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How Art X Lagos achieved Africa’s premier fair status

By Margaret Mwantok
26 November 2017   |   4:25 am
The Civic Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos, was the centre of attraction last weekend, when the second edition West Africa’s number one art fair, Art X Lagos, returned.

Guests during the viewing

The Civic Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos, was the centre of attraction last weekend, when the second edition West Africa’s number one art fair, Art X Lagos, returned. It was evident that Africans love art, as they arrived in their numbers to experience the event from all over the continent.

Following a successful debut in 2016, organisers hoped for a better outing, in terms of attendance and quality of works on display. It was no wonder the opening night had the Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, leading dignitaries that include the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed and the CBN Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, to the unveiling of the 3-day art fair, which ran from November 3 through 5, 2017.

After the VIP preview on the opening night, guests, art aficionados and Lagos international gentry graced the After Party, hosted by Voltaire, the exclusive members-only arts club. At the official opening and on loan from Access Bank to the fair to welcome guests to the exhibition hall were the famous seven sculptures by Nigeria’s greatest modernist artist, Sir Ben Enwonwu. The works were originally commissioned by London-based Daily Mirror in 1960 and had not, until now, been publicly displayed in Nigeria. The unveiling coincided with the artist’s 100th posthumous birthday anniversary.

‘Smile,’ an outdoor installation by Olatunde Alara, commissioned by Absolut, to tackle the theme, ‘Artist as Citizen,’ welcomed guests to the venue. ‘Danfo,’ designed by Olalekan Jeyifous and curated by A Whitespace Creative Agency, was also stationed at the entrance of the exhibition hall; it invited guests to indulge their imaginative impulses.

The main exhibition floor was home to 14 exhibiting galleries including Art House, The Space (Nigeria), Bloom Art (Nigeria), Fondation Donwahi (Ivory Coast), Gallery 1957 (Ghana), Galerie Atiss (Senegal), Gallery MAM (Cameroon), Nubuke Foundation (Ghana), Retro Africa (Nigeria), Signature Beyond (Nigeria), SMO Contemporary (Nigeria), Stevenson Gallery (South Africa), TAFETA (United Kingdom), and Tiwani Contemporary (United Kingdom).

The Director of Nubuke Foundation (Ghana), Odile Tevie, who was exhibiting for the first time on Art X Lagos, said the foundation, which focuses on visual art, supports young Ghanaian artists and encourages them to take part in exhibitions.

“Taking part in fairs is a way of exposing the artists to the world, and also generating revenue for the foundation,” Tevie said. “For instance, Patrick is very much interested in environment and nature. He displays artistic creativity with slippers. He lives on the southern coast of Ghana, and so he saves debris of people’s used slippers and creates art. On display, the works have not been treated but the colour and neatness draw attention.”

She emphasised the need for exposure and the commercial side of art, adding, “we, on the other end, develop the artists, give them the chance to develop and be strong in their work, because when they go into the commercial side, they may not be able to sustain their work. This is a good opportunity for us, meeting Nigerian buyers and patrons.”

The 65 artists on show included the Nigerian-born, British-based, globally renowned artist and sculptor, Sir Yinka Shonibare, Zanele Muholi (South Africa), Jeremiah Quarshie (Ghana), Modupeola Fadugba (Nigeria), Nandipha Mntambo (Swaziland), Virginia Chihota (Zimbabwe), Boris Nzebo (Cameroon); Babajide Olatunji (Nigeria), Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum (Botswana), Amadou Sanogo (Mali) and Portia Zvavahera (Zimbabwe) amongst others.

In addition, four independent artists – Polly Alakija, Rom Isichei, Lakin Ogunbanwo and Oluseye presented a selection of their works. Also, the programme of events included a series of talks by eminent artists, including Lemi Ghariokwu, the man, who designed Fela Kuti’s albums, Ed Keazor, Stacy Hardy from Chimurenga, South Africa, and Olu Amoda.

One of the artists, Yaw Owusu, appropriated an expensive material to draw attention to issues of imperialism, the state of independence, racism, economic and political blunders. His one-pesewa coin installation appropriated nearly worthless, loose change, as structural material to consider the state of Ghana’s political and economic independence. The work was created out of hundreds of small copper coins. This financial instrument introduced in 2007, as a cure-all for rising inflation in Ghana was minted offshore by the Royal Canadian Mint, and served as the primary material for the artist’s work, which is populated by up to 24,000 copper pieces.

According to Owusu, “I become fascinated by artists using materials to produce something that could fetch some sort of financial resource. So, I thought about the case where I would use the financial resource to produce the work.”

Johnson Uwandinma’s installation ‘Amnesia’ is a mixed media interactive sculpture reflecting his obsession with memory, the dynamics within Nigerian historiographies and the difficulties associated with transcending collective memory.

According to Uwandinma, “We are constantly engaged in repetitive conflict, violence, war, political ignorance, corruption and deceit. We repeat history; we never learn; knowledge fails us; history and truth get erased. In a post-truth era, where objective facts are dismissed in favour of emotion and rhetoric, our relationship to news and media begs for deeper scrutiny. ‘Amnesia’ hints to this gesture, for in this seemingly inert universe, made up of cumbersome spheres, the lodestar is the playful, kinetic sculptures that afford an attitudinal shift.”

The artist made use of newspapers, rolling them into small balls, and supporting them with tiny robes, with which he built such colourful and attractive pieces that drew the crowd.

The 2017 Art X Live edition tagged ‘Electric Africa: The Digital Orchestra’ saw a unique fusion of digital art by Williams Chechet and Osaze Amadasun with electric music. As expected, young art enthusiasts turned out in large numbers to watch Poe, Tomi Thomas, Wavy the Creator, Eko Samba and producers Aye and Leriq team up to deliver an unparalleled live music experience.

The highlight of Day 3 included talks by Njideka Akinyili-Crosby, a MacArthur Genius Fellow. She had conversation with moderator, Temitayo Ogunbiyi, where Njideka spoke about her upbringing and how it shaped her career as an artist. Other speakers included Bimpe Nkontchou, Eric Fajemisin, Femi Akinsanya, Femi Lijadu, Ngoné Fall, Peju Alatise and Wura-Natasha Ogunji. The Art X Prize with Access Bank winner, Habeeb Andu, was also announced at the end of the talks.

While speaking at the closing, director of Art X Lagos, Tokini Peterside, thanked all the sponsors, the advisory board and members of the public, who made Art X Lagos the success it was. As she noted, “Following last year’s turnout of 5,000 guests, it is both exciting and humbling to learn that over 9,000 people have walked through our doors these past three days! Our 2017 edition has been a phenomenal success due to your participation and the passion that you have brought into the experience. We can now say with confidence that the future is incredibly bright, and that we are on course to deliver on our mission – to magnify the patronage of African artists across the continent, and to inspire future generations of African artists. We assure you of our commitment to maintaining Art X Lagos, as a leading light for African contemporary art, and look forward to sharing with you in the New Year our plans for 2018.”