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How art confronted recession in year 2016

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President Muammadu Buhari and his wife, Aisha; Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo and his wife, Dolapo, during the artists’ visit to Aso Rock

President Muammadu Buhari and his wife, Aisha; Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo and his wife, Dolapo, during the artists’ visit to Aso Rock

Like other sectors of the economy, the art market started the first quarter of 2016 with a journey into uncertainty. And by the time the Federal Government officially confirmed that the economy had entered recession, the effect of weakened purchasing power was already hovering over art patronage, so suggested the lure that followed.

However, ‘the show must go on.’ The art exhibition spaces and auction circuits – two main outlets for the art market – still filled their regular spots, perhaps, to keep the spirit of art patronage alive. In fact, a new entrant Art X Lagos made its debut with an “impressive” attendance and what was adjudged a “successful” show.

Signs that the months ahead would lay a siege of economic challenge for art started when Abuja-based Thought Pyramid, which was the only accredited Nigerian art gallery to Art Dubai 2016, could not meet up with the financial requirement to exhibit at the global event. Director of
Thought Pyramid, Jeff Ajueshi, had cited the astronomical rise in exchange rate of the naira to the dollar as reason for not participating. An opportunity to expand international patronage of artists such as Jimoh Buraimoh and Muraina Oyelami at such a big event was lost.

Keeping fate with the art calendar of Lagos, art auction houses, Arthouse Contemporary and TKMG still had their sales organised as usual in the early second quarter of the year. In fact, Arthouse had a double, with Affordable auction, a new window for artworks sold under N500,000.

The resilience of art against economic rage continued as nearly all the spots in the art calendar was filled. For example, the African Artists Foundation (AAF)-led National Art Competition went ahead as usual, producing Godwin Uzorji, Atonye Lamie and Ayinla Olajumoke as winners. The same AAF still held on to its LagosPhoto exhibition, a yearly event that has been held for eight years.

Interestingly, regular art gallery exhibitions, as well as, alternative space shows were not left out of action, despite the state of the economy. In fact, a new entrant in alternative space, Jumoke Sanwo-led Art Incubator was launched with exhibition paintings and drawings.

Also, the seat of power, Aso Rock, Abuja, must have had a direct feel of whatever artists were going through in a year of recession as President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo hosted selected artists in the third quarter of the year. Director at Rele Gallery, Onikan, Lagos, Adenrele Sonariwo led the artists to Aso Villa, where Buhari and Osinbajo viewed artworks of some of the artists. The presidential guests included Johnson Uwadinma, Issac Emokpae, Ezekiel Osifeso, Fati Abuba, Ndidi Emefiele, Atoola Gbolahan, Rishardson Ovbiebo, Victor Badejo and Ibe Ananaba.

USUALLY, the last quarter of every year comes with art activities in their full gear. 2016 was no exception despite low patronage in financial terms and guests attendance. But sometimes, visits to some art exhibitions, where large turnouts were recorded, could be deceptive in relation to the number of works sold.

However, the period of recession afforded Olusegun Adejumo-led Guild of Professional Fine Artists of Nigeria (GFA) to return to the exhibition circuit after over two years’ break. The exhibition titled Catharsis had artworks of 24 members on display at the guild’s traditional venue, Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos.

At the same venue, another yearly art exhibition organised by Abiodun Olaku and Fidelis Odogwu asserted the resilience of artists in a distressed economy, specifically at the last quarter in November.

While Lagos continued to flex its art hub muscle, Abuja was not exactly quiet with some art exhibitions and related activities from Thought Pyramid, National Gallery of Art (NGA) and National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC). In fact, the yearly African Art and Craft (AFAC) by NCAC was still held.

Beyond perception and denial, the pulse of the art space in a recession year was best felt from the response of artist and gallery owner, Nike Okundaye. Ahead of one of the art exhibitions shown at the gallery few weeks ago titled Connectivity of Vision, Okundaye noted that selling art “has been very tough with drop in patronage.”

The gallery has a projection and plans for next year though. “We are planning to create art investment education so people know they can make money from art collecting,” explained Chief Rueben Okundaye. “Isn’t art, as an investment, taken for granted?”

Most art collectors in Nigeria, Okundaye argued, “just collect for pleasure.”

2016 as a recession year wasn’t exactly new to the art environment in Nigeria. The global meltdown of 2008/-09 up until 2010, seemed not to have spared art. But records through the secondary art markets at home and abroad clearly indicated that art was, to an extent, insulated from the then financial challenges.

However, visual arts landscape lost two of its prominent collectors, Sam Olagbaju and Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi. Their loss would no doubt impact on art patronage in the country.



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