Tuesday, 25 September 2007

A few more Nigerian Artists' Websites

My dream is that there will be over 1000 Nigerian artists website and/or blogs - functional ones o - by 1st October 2010 which is when we our dear country celebrates 50 years. Towards of the end of the first decade of the new millennium we need to achieve that critical mass. The Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA) needs to wake up and rise to this challenge. It is the statutory artists' body with a national reach and I believe that it must become an indispensable for any in-coming elected officials to articulate as one of their key points and top priorities a better understanding and better use of technology and new communications media for its constituency.

Current president Kolade Oshinowo has started the ball rolling with his own website and with that of SNA even though alot still needs to be done - at least they now have a page or two and will continue to build on it.

Artists' website I have received include Ayo Adewunmi and his project on turning Waste into creative object has a content rich but graphics heavy site at www.art-is-everywhere.com

Joe Musa and Kunle Filani also have their website but more work needs to done on them.

Friday, 21 September 2007

Another art season begins in Lagos

After the yearly summer break in August, the cultural scene is back to life. September to December tends to be a very busy time for artists with a myriad of activities including solo and group exhibitions, talks, seminars and panel discussions. Every single gallery, artspace and non art space is booked without respite by artists and by art promoters.

The annoying aspect is that one can easily miss alot of these event if one is not very diligent. I come across 40% of them by chance. Most of the spaces in Lagos don't actually have their own in house programmes. Artists book the spaces for a fee or by giving a commission and are responsible for all the organisation, publicity, and private view and for younger artists this can be a daunting task. If you are not on their mailing list - which most have not built up - and if they haven't distributed leaftlets in strategic locations, then it is difficult to know what is going on.

Inspite of that I managed to get to a few events over the last 10 days, some by invitation and some by chance. At the Aina Onabolu gallery Kehinde Adepegba was presenting his first solo exhibition
Fusion flourished as a book designer , a creative writer in Yoruba and since graduating in 1997. Harsh economic realities meant a decade long absence from studio practice in fulltime employment but in other creative fields. Adepegba has English but also as an arts writer and reviewer. I guess this long absence explains the tentativeness of the small exhibition consisting mainly of paintings of no discernible style or contextual coherence. The works ranged from acrylic on canvas and ink on paper to mixed media paintings and even cartoons. Each worked touched on a different subject from Yoruba symbology to christianity, from daily life - with the usual popular themes on drumming, dancing and merrymaking to societal ills and political mismangement. Basically the usual mind numbing fare through up in countless exhibitions and galleries. I usually prefer not to do reviews which are usually taken personally here, so that I don't get run out of town by my beloved art community!!!

Exhibitions of female artists are far and few to see and I was happy to hear that the Annual (I think) Female National Art Exhibition
Echoes of Experience was coming to Lagos. It is an initiative of the Female Artists Association of Nigeria who fed up with the inactivity of the SNA (Society of Nigerian Arts) whose elected officers tend to fight themselves to a standstill decided form their own association and just get on with it unfortunately over 2 hours was spent with speeches, prayers, cutting the cake, pats and cheers that I couldn't wait for the Guest of Honour to formally declare the exhibition open due to other commitments. However I did manage to do a sneak whizz tour of the exhibition consisting of over 52 members working in a myriad of media - painting, sculpture, textiles, crochet, tapestry and woodcut. As with most Nigerian exhibitions no sign of new media or technology or that we are in the 21st century. Not one photographic work, video, performance art. Even areas in which women were usually strong such as textile were very disappointing. The paintings could have fitted well into the late 19th, early 20th century. The exhibition only succeeded in reinforcing the appalling level of most of the visual art in the country. Whilst I applaud their staying power knowing the obstacles women artists have to overcome, due to the overwhelming roles and responsibilities they have to negotiate in daily lives, there is no excuse for the shallow, amateurish, - to put it mildly - work that was on view. Something drastic needs to be done about art education in Nigeria. It needs to be brought into. And that is what they have been doing coming out in full force. I attend the opening a few days ago at the Aina Onabolu Gallery, but the 21st century.

From there I moved on to leaving reception of the deputy director of arts at the British Council who is being posted to Kuwait. I guess of the BC's new policy focusing on the Islamic world. After the usual greetings, networking and watching some music performances by young hip-hop group nurtured by the BC, I headed to Jazzhole where an informal gathering was organised for Rem Koolhaas, his team and his daughter who is doing some research for a biennale somewhere in China, Chenzen i think. A lot of the young professional architects,designers and photographers were there including Uche Iroha and TY Bello of DoF (Depth of Field) I met Koolhaas for the first time and we spoke briefly about his research in Lagos and the forthcoming book on Lagos. One to watch out for. Someone at the gathering mentioned that Koolhaas had a meeting with the new Lagos governor Mr Fashola (SAN) where he showed the video on Lagos. Apparently our dear guv'nor was amazed by the lagos he was shown. So much for being in the known about the city you govern or want to turn into a model megacity by
year soon to come. We have a thing about dates here!!!!

Ty Bello chatting with some people. Some young architects catching up on stuff

Lovely Tundun wife of Kunle Tejuosho, owner of Jazzhole.

Thursday, 6 September 2007


Dineo Seshee Bopape

(fictions unending) dreamweaver and other stories
September 8th - 13th October 2007

Mart House presents, in Bopape's first solo-show, videos, objects, drawings and photographs,
as an installation of mystery and intrigue. Bopape is an artist who is interested in the collection of material and their potential to invoke strong emotional reactions. The resulting considered, abject messiness provides the viewer entry into the netherworld of the unsaid and unspoken. Secrets, white lies and elements of psychosexual ambivalence are components on the artist's palette, stirred and applied with vigor to create a site for contemplation
"My work is a search through a minefield of metaphors in spaces...spaces of memory and of the present, spaces of the real and the imagined, the hidden and revealed. It is an attempt to conceal and mask, whilst simultaneously attempting to peel away the husk and layers that crust over secretive stories embedded in objects and in people."

Dineo Bopape (1981), Durban, South Africa) studied at the Durban
Institute of Technology, And a two years working period at the Ateliers, Amsterdam (2005-2007) Her work has been shown at 'in the making materials and process' (Michael Stevenson Gallery, Cape town, 2005) at the International Film Festival Rotterdam(2006) New Painting recent South African Art (KZNSA Gallery, Durban, 2006) Shared Histories/Decolonizing the Image (W139, Amsterdam, 2006) De Grote Oversteek (Stedelijk Museum, Zwolle,2006) and the TransCape event (Het Fort,Cape Town, 2007) www.marthouse.nl culled from press release.

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Killing us not so softly. Hostile Nigerian Government attitude to arts and culture.

The Obasanjo Government (1999-2007) brought no discernable development or advancement within the arts and culture sector. It goes without saying that most African countries consider that art and culture has no meaningful role in the development of the nation. When not being completely ignored artists are treated with derision and contempt. In Nigeria any politician sent to head the Ministry of Culture and Tourism considers such an appointment worse than purgatory with little prestige and and a punitive budget. In the last 6 months the assault on the arts has reached crisis level from all tiers of the government especially federal and state. In the last days of his government, Obasanjo through the nefarious Bureau for Public Enterprise – basically the arm that sells, nay privatises public companies, sneakily approved the sale of the National theatre complex. For the last 4 months the art community has been waging a relentless battle against the government for a reversal of that decision.

Whilst privatisation of moribund, money guzzling inefficient government enterprises is welcome as most of them if properly run can survive and even turn huge profits in a country such as Nigeria, the same cannot be said for cultural institutions. Where in the world do you hear of countries selling off – oh the official term in Nigeria is leasing – their cultural heritage. Would France sell the Louvre off to the highest bidder? Or London sell the Tate or South Bank Centre or Australia the Sydney opera house? Who is going to save us from these cultural philistines and illiterate, deplorable politicians?

Still in the throes of that major battle, 3months ago the newly installed Governor of Bayelsa state in the troubled Niger Delta Region issues an order that the Art Department should be closed down and the building annexed to another Department. In His Excellency's myopic view what the state need are more lawyers, engineers and not arts and humanities graduates. What a fool indeed!!! The art and academic community in collaboration with the news media went on the defensive with the kind of speed that not habitual for this passive community. The Governor is busy trying to retrace his demented steps.

Then 10 days ago another bloody assault, the officials of the Lagos State Government bulldozed a prominent art and crafts market which at the weekend is usually a beehive of activities. The email that I received from a concerned art supporter was:

We were shocked today (Saturday, Aug. 19, 2007) to find the well-known Art Market of Maiyegun (Lekki, Lagos) bulldozed without warning by forces of the Lagos State Government. According to eye witnesses several persons received gunshots, one died. The market, home for about 120 artists from the African Pride of Art & Crafts, was completely destroyed today and many more people lost hope and income. Properties and artwork valued provisionally at 30-40 million Naira was destroyed, unnecessarily.Please find attached some of the pictures that document the wanton destruction of this market.

It has been reported that at least 3 people have died as a result of the shock of the action. Once again the art community is up in arms at the unwarranted loss of livelihood for individuals working hard to feed their families. The irony is that the government at all levels spend a lot of time and money trying to develop the tourism and hospitality industry yet spends the same resources destroying an important component of the tourism industry – the arts and culture. This hostility has to stop.
scenes from the demolition

India Rising

The past decade has witnessed a growing interest in India. As an emerging economic powerhouse with a rapidly growing middle class the spotlight continues to move from its enormous market potential to its arts and culture. It was no surprise that India featured visibly in the over 400 nominations that Artes Mundi collated this year. In 2006 Subodh Gupta one of India most prominent contemporary artist was one of the eight finalist.

I have always tried as much as possible to follow art developments in India and it was a country pencilled down one day for visit. As a co-selector for Artes Mundi the biennal international artist prize, the opportunity presented itself. The 8 day trip would include visits to some of the major capital cities of this subcontinent of over a billion people. My visit initially was to Mumbai and Delhi but a chance meeting and introduction to Indian curator Suman Gopinath convinced me that Bangalore had to be added to my itinerary.

Even though I live in a city of over 15 million in Lagos, Nigeria, I was expecting to be overwhelmed by the number in some of the megacities on my itinerary especially Mumbai and New Delhi who are fast approaching over 20 million. I was pleasantly surprised that in spite of the extremes of poverty and wealth that one encountered as one drove from one end of the city from the airport to the other central part of town the fairly good planning contained the crowd in a way made it looked almost empty to me in comparison with the chaos that is Lagos. I remember at one stage asking my taxi driver ‘where is everybody’ as we criss-crossed sprawling Delhi to visit artists’ studios. Finally reality dawned that Lagos has grown relatively unplanned, with little or no recent public infrastructural development result the overwhelming crowding we experience daily. These are the results of decades of military dictatorship and the lack of proper governance of the nation’s oil windfall.

The India art scene is still smarting from the recently missed opportunity presented in the form of an invitation from Robert Storr, artistic director of the 52nd Venice Biennale to organise an official Indian pavilion. The same invitation extended to Africa and Turkey. It seemed the bungling bureaucracy threw away an opportunity to present the vibrant Indian art scene to an international audience. And even if they got their act together would it have like another Egyptian pavilion showing ‘official’artists.

Little or no public funding or infrastructure is available to nurture, support and develop visual arts there exists artists run initiatives, private galleries, independent curators and writers doing really interesting work and projects. I noticed a visible and strong attitude towards self initiated projects whether it is artists collectives, commercial galleries or individual art professionals. I visited 3 very interesting organisations whose structures are different but complimentary. Mohile Parikh Center for Visual Arts in Mumbai is a private initiative started in 1990. Its focus is on developing discourse in the fields of art and architecture through cross-cultural exchanges nationally and internationally and by organising lectures, seminars and workshops. Their international conferences have hosted international luminaries such Homi Bhabha, Thomas McEvilley, Apinan Posyananda and Charles Merewether. In Delhi, there is Khoj a dynamic and vibrant artist run space with an ambitious programme of residencies and workshops that accommodates international, local and regional artists. I found their short mentionship residency for recently qualified graduated art students very innovative and much needed. Also in Delhi is the cerebral Sarai collective, publisher of the influential annual Sarai Reader which is freely downloadable from their website. Sarai’s interest include media research and theory, the urban experience in South Asia, digital culture, the history and politics of technology, and web based practices to name a few. They have a diversity of programmes apart from their publication such as talks, conferences, film screenings, online forums and fellowships. Unfortunately the Raqs Media Collective members were not around but I was able to catch a group exhibition in which they were participating in a very nice commercial gallery Nature Morte.

Started over a decade ago by an American artist who visited India and liked the country so much and decided to stay. Nature Morte has played an important role in offering a platform for many artists locally and also those living in the Diaspora. They have a blue chip rooster of Indian artists and have built international partnerships with other institutions especially in American to present the artist abroad. Whilst they made a Herculean effort to present Indian artists at the 2004 Venice Biennale, it would be problematic for an American to be in charge of the official pavilion. In India, the commercial galleries are doing an admirable job providing artists with professional exhibition spaces, towing a thin line between being profitable and showing work that goes beyond lovely paintings and sculpture. In Mumbai I visited Sakhti gallery which has been going for over 20years and works across generations of artists. From the earlier modern India pioneers to the young cutting edge conceptual artists. The art scene in India is booming in tempo with the economy. The interest from abroad especially Europe and America is unprecedented. And prices for young artists are soaring to the quarter of a million to half a million euros. Finally, the galleries are now benefiting from the economic boom, a wealthier middle class and a confident and more daring contemporary art collector base. As things are gallery are more capable to financially and professionally support more artists and their ambitious projects. The art scene in Bangalore is in its embryonic stage but it seems that it will soon catch up with the more established cities. And as the centre of India’s technological revolution, you can smell and see the money all around.

Visit to artist studios is missing from this account as we have to wait until the end of September for the official announcement of eight selected finalist for the 3rd Artes Mundi Art Prize. But inspite of the frenzied schedule I was able to spend a good amount of time with all the artists and other individuals that I met. The themes are very diverse but many of the recent work is inspired by or a response to the social upheavals in the country such as religious tensions especially between Hindus and Muslims some of which have resulted in substantial loss of lives. Others explore the impact of modernity on tradition.

In each city I visited I met lucky to meet with some the independent curators and writers who are developing a discourse from within the country. Lucky because they are all very busy working on one international project or the other. Internationally renowned Indian art historian Geeta Kapur’s immense contribution is legendary Her insightful writings are an important starting point for anybody interested in modern and contemporary Indian art and I am proud to say I am a big fan of her work. So I was really happy when she took time out of her busy schedule to invite me to tea at the International India Centre ( with some name like that. Excuse an errors) I also met with Gayatri Sinha who is also very active. I had met her at a lecture she gave on transnational curating she gave at University of the Arts in London in 2006. We had a fruitful conversation which I hope will result between Africa and India one day. In Banglore I met with Suman Gopinath an emerging independent curator working her first solo curator project large ambitious exhibition of Indian contemporary art for the kunsthalle in Switzerland. It will feature over 30 artists. Gopinath is also one of the curators for the Lyon Biennal.

I think it is interesting that artists have encouraged galleries to work together by insisting that their exhibitions got to at least 2 or 3 other major cities. It must travel. These are part of the survival and growth mechanism and it also provides the opportunity for younger artists and a wider national audience to see what other more experienced artists are doing. It helps to develop a discourse that is not localised but is national in depth. That is not to say that there are no particularities. For example Mumbai is considered more commercially inclined whereas Delhi seems to harbour the more critical and intellectual aspect and Bangalore is still trying to position itself maybe as the place to visit for new directions.

India artists are well positioned. The artists, writers, curators and gallerist are interested in South-South cultural exchanges, with the Asia Pacific region but also with the Middle East and Africa. The way things look, for the foreseeable future the opportunities are limitless. I was warmly welcomed and received by everyone and there seems to be genuine interest to engage more actively with Africa. I encourage African artists, writers and curators to GO EXPLORE!!!!!