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Omilani and the vision to lift African art

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Hana Omilani

The hot humid sun blazed like fire. A major gridlock gripped the road leading to Alfred Rewane Road.

On both sides of the route, three-lane had been formed. A motorbike managed to get into a narrow passage before he was prevented by an oil tanker belching fumes. This is one afternoon a visitor wouldn’t want to visit the Island.

Suddenly, the weather changed. The cloud faded into thick dark sky and rain started to fall.

With a true knack for perfection, Hana Omilani is seated in her office waiting for her guest, who is stuck in the traffic.

Hana Omilani, the founder of Lasmara, is an Eritrean who grew up in Frankfurt before moving to the UK to study international relations at the University of Warwick.

After graduation, she secured a job at the Bloomberg office in London before obtaining her master’s in business psychology and moving back to Frankfurt to work for a finance firm.

It wasn’t until she returned to London to study art business at Christie’s that she realised that her career should be in the arts.

The long-term master plan was the African art consultancy she wanted to launch. But it wasn’t until she started working at Haunch of Venison, the renowned contemporary art gallery that was owned by Christie’s, that she felt really ready to commit to this new career choice.

She had married a Nigerian and Africa became an even bigger part of the picture.

It was 2013 and that was the year she decided to focus on Lasmara, a word she coined by merging Lagos and Asmara (the capital of Eritrea). She wanted to focus on the whole of African art, rather than on just one area. She wanted to represent East and West, and it was important for her to learn a lot about African art.

Every time she went to Lagos, she made sure she visited art studios and also got to know what was happening in the Francophone world, and in Sudan, South Sudan, and I just felt that there could be a real market around African art.

She started working with galleries, connecting artists to residencies and various projects.

Following her interest in art, she was appointed the art director at Alára, the high luxury concept store in Lagos. Six months into her appointment, she left to focus on her art projects.

She calmed her breathing until her breath was slow and even when she saw her gues.

“I’m the founding director of Lasmara Art Consultancy,” she said, softening her focus so that her eyes became sensitive to the smallest movement around. “ We have been on for 12 years now. We started in London but launched in Nigeria three years ago. We are an independent African art consultancy, promoting contemporary African art. We have been working with different institutions, galleries, museums, collectors, and artists.”

She said: “In the past one and a half years, we have been concentrating on our new initiative called Impart. Impart is a platform designed to promote African art, and the artists, as well as, to raise the value of African art. It is an umbrella with different arms. We are launching the new initiative with Impart Artists Fair, which is one of the different initiatives under this platform. It is an art fair and a veritable platform to promote African artists within and outside the continent.”

Art wields immense power, yet many uninformed observers would find it difficult to believe, respect that art truly embodied such power.

But the quiet Omilani knew this. From her childhood, when she got hold of artwork from her father, she had the vision to lift the contemporary African art. Already, she had begun an art revolution through Instagram where artworks were posted.

“We thought of a platform where artists can exhibit themselves, and where they will not be paying for the exhibition boots because we cannot be talking about promoting African art if you are going to have fees that artists cannot afford. At Impart Artists Fair, all that the artists need is to commit themselves to participate at the fair; no boot cost, bring your artworks, and we will do our best to promote the works and bring the audience (buyers) to the artists, which is one aspect, and for exposure and sales, which is another aspect,” she said calmly over a cup of tea.

After a moment of silence, her voice resounded in the office, “having observed this market for a while now, we felt that artists in Africa, especially in Nigeria, really take care of all the three pillars of the artist’s career, which are the production, the marketing, and the sales.”

Despite her formidable energy, Omilani embodies a stillness that is cool.

She tilted her listening carefully to questions with only her hands moving when she spoke. “The reality is that most African artists will produce themselves; they market using social media and then sell directly to buyers. So, collectors in Africa buy most of their works directly from the artists, it is a smaller number that buy through galleries. We thought of creating an open platform where these two can connect without having to do business individually. Usually, every artist sends out a message or nice images on their social media and when you see the images, you contact them to find out more.”

She took a deep breath and smiled, “over 300 artists are exhibiting, but there will be more from many countries. We may even leave out some.”

Some of the countries whose artists are exhibiting include, Cameroon, Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, among others. There will be hundreds of artworks and even more artworks after the fair. All works will be available for sale and the prices are affordable because we cannot be talking about democratising artworks and be talking about only the highest price tags. We have to make art accessible to all. We need to have a price range that is accessible for the first-time buyer, as well as, the high net worth individuals that are ready to spend big money on art. So, you will not be intimidated by the price when you come to the fair. This is why we have emerging artists.”

So, from Friday, October 25 to Sunday, October 27, art will take over Lagos. She said, casting a quick glance on one of the paintings on the wall, “we want people from everywhere, be it seasoned collectors, first-time buyers, or the general public to come and experience an interactive and immersive world. When you come, you will get to see paintings, sculptors, or very well-known media. You will be thrilled with what technology can do at the fair, especially with your phone.”

Their will be live streaming of the fair so that people outside the country can join. “If you cannot make it to the fair physically, you can connect through the live stream,” she nodded, trying to take her eyes off a painting that was just recently sent through courier.

The fair has many interesting activities: workshop sessions planned to raise the portfolio and promote African artists.

“We want people to come and experience art the way they have never done before; in a more relaxed atmosphere. At the fair, we want visitors to feel free to talk to the artists, while the artists share with the viewers more on what the words mean, their inspirations, among others. Hopefully, there will be sales for the artists because this is what they live off,” she confessed. “We have virtual reality, workshops, and panels, which are dedicated to art and technology. In the workshops and panels, we will have people from the tech sector who will be talking about the influence of art and the creative side and how it merges with technology.”

She said wagging her finger, “we have tech hubs that will add to the experience. So, you will find some women who are in these fields, women in art and technology that will talk about their experiences. So, it is not all about high-level topics such as investment in art. We are bringing it down a bit; what are the challenges of women who are trying to pursue careers in the arts? The very realistic topics for us are those that affect women in the creative industry.”

The theme of the fair is Art Meet Technology and it is basically because “we believe that to really put African art on a global scale, we have to use the tools we have as Africans here and now. Also, to be part of the global picture, the tool we have now is technology. We are a country that has bypassed landlines. People are connected here no matter what social background; you are online, you are connected and you do no longer have to be physically present in a place to be part of somewhere. To be part of the African art, we have to use technology to make everybody feel part of it and that is the way to promote it. The more we show people African artists and art, the more we will get the exposure that we need,” she said.

The lady remarked, “as a gallery, you should visit the fair because it is a scouting ground for you. What else does a gallery want? If you are a gallerist based somewhere in Sweden, but hear about the African art boom and want a piece of that, yet you do not know where to start, which country to go, and how to get to the artists, Impart Artists Fair is where you need to be. Part of our artists’ promotion is to help artists who do not have an online presence to get on board, bring them out of the wood, assist them, make sure that the contract is in their best interest and that is what the fair is all about.”

She continued: “If a gallery wants to sign an artist, that is fine. All they need do is to talk to us. We have more than hundreds of artists we can give you and then you are helping us to promote African art and raising its value and also the artists. It is not just the galleries, it is also for institutions and museums to come and see what we have.”

What will gladden Omilani at the end of the event and what will make her sad? “I am already happy it is happening. Nothing will make me sad,” she laughed.

Why did she decide not to be a gallery owner? “I don’t want to restrict myself to one thing. I want a free podium where I could stand and promote African art without restrictions. I have always had it in mind to promote African artists.”


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