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With INAC, NCAC seek ways to network Nigeria’s art, craft

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor, Arts and Culture Editor
02 December 2018   |   3:00 am
The atmosphere was electrifying. There were no tired bodies, only smiles, laughter and sound belching from the music box at high level. Participants were in excited chatters, as the 11th International Arts and Craft (INAC) Expo came to a close in Abuja. Held at the FCT Exhibition Pavilion and Events Centre, Abuja from November 17…

11th International Arts and Craft (INAC)

The atmosphere was electrifying. There were no tired bodies, only smiles, laughter and sound belching from the music box at high level.

Participants were in excited chatters, as the 11th International Arts and Craft (INAC) Expo came to a close in Abuja.

Held at the FCT Exhibition Pavilion and Events Centre, Abuja from November 17 to 24, the event was a mesmerising treasure trove.

Billed as a culture expo like no other, and so it proved, as participants sang, danced and trumpeted the best of their countries’ arts and crafts for nine days.

From well-designed afro-centric fashion to accessories and corporate gift items, art works to crafts; the 2018 INAC was an expression of the benefits of promoting the arts and crafts sector.

The expo featured dazzling canvases; mix media and portraiture from artists working across print, paint and sculpture.

Also on display were, apparels and embroidery, brass and metal designs, coral and jewelry designs, classic ceramics, decorative pottery, cultural souvenirs, cuisines across the world, leather and interior designs, cane, raffia and wood designs, cuisines, music and dance, and many others.

The tens of thousands of visitors traipsed round the pavilion to stare at the lingering smiles of exhibitors and their products, which were handmade and sourced from the finest local materials and made to reflect uncompromising quality and great craftsmanship.

With Networking Nigerian crafts to the world, as theme, the expo consolidated on achievements recorded in previous editions, as well as, provided background to work out strategies on how the arts and craft sector could change the narratives of economic diversification being trumpeted by President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration.

The objectives of the expo included, promoting the export of arts and craft to the international community, sensitising investors on the need to invest in the sector as a way of encouraging enterprise development and export oriented production, and providing a channel through which Nigeria and participating countries will make known their policies and investment opportunities in the sector and many others.

The expo also presented an avenue through which skills could be acquired by the most productive segment of the population, youths.

While creating temporary jobs for carpenters, builders, electricians, mechanics, artisans and labourers, there was equally an opportunity for the local economy to have a lift: The large numbers of participants made it an attractive market place for exhibitors, food vendors, sachet water and recharge card sellers.

It bodes well that the decision to promote the expo beyond the continent is a right decision. The creative sector, over the years, has been hankering for platforms to network and contribute to economic growth.

Otunba Segun Runsewe, the director general of National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC), organisers of the expo, believes that under his watch, the culture agency would sustain the drive of changing Nigeria’s narratives via culture and arts promotion, saying this underscores why 2018 INAC featured over 27 countries from around the world.

He added, “the expo is geared towards empowering the masses, stimulating rapid socio-economic growth and contributing to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the nation.”

According to him, “the expo has taken it upon itself to bring about regional integration, continental unity, as well as unveiling the economic opportunities in the Arts and crafts sector.”

The special guest of honour at the opening ceremony and Publisher of Leadership Newspaper, Sam Nda Isaiah, pointed out the need, “for government at all levels to know that this is a sector that could set the country afire if well organised, burnished and harnessed.”

For many of the participants, NCAC has shown that it is focused on producing good platform for creatives.

INAC, as it is now, is still far from the dream of Runsewe. Therefore, the task ahead is to really make it a destination hub. To do this, more curatorial work has to be done; in terms of lifting what is displayed.

While it may not compete with Lagos Art Expo introduced by Joe Musa-led National Gallery of Art (NGA) or Tokini Peterside’s Art X in terms of curatorial competence, INAC, as it is now, seems designed to encourage everything.

More importantly, visitors will want to see pavilions thematically demarcated: Arts, Crafts, Fashion, Culture, Traditional, Modern and whatever sensitive theme that would be evolved. The effect of such would be huge. It would signal a willingness by NCAC to lift its second flagship event beyond local standard.

As with most sectors across the economy, poor access to finance poses as an obstacle to sustained growth across the arts and crafts’ value chain. It is proper funding that can ginger the creatives, especially those, who still operate on small scale and cannot access the money available to industry practitioners.

Nigeria finds itself at an exciting time of transformation. However, the failure of government to improve infrastructure as well as empower creative has meant that benefits of economic growth is denied the industry. Yet Culture, Creative Industries (CCIs) could well be the underlying catalyst for country’s development.

Though, the Federal Government has granted most segments within the creative industries access to pioneer status incentives.

These include holidays from the payment of companies’ income taxes as well as withholding tax on dividends from pioneer profits for an initial period of three years, the non review of the nation’s culture policy and non implementation of National Endowment for the Arts makes everything to be tokenism and at the mercy of the minister.

For its investment forum, there is need for NCAC to introduce Internet sessions so that participants can enjoy the visibility of being online.

While smartphones adoption is starting to drive digital revolution in the continent as pointed out by Mrs Funke Opeke, chief executive officer, Main One Cables, the creative sector can tap into this.

Across the world, smartphones and mobile data usage is increasing. With over 90 million Internet users, Nigeria has also benefited. And most industries have naturally tapped into this, including the art market.

Global interest in contemporary art from Nigeria and Africa is on the rise.

With interest in Nigerian arts —- traditional and modern —- reaching a great height and recording prices in international galleries, auctions and homes, there is, thus, a need to galvanise the sector for the global market.

Online platforms serve as galleries and sales booths; offer virtual experience of artworks, and function as the go between the artist and the audience.

The growth, which the traditional art market is enjoying, will be fuelled by the increased accessibility these platforms provide. The expo may not do all these.

The volume and value of artworks by Nigerian artists at African auctions have risen steadily in the past five years.

In that period, most of these artworks have been sold at Arthouse, the 780 artworks auctioned there during the period 2013-2017, represent 68 per cent in volume of all artworks sold, reports suggest.

It thus behooves on the sector to leverage on the power of the mobile network for further business contacts and negotiations to transform their services, which China has suddenly become an expert.

Be that as it may, efforts of the organisers have to be appreciated for making it a memorable experience.

Commending the organisers, Mrs. Eko Emilia Agbor, a Camerounian, said, “Nigeria gave us good reception on arrival. We presented our culture on the opening day and the event has been calm and beautiful. Nigerian culture is wonderful; the dresses and the art works exhibited catch my attention. I also brought my cultural items to share with the people of Nigeria.”

Though it was her first time of attending the culture feast, the expo is a “reminder of how it should be done everywhere in the continent to create jobs for our people.”

Agbor, who is into hat making, said, “Nothing provided by nature is a waste. I convert everything that I see to good use.”

Liz Thomas-Takacs, a Hungarian married to a Nigeria from Uromi, Edo State, said, “I have made a lot of connections and I’m enjoying it.”

Thomas-Takacs also promised that next year, she would bring more Hungarian artworks.

An opinion also shared by Agota Horvath, who said, “it was a very good decision for Hungary to participate in the event for the first time.”

She said the event gave her an opportunity to meet with different Nigerian artists and interact with them and their works.

Sudanese, Ahmed Osman Murtada, described the event as wonderful, while commending the efforts of the organisers for putting it together.

He said, “the beautiful cultural display since the first day actually caught my attention. We brought some of our cultural art works like the picture of Sudan’s pyramid, Goota, Bambar, tabag and lots of items that depict the cultural festival of Sudan.”

On his part, Counsellor Li Xuda, who is the Cultural Attaché of the Embassy of China, observed that Nigeria has broad prospects for development, expressing his gladness that INAC has come to fully harness these potentials

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