Nigerian artist, in an interview on noted with pleasure the growing interest in investing in art in Nigeria.

“When I was operating as an artist in Nigeria in the 1990s, most of the people who were interested in collecting art were mainly expatriates and a handful Nigerians. But take it 10, 15 or 20 years after, there’s not only a flourishing art industry, we now have blossoming auction houses,” Ekpuk said.

“It started with Arthouse, the first indigenous auction house that really made an impact. Through this initiative, works of Nigerian contemporary artists now have officially documented global value,” he said.

In September, Sola Masha, general manager of Artyrama, the then newly launched online art gallery for the sale of African contemporary art, told this writer in an interview that the African art market has done phenomenally well in 2017 as Sotheby’s, an international auction house, broke the record for the sale of modern and contemporary African art with a figure of $3.6m previously held by Bonhams the previous year at just over $2m.

“These figures and the establishing of African-specific auctions by international auction houses clearly show great prospects for African art,” Masha said.

“There is also increased popularity for African-art-specific art fairs like 1:54 Contemporary Art Fair as its attendance has grown in the editions held in London and New York. Right here in Lagos, Art X held the first West African international art fair in 2016 and it was a huge success with the 2017 edition to be even bigger,” he said.

Looking back at the outgoing year, there is no doubt that the Nigerian art scene has enjoyed some vibrancy, recording many firsts.

A chronicle of some major developments

Arthouse auctions

Kicking off what was to be a bubbly year was Arthouse Contemporary, with The Affordable Art Auction onFebruary 11, followed by the two major auctions on May 22 and November 27. The May 22 auction crossed the average sales line, recording a total sale of N166,156,000, according to official results. Similarly, the November 27 auction recorded 60 percent sales from a total of 99 lots put up for sale, with total lots sold at N109,212,500.

Arthouse Contemporary has hosted two auctions (one in May and one in November) in Lagos every year since 2007, with each edition featuring both master works from the modern period and cutting-edge contemporary art from the region’s most celebrated artists. In February 2016, however, it inaugurated a third annual auction series, The Affordable Art Auction, which features artwork scaled to a more affordable and accessible price point.

Notable staples at Arthouse Contemporary auction include works by Ben Enwonwu, Yusuf Grillo, Demas Nwoko, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Ato Delaquis, Kolade Oshinowo, Abayomi Barber, Gani Odutokun, Ablade Glover, Ben Osawe, and Akinola Lasekan, while contemporary artists like El Anatsui, Rom Isichei, Peju Alatise, Sokari Douglas Camp, Lemi Ghariokwu, among others, are regular features.

The Now Collectives

On June 13-14, Segun Olotu, UK-based multiple award-winning photographer, convened The Now Collectives photography conference at Oriental Hotel in Lagos. Tagged ‘Africa’s Biggest Photography Conference’, TNC17 brought together world renowned photographers from across the world to share, teach, equip, enlighten and broaden the skill base of participants who were mostly upcoming photographers from Nigeria and across Africa.

Big names in photography like Christelle Rall, Chad Pennington, Gabriela Matei and Marius Tudor, Olu Akintorin, Bayo Omoboriowo, Beena and Anil Tohani, Amy Anaiz, Richard Beland, Bisi Alawode and Adebiyi Akinsemoyin were on ground to inspire upcoming photographers at the two-day event which featured trainings, live shoot demonstrations, moments of inspiration and critique sessions.

Artyrama online gallery

The Nigerian art space also saw the rise of a number of online galleries. Prominent among them was Artyrama, which launched its online platform for the sale of African contemporary art on September 19.

Artyrama’s online art gallery, which is focused on the sale of high quality, unique and often extraordinary contemporary art as well as sourcing and curating the finest art from all over Africa, proposed to give people across the world access to a variety of African art, leveraging cutting-edge technology to provide a seamless, carefully curated online experience. It said it would provide advisory services for anyone looking to buy and sell art, drawing on strong industry experience in the African art market, and so bridge the gap between art lovers and exquisite art at affordable prices. It also said its digital catalogue would host a wealth of contemporary art collections, including paintings, photographs, sculptures and mixed media that document Africa’s rich culture.

“We are heralding a new age for African art by giving it a platform and giving people all over the world access to, and advisory on, the diverse range of African art available,” said Akinyemi Adetunji, Artyrama’s art manager and curator.

Following up on this, Artyrama held a web-based digital exhibition entitled ‘Self Portraits: A Celebration of Womanhood’ October 16-November 30. The exhibition featured watercolour works by Angela Isiuwe, who considers herself a minimalist artist using her art as a tool for social criticism and construction, as a celebration of womanhood and a recognition of the contribution of the ‘average women’ in the world.

“‘Self-Portrait’ describes Isiuwe’s celebration of the female body,” Artyrama said in a statement. “It features a series of 24 artworks consisting of acrylic and watercolour paintings made over a two-year period, each delicately narrating the remarkable story of women and womanhood.”

On December 9 and 10, Artyrama held its maiden experiential digital art gallery in Lagos, curated by Castellote. The exhibition featured original works created by a new wave of pioneering urban artists from across the country that included Dipo Doherty, Ayobola Kekere-Ekun, Tunde Alara, Ifedoyin Shotunde, Promise O’Nali, Ken Nwadiogbu, John Madu, Abba Makama, and Stacey Ravvero.

Indelibl launches

Early November saw the launch of Indelibl, an e-commerce platform dedicated to promoting the works of African artists. The platform features a range of products, from original pieces of art to prints, t-shirts and books, according to a statement by its founders, Edwin Otta and Adetayo Jinadu.

Indelibl, which aims to empower African artists from around the world by making their works more accessible to audiences of all backgrounds, proposed to offer its artists the opportunity to sell and promote their pieces to a niche audience. It also promised affordable premium quality content to its customers and to ensure they have a personalised experience through a social interaction with the artists and their works.

“Customers are able to purchase original artworks as well as other related items directly from emerging artists. This range captures Indelibl’s mission to make art more accessible and its vision to promote art as a lifestyle. The platform also gives its users exclusive access to exhibitions, book launches, film-screenings and other creative events,” the founders said.

Lagos Biennial

Between October 14 and November 22, the maiden edition of the Lagos Biennial held in Lagos. Endorsed by the Lagos State Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture and supported by Akete Art Foundation, the Lagos Biennial has the primary aim of opening cultural, artistic, and political conversations from Lagos to the rest of the world.

A statement on the biennial website says, “With other major cities in Africa having a growing number of large/medium-scale art festivals such as the Dak’art Biennale, Cairo Biennale, Marrakesh Biennale, Recontres Bamako, Kampala Biennale, and Addis Foto Fest, it has become expedient for the city of Lagos to capture the individual and collective efforts of art practitioners within and outside the continent, while also harnessing the creative ambitions of artists from all over the world in this dynamic space. It is necessary to open up an artistic dialogue with the rest of the world in the form of large-scale projects and exhibitions of contemporary art.”

Curated by Folakunle Oshun alongside Amira Paree, the Lagos Biennial took its title from the 2012 project of Mozambican artist Mário Macilau, ‘Living on the Edge’, with the intent to accommodate the geographical, spiritual and, most importantly, the psychological ramifications of living on the edge.

Writing ahead of the biennial in April, Castellote quoted Oshun as saying, “As a Lagosian I feel a sense of responsibility and ownership of this space and I’ve always wondered why it took this long for Lagos to have its own Biennial.

“The biennial serves as a sort of archive, like taking a portrait of the world.”

Handbook on collecting art birthed

On November 10, the first book on art collection in Nigeria was presented at the Wheatbaker in Lagos. Co-authored by Fabian Ajogwu, a senior advocate of Nigeria and professor of Corporate Governance at the Lagos Business School, and Jess Castellote, director at the Foundation of Contemporary and Modern Visual Arts (FCMVA), the book Collecting Art: A Handbook aims at offering the novice and experienced collector a better understanding and some practical advice on some of the main issues involved in the practice of collecting art.

“The art industry in Nigeria is open and does not have enough regulations. Can I buy an artwork and decide to do whatever I want to do with it? As a result of issues like these, wealth is lost in the country. Some understand the practice of art but very few understand the business and people who understand the business are the people that succeed,” Ajogwu said at the launch.

“We need to protect buyers from buying fake works and from buying overpriced works. What do we do about transmitting arts, terms of sales and usage and inherent arts? We want to support a space that is growing. It is not just about the passion but the return on investment. The book presents different opportunities to different people and we must be active participants of the space,” he added.

Among other things, the eight-chapter book discusses issues like motivations and approaches to collecting art; development of an art collection; the process of buying art; the legal framework within which art collecting operates; transfer of an art collection; and documentation and management of art collection to mitigate the risk of damage by environmental, physical, chemical or biological agents.

Art X Lagos 2

The second edition of the rapidly expanding annual art fair, Art X Lagos, kicked off at the Civic Centre in Victoria Island on November 3rd stretching through the 5th.

Art X Lagos 2017 had 14 galleries exhibiting, with three independent artists as well. Nine of these were international exhibitors drawn from African countries and the Diaspora, such as South Africa, Senegal, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Mali and the United Kingdom. Nigeria was proudly represented by the following galleries – Bloom Art by Ugoma Adegoke, SMO Contemporary by Sandra Obiago, Art House – The Space by Kavita Chellaram, Signature Beyond by Rahman Akar, and Retro Africa by Dolly Balogun.

Recording 9,000 visitors, the fair featured work by Yinka Shonibare (MBE), alongside established Nigerian artists such as Kainebi Osahenye and Muraina Oyelami. It also showed the works of emerging Nigerian artists like Modupeola Fadugba and Kadara Enyeasi, alongside some of Africa’s most exciting artists such as Zanele Muholi (South Africa), Joel Mpah Dooh (Cameroon), and Amadou Sanogo (Mali).

The first edition, held in 2016, attracted 5,000 visitors and featured the work of 65 artists.

Founded by Tokini Peterside, Art X Lagos began as an initiative to foster a vibrant visibility of African artists, with a founding principle hinged on an interest to reinforce visual arts as an important component of Africa’s creative industry. It “presents a unique snapshot of West Africa’s most exciting contemporary artists, routing for an immersive, multi-sensory experience from a diverse range of contemporary artists, whilst positioning Lagos as an emergent cultural capital on the continent”.

On the impact if Art X Lagos, Peterside said in an interview, “We have witnessed a lot of change in the Lagos art scene since launching ART X Lagos. First, our goal to grow the base of local collectors appears to be materializing much faster than we expected, with many individuals who were first-time buyers at ART X Lagos, progressing gradually on their way towards becoming committed collectors.

“We also noticed that the exposure to an international audience, which ART X Lagos provided to local Nigerian artists, led to several of them being approached by international art galleries for representation and also resulted in acquisitions by renowned museum collections such as the Zeitz MOCAA, thus beginning the internalization of the careers of certain Nigerian artists.
“Another goal achieved was our motivation to democratize the art world, by welcoming thousands of guests from all sections of society to ART X Lagos. This has led to the lowering of the average age of visitors at local art exhibitions and events, with greater numbers of young people being encouraged to participate in these experiences.”
An even brighter future

As 2018 dawns, there are indications that the enthusiasm for, and interest in, African art will continue to grow, leading to an even more vibrant art market not only in Nigeria but across all of the continent.



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