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Documenting challenges of contemporary visual arts sector

By Omiko Awa and Margaret Mwantok
29 July 2015   |   10:07 am
WORRIED that there’s lack of documentation in the visual art sector, as against other art genres in the country and other climes, Adewale Maja Pearce, Head of New Gong Publishing, is set to correct this imbalance.


WORRIED that there’s lack of documentation in the visual art sector, as against other art genres in the country and other climes, Adewale Maja Pearce, Head of New Gong Publishing, is set to correct this imbalance.

He would, on August 8, unveil Issues In Contemporary Nigerian Art 2000-2010 written by his wife, Juliet Ezenwa Maja-Pearce of Yemaja Art Gallery, Surulere, Lagos.

While speaking on their latest book, which is outside what the publishing firm is known for, Maja-Pearce said, “When New Gong Publishing came on board in 2005, it merely concentrated on literature: novels, essays and poetry.

But with time, it began to notice that there is a gap in the market on art books and decided to fill the gap. This is our first production and we look forward to bringing out the second volume, which will be for 2010-2020.

According to the publisher, the compiler, Juliet, had no intention to do a book and said the idea came from a brainstorming session where she was challenged; she then promise to do something about it.

Accepting the challenge did not come easy, as she had to persuade fellow artists, both practicing and those in the academics to summit monographs to enable her complete the book within the shortest time possible. This was to drag on until only 22 people responded out of the many she contacted.

Was that why it took four years to complete? “Yes, people were skeptical, when you say you want to publish a book, they will want to give you benefit of the doubt. But today, they have seen the responses of other artists and now want to contribute in the second edition. We started it with our money until, early this year; when Ford Foundation came up with some money, when they saw what we were doing. This is why we were able to publish it in the United Kingdom.

You printed it outside Nigeria? “Definitely,” Maja-Pearce said. “We did; this is because we cannot get a good quality print in Nigeria. I have printed books in this country and I have not been happy with the result. So, for a book with a lot of images, it is certain that the desired quality would not be gotten here. It is not that the machines are not here, but attention to details is not part of our culture”.

When she joined the interview session, Mrs. Maja-Pearce, who is also a partner in the publishing firm, stated that Nigerian and African art is becoming big at the international scene, and said the new book marks out the issues that Nigerian artists are facing in terms of practice and wider visibility.

According to her, “One benefit of this book is that it gives female artists a very visible participation. I think it is time we began to give the female artist some edge, because they quickly fall aside with marriage. We specifically targeted the female artists; we wrote to Female Artists Association of Nigeria (FAAN); we pushed, pampered and begged before we got their responses in the book”.

Having seen and overcome the challenges of the first volume, the two are now set for the second and possibly the third volumes of the book. As Maja-Pearce put it, “I think I am very bold and ready to take the next one on, because I have all the materials on ground and now that I have seen what it takes, I am going to give it another trial.

I would love to do my own book this time, apart from the second volume. I would like to do a more technical one that has to do with visual art, a recipe and style kind of book, which will reduce the number of contributors and also be more straightforward.”

He lamented the absence of platforms to distribute books in Nigeria to get them to the target audience, and said the book would be available in and other selected bookshops.

Our concern is that there is no book chain, where one can go and discuss with the marketing team or any platform that has outlets in all the major cities,” he noted. “We don’t have that yet. As a result of this, we shall be selling the book through and a few selected bookshops”.

According to Juliet, the book would certainly give pirates a hard time to reproduce, especially with the cost of printing and getting monographs, adding that the issues were not just about the book, but providing a platform for artists to discuss topical issues facing the profession and sector.

She added that the August 8 launch would include the unveiling of a children’s book by Dulue Mbachu. She also informed that one of the activities during the launch would be a debate on ‘Defining the Parameters of Contemporary Nigerian Art’ by a panel of discussants.