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Art goes Southeast for Ofala, Life in My City Art Festivals

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor, Arts and Culture Editor
06 October 2019   |   4:16 am
From next week, the Southeast Nigeria landscape will soak in soulful breaths of woods, iron, stones and oil, as a large chunk of African artists will storm both Onitsha...

Some of the exhibits in a previous LIMCAF

From next week, the Southeast Nigeria landscape will soak in soulful breaths of woods, iron, stones and oil, as a large chunk of African artists will storm both Onitsha and Enugu, two of the most important cities in the region with works that will impart eerie serenity, visual grace and atmospheric harmony of the landscape. In other words, for the next 21 days or thereabout, nature will seek its own level in both Anambra and Enugu states for visual concourse.

Though a large chunk of Easterners are mostly ambivalent about the region’s importance in the country’s art history, it stands to be noted that the east was the fertile ground for the art rebellion of 1958 in Zaria.

Negative or positive, defeatist or elitist, the Nsukka Art School, and much later, the IMT Art School sustained Nigeria’s art craze, before Lagos took over with its art salons, galleries and iconic museums.

Nestled in the cracks of Miliken Hill’s all-encompassing art scene, there are a few impressive alternative art spaces in the former capital of Southeast. And these spaces, though hardly visible, co-exist alongside the established galleries — Some situated in storefronts, loft apartments, or abandoned buildings, these spaces, usually run on shoestring budgets by young and ambitious curators, gallerists, and artists, who want to prove that grassroots art scene can never be dead.

With a steadied promotion of visual art, the monarch of Onitsha has attempted to develop a new repertoire of images that is both akin to Onitsha Market Literature, but of a higher taste and standard that is not a caricature and denigration of the true subject matter.

Appearing from a distance like a piece of Egyptian funerary sculpture, the Oreze exhibition has inspired an upward swing, suggesting rebirth from a long sleep.

The works of 250 artists will be showcased at Oreze V11 exhibition, which holds between October 9 and 13, 2019 at Ime Obi, Palace of the Obi of Onitsha, Ezechima Square. The space has gathered momentum and can arguably be credited for beginning the rise of Onitsha Market Art, after the literature’s demise.

Works to be exhibited fall into three broad categories: Those by artists from West Africa, mostly Francophone artists, those by Nigerian artists, including artists in diaspora and works by artists of Onitsha origin and others practicing in the Southeast region.

Frank Ugiomoh, Professor of Art History and Theory, Department of Fine Art and Design, University of Port Harcourt will be the special guest at the opening ceremony.

Oreze V11 is one of the events, which forms part of the 2019 Ofala of the Obi of Onitsha, His Majesty Nnaemeka Achebe.

According to the monarch, “Oreze is part of the effort to ensure that art making, appreciation and enjoyment is accessible to a wider section of the society, including those in the provincial and rural communities.”

George Edozie, curator of the exhibition, added, “we are delighted to present Oreze VII, a festival of colours and creative energies in a collection of great works of art from multi-talented artists to celebrate this year’s Ofala.”

A panel discussion on the ‘Role of Art in Community Enlightenment, Cohesion and Development’ will hold on Thursday, October 10, as part of the show. Panellists include artists such as, Tayo Adenaike, Obiora Anidi and Nneka Odoh. Others are art collector Hakeem Adedeji and the curator Iheanyi Onwuegbucha. Prof. Ugiomoh will moderate the discussion.

The Oreze Art Exhibition Series has been conceptualised and promoted under the auspices of Chimedie Museum Trust Foundation. Established by Obi Achebe, the foundation seeks to help create a future in which African art achieves greater visibility, appreciation, relevance and sustainability. It is a centre of excellence for the development and promotion of African art as a vehicle for community transformation.

The Oreze Art Exhibition holds yearly during the Ofala of the Obi of Onitsha. It opened for the first time as Oreze 1 on Monday, October 7, 2013, which was the eve of that year’s Ofala. Oreze has grown in leaps and bounds and has had some of the largest collection of works in a group show in Africa. It continues to feature artists from various parts of the world and has served as an avenue for promoting up and coming artists.

With The Other Side as theme for this year’s event of Life In My City Art Festival (LIMCAF), there has been tremendous change in the organisation. The theme addresses a seamless or boundless thought process and product; and it implicates alternatives or a contrary view to what is.

Artists are expected to interpret the theme using any medium and process within the bounds of visual art. Importance should be placed on the quality and gestalt of the artwork.

LIMCAF has been putting up some of the best exhibitions you didn’t know about in Southeast and the country in general. Its exhibits are aggressively non-conformist, exciting and refreshing.

As part of efforts to make this year’s event to be an instant hit, the 2019 organising committee announced new names and restructured its local exhibitions, which opened in the Northwest Region at the Zaria Exhibition Centre, Department of Fine Arts, Ahmadu Bello University, on Wednesday, July 10, 2019. The South South Region, at the Benin Exhibition Centre, followed it. Thereafter, came the exhibition centres in Southwest Region —Lagos, Ibadan and Ondo — while Abuja, the sole exhibition centre in the North Central, and Enugu, the only centre in the South East hosted theirs.

Meanwhile, as preparations enter the final stages, the board of trustees of the youth empowerment project has released names of the national jury panel 2019. Mr. Nsikak Essien is chairman.

Essien is one of the best-known full time studio artists of his generation. The 64-year-old multi-talented artist was a founding member of the famous AKA Circle of Exhibiting Artists, which included other stalwarts such as, El Anatsui, Bona Ezeudu, Obiora Anidi and the late Okpu Eze among others.

Essien studied at the Institute of Management and Technology, Enugu, graduating with Distinction in Painting as best overall graduate and winner of the Fasuyi Best National Art graduate in painting, in 1979.

After an 11 year stint as lecturer in his alma mater from 1980 to 1991, Essien opted for fulltime studio work, from which he has continued to enchant the world of art lovers with acclaimed productions shown in solo and group exhibitions including permanent ones in many very highly visible venues such as, Akinola Aguda House and the Aso Villa collection, the National Assembly and the Central Bank of Nigeria Headquarters, all in Abuja. Others are to be found in highly notable and famed institutions, galleries and private collections of in the many famous homes and palaces.

Other members of the National Jury 2019 include: Sam Ovraiti, a notable Nigerian artist from the Auchi colourist school. He studied painting at the Auchi Polytechnic and the University of Benin, where he bagged an MFA degree specialising in painting. His expressive watercolours brought him to limelight in the early times of his career in the 1980s. His artistic journey reveals that he is proficient in a number of mediums and styles.

Sam taught painting and drawing at the famous Auchi polytechnic for close to a decade where he had a lot of followership before opting out to pursue a fulltime professional practice in 1993, with studio in Lagos. He has since been consistent in creating art and also offering mentorship and training to young artists. He is currently the director of the Harmattan Workshop.

Erasmus Onyishi is an experimentalist and one of the 10 artists presented by El Anatsui in the controversial “New Energies” exhibition in 2001. Erasmus is one of the earliest exponents of Video Art in Nigeria. He won the Originality Prize in the 2013 edition of LIMCAF and has received three awards (two in 2010 and one 2012) from National Universities’ Commission (NUC) for Research and Development in the Humanities. He is the first prize winner of the 2014 edition of the National Art Competition organised by the Nigerian Breweries and African Artists Foundation. He teaches sculpture at Federal University Lafia, Nasarawa State, Nigeria.

Klaranze Okhide, a visual artist and educator, is one of the jury members. Born Clara Nze (klaranze), in 1976, she had her formal training from the Auchi Art School (1999). Klaranze draws inspiration from everyday life and she is a colourist. She derives great joy in creating art through diverse mediums as she promotes art at the youth and professional levels through workshops, seminars, school art competitions, exhibitions etc.

Dr. Abdul Lasisi Lamidi’s exploratory artistic rendition has not been limited to modelling and paintings, but equally to a progressive exploit with the fluidity or the pliability of metal rod as a medium of sculptural interpretation. Equally evident of his artistic expedition is his craftsmanship in the way he has generated a new ‘alloy” with metal rods and fabric in some of his canvas-draped metal sculptures.

The final list of the Top 100 artworks for the grand finale will be ratified by the national jury and published, thereafter. The local exhibitions are the centres from which the final 100 best artworks for each year are selected for the grand finale in the last week of this month.

LIMCAF is the biggest youth art festival in Nigeria, which seeks to economically empower young Nigerian artists and provide a platform for the advancement of their careers through a yearly nationwide competition that has been running for the past 12 years.

According to LIMCAF Art Director, Dr. Ayo Adewunmi, the appointment of Essien is a continuation of the trend set from the beginning of the Festival 13 years ago when the festival started to ensure the highest level of integrity and excellence in the judging process by appointing the very best of practitioners, scholars and curators in contemporary art in Nigeria with occasional inclusion of foreign experts into the jury panel, so that only the indisputable best of our young artists emerge from the exercise every year.

Adewunmi noted that in the last three years, a deliberate policy directed by the Board of Trustees had also resulted in the inclusion of younger talents from the pool of past overall winners who have distinguished themselves and advanced their careers notably further, to join the regional and the national jury panels. The aim is to ensure continuity and help build leadership in the Nigeria art landscape both in academia as well as among studio practitioners and in the art industry generally.

He said changes in the structure and nomenclature had become necessary, because the attention of the organising committee had been drawn to the fact that many interested persons were somewhat confused about the geography of the old festival zones structure, which did not fall into any familiar pattern of recognising areas and places within the country.

He explained that as the festival continues to grow and the number of entries and interested persons grow in each Region, new Exhibition Centres would inevitably be named such that no part of the country will be left behind or be underserved.

At the close of entries for 2019, the highest number of entries came from the South West with 218 entries, followed by the South East with 126 and the South with 116. Others are the North Central Region with 49 and the North West having a total of 33 entries.