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For artists’ Guild, Impact breeds ‘plurality’

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A painting by Adenugba titled Evening light, oil on canvas 37.4 x 44.5 inches 2018

Rarely seen as a group on the exhibition circuit, Guild of Professional Fine Artists of Nigeria (GFA) recently made an appearance with 19 members.

The salon, titled, Impact, showed at Hourglass Gallery, Victoria Island, Lagos, featured painting, sculpture, drawing and mixed media of select members’ works. Explained as a gathering to express plurality of a strange time, the art salon also affirmed the artists’ spots as key players on Nigeria’s contemporary visual landscape.

Abiodun Olaku, Adetola Wewe, Alex Nwokolo, Ben Ibebe, Bimbo Adenugba, Bunmi Babatunde, Diseye Tantua, Duke Asidere, Edosa Ogiugo, Emenike Ogwo and George Edozie featured in the show.

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Other featured members were Joshua Nmesirionye, Juliet Ezenwa Maja Pearce, Norbet Okpu, Odogwu Eze Fidelis, Osagie Aimufia, Reuben Ugbine, Sam Ebohon and Tayo Quaye.

The GFA had its last group show in 2018 as part of the professional body’s 10th year anniversary celebrations. The events included, art workshops, seminars, salon and major art shows not just for members, but also featured the general community of artists.

One of the pieces that confirmed the rarity of the gathering was Life Desires by Asidere. Rendered in pressed charcoal, graphite, crayon, chalk and oil pastel on watercolour paper, Asidere’s Life Desires, dated 2020, is a monochromatic drawing, spiced with few spots, faintly in colours.

In stylised figures that require quite a depth of intellectual interpretation, the 30.7 x 22 inches size drawing added to the spark of the salon.

Olaku took his smooth brushings through astronomy and came up with Lunar Watch (The Neighbourhood), a realism painting of oil on paperboard dated 2020. Either in its physical or terrestrial contents, the lunar strength as seen in the horizon skyline of a streetscape by Olaku seemed to explain much connection between the earth and radiation from the moon.

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Lagos, the smallest of Nigeria’s 36 states, ironically, has the tendency to either make or mar anyone as the country’s most important business hub. And in just one dot of an image, Nwokolo, an artist of profound mixed media identity narrated the city’s plurality with Lost in Lagos II, dated 2020.

Tantua, an artist with passion for depicting street behaviour, took another look at the transportation system with his Las Las, We Go Dey Alright, acrylic on canvas dated 2019.

A loaded and broken down lorry being pushed by three persons, perhaps, was used to capture individual challenges, particularly, in the year of pandemic.

Ogiugo’s drawing, Untitled, rendered in charcoal on paper and dated 2020, reveals the elegant movement of horses. Though not exactly in pacy motion, the horse work’s elegance is derived from the collective strength from the monochromatic drawing, as the masterly strokes from the charcoal were vintage Ogiugo.

Babatunde’s Possibilities VI, in wood, dated 2020, expanded the artist’s dragging aerobics and gymnastic actions onto the creative space of visual expressions.

The only female artist in the show, Ezenwa Maja-Pearce, again, showed her unfolding fresh style in the painting titled Beyond Misogyny, oil on canvas, dated 2020. Over one year ago, the artist unveiled her new painting direction during a solo show titled Overcoming Misogyny, at National Museum, Onikan, Lagos.

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Her new texture of painting is sill in her figurative signature, but with more depth of colour application.

“This exhibition is a manifestation of those fine things of life that have been missing in the preceding months of the year,” argued Yinka Fisher, a Trustee of the GFA. As a prominent art collector, Fisher noted that the salon came at the end of the year that brought people back to those things that were “pleasant and beautiful.”

The patron summarised the 12 years of the GFA as having “an impact as a body of the finest fine artists in Nigeria,” whose strides he said “are acknowledged both locally and abroad.” He cited examples of the guild’s “four successful exhibitions in the UK,” including years that Bonhams and Sotheby’s auction houses featured works by GFA members, in the auctioneers’ global sales platforms.

After several years of existence of blackmail of being a ‘cult’ group of artists, GFA, under the second president, Abraham Uyovbisere seemed to open up its membership for more entrants. In 2014, an unprecedented number of artists were inducted into the group in one single day. So far, the group seemed to have sustained its strict membership based on ‘fulltime studio practice,’ as set out in 2008 when it was formally launched.

GFA, last year, stepped up its stride on the Lagos art appreciation circuit by establishing a gallery in Lekki. For a group of professionals that consists artists across different generations, including the foundation members’ nearly or over two decades post-training careers, sustaining a gallery facility shouldn’t create sleepless nights. However, not showing Impact in the GFA Gallery raised an eyebrow of de-marketing the rented facility.

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For whatever reasons, the Impact salon was shown outside the GFA’s new gallery. The need to expand the group’s network necessitated a partnership with others, the gallery’s curator and GFA director, Ugonna Ibe-Ejiogu explained. Hourglass Gallery, she said, “offered that partnership.” In her curatorial note for Impact she stated that “Ultimately a reflection of gratitude; this salon sees each artist expressing their individual experiences in a year where lives and livelihoods have been changed and lost.” Recalling the challenging year of 2020, the curator said, “it is an honor to be able to close out the year with such a beautiful and personal show.” She noted that Hourglass Gallery and the show’s “lead sponsor Art.NG have joined us in celebrating some of the finest artists in Nigeria.”

Led by Ebohon, with Ezenwa Maja-Pearse as vice president and Okpu as general secretary, GFA had its maiden show titled Threshold, in 2008. The exhibition held at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos. There was a follow up to this with an induction ceremony, under its first president, Ogiugo. In 2010, the guild added another show Crux of Matter to mark Nigeria’s 50th independence anniversary. On the international space, GFA, in 2013, showed Transcending Boundaries at The Gallery, Cock Street, London.

Other executives of the group are Aimufia, who is financial secretary and Adenugba as the social director.

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