How LIMÇAF has changed visual narrative in Nigeria

From a mélange of visually pleasing aesthetic expressions to a demonstration of technical competence, skills and ability, Nigerian artists are widening their grip on the contemporary art scene in Africa.
Life In My City (Lagos), Olumide Oresegun, winner 2007

From a mélange of visually pleasing aesthetic expressions to a demonstration of technical competence, skills and ability, Nigerian artists are widening their grip on the contemporary art scene in Africa. Their art is increasingly showing a dynamic combination of materials, methods, concepts and subjects that push frontiers beyond traditional boundaries.

Life in My City Art Festival (LIMCAF), in the last 14 years, has become an avenue for young artists to reflect on the inevitable intersection between art and contemporary demand.

Established in 2007, LIMCAF is a yearly celebration of creativity featuring young talents in the Nigerian art landscape. Registered as a Trusteeship, in 2012, under the name Life In My City Art Initiative, it features visual art competition, photography contest, multimedia workshop as well as school children’s and art teachers’ workshops.

“We are here for good. We are here to stay,” the LIMCAF chairman, Elder K. U. Kalu, had said at the Enugu Press Centre, in 2007, when the festival was officially launched. “And I make those statements both as an act of faith and a passionate appeal. We have unflinching faith in this project and its continued and definitive contribution to the future of contemporary art in Nigeria.”

Kalu said the festival positions art in social development, noting, “it’s also in evidence that the festival is becoming a relevant thread in the effort being made to unite and strengthen the social fabric of our fragile nation.”

According to him, “that we have survived this far is an indication that the labours of the founder and others have not been in vain.”

Igwe Alfred Nnaemeka Achebe, the Obi of Onitsha, who is a patron of LIMCAF, also believes that the festival has come of age, “and is becoming stronger every year.”

For the Onitsha monarch, “African art has come of age in the contemporary art world.”

While describing LIMCAF as “the longest-running art competition in Nigeria,” the Obi of Onitsha urged the government to “emulate other countries that support art for posterity.”

According to Peter Eze, former chairman of National Gallery of Art and a member of LIMCAF’s board, “in the last few years, it’s has become glaring that the festival has grown beyond our projection.”

Eze equally expressed satisfaction at the constantly improving quality of works on display year-on-year and the turnout of many members of the public as a signal that one of the objectives of the festival, which is to grow art appreciation and collection thereby empowering the young artists and growing art as a tool for socio-economic development.

Ugochukwu Smooth Nzewi, artist, art historian and curator of African Art in the Department of Painting and Sculpture, Museum of Modern Art, New York City, said, “in the beginning days of LIMCAF, I had wondered how long it was going to last before going the way of cultural enterprise that have graced our part of the world.”

From being bankrolled during its first four years by Chief Robert Orji’s advertising and printing firm, Rocana Nigeria Limited, the festival has come of age. Despite its obvious challenges, it has remained resilient and consistent in the empowerment of young Nigerian artists.

Under the direction of Kevin Ejiofor and Ayo Adewunmi, the initiative has also contributed to art education in the country through its yearly school children workshop, which engages young professionals and school children in creativity. It has become something that has a huge potential and benefit for Nigeria and the Nigerian youth, all Nigerian youth not just youth from Enugu State or any part of the country.

As Nigeria’s longest-running art festival — now in its 14th edition — the yearly event has drawn aficionados from across the country and beyond to the serene Coal City.

With Vision 2020: So far, so what? as the theme for the 14th edition, participants are expected to interrogate the projected dream and subsequent hopes, and impediments that characterise the social, economic and political conditions of the lived environment over time.

The theme is not just silent probing of yesteryears, but also an exploration of the divergence between dream and reality, illusion and realism. Artists are expected to visually interrogate the specific theme using any artistic medium, techniques and quality finish. Artists below the age of 35 years (October 30, 2020), residing and studying/working in Nigeria, for at least five years, are eligible to participate. The deadline for submission is May 31, 2020.

The 2019 edition focused on The Other Side: The lives of people and their responses to issues around them. The theme aimed to look at the ways in which the younger generation could interrogate the visual landscape with a narrative that was cognisant of disruption from the digital media. Victor Olaoye won the top prize for 2019 with his charcoal medium painting, Angel among gods.

Chike Obeagu, the curator of 2019 show, said, “the implication of the theme is the unhindered freedom it gave the competitors to explore beyond the banal. This involved the conscious use of materials and imagination in the artist’s process and product in a way dissimilar to what is conventional.”

Each work highlighted this concern and stressing how art could impart the society and its shared humanity — lifestyle, environment and ‘glocalisation’.

To ensure the highest level of integrity and excellence in the judging process, the very best of practitioners, scholars and curators in contemporary art in Nigeria are appointed into the jury panel, so that only the indisputable best of our young artists emerge from the exercise every year.

LIMCAF Art’s Director, Adewunmi, stated, “the idea is to keep sustaining their interest in art and also to fill the gap created by inadequate art teachers in secondary school.”

Adewunmi told The Guardian, “with the prizes that have been won, a number of the young people have used the platform to launch themselves into the limelight, either through being helped to finish their education to graduate levels, establishing their own businesses, as well as being encouraged to aim higher to win recognition in line here in Nigeria and beyond our shores.”

Gradually it is drawing public attention to the importance of visual art to national development. The network of people connecting to the festival is on the increase. More individuals, including prominent Nigerian families, are endowing prizes to immortalise prominent persons and demonstrate support, publicity about the event helps to create awareness about art given the ever growing number of persons who attend the award night.

He explained that as the festival continues to grow and the number of entries and interested persons grow in each region, new exhibition centres would inevitably be named such that no part of the country will be left behind or be underserved.

The Guardian checks revealed a gradual shift in stylistic and conceptual approaches of entries over a period. “This is expected in view of the trend in global art practices and also with the fact that when the artists attend the grand finale, they are challenged by the creativity of their colleagues and are inspired by the quality of art, so, they go back and return with better quality works for the following year’s competition,” Adewunmi told The Guardian. So, “there is a competitive spirit, which has helped the quality of art in general and which studies have also noted impacted on the quality of art in tertiary institutions across the country from which most of the entries come anyway.”

The 13th edition received 550 entries from young visual artists across the country. He said that the interest made the board restructure the 2019 competition into nine primary exhibition centers in Zaria, Ondo, Lagos, Abuja, Ibadan, Benin, Uyo, Port Harcourt and Enugu.

A deliberate policy directed by the board of trustees had also resulted in the inclusion of younger talents from the pool of past overall winners who have distinguished themselves and advanced their careers notably further, to join the regional and the national jury panels.

The aim is to ensure continuity and help build leadership in the Nigeria art landscape both in academia as well as among studio practitioners and in the art industry generally.

Past participants of the festival who have gone to make definitive statements about their art include, Maduka Chukwuma, Ngozi Omeje-Ezema, Ogbami Alenosi and Sen Sor. They are now renowned for their styles. Some others like, Okechukwu Eze now own art galleries, therefore, are now employers of labour in the field of art. Henry Eghosa, Kemi Nibosun, Clara Okhide, Candidus Onyishi and Erasmus Onyishi are doing very well. Kelani Abas, Samuel Palmtree is lecturing in higher institutions.

Erasmus, who read sculpture at the University of Nigeria, has participated in over 40 shows at both home and abroad. An experimentalist and one of the 10 artists presented by El Anatsui in the New Energies show in 2001, he won the originality prize in the 2013 edition. He is one of the earliest exponents of video art in Nigeria and has received three awards (two in 2010 and one 2012) from National Universities’ Commission (NUC) for Research and Development in the Humanities. He is the first prize winner of the 2014 edition of the National Art Competition organized by the Nigerian Breweries and African Artists Foundation. He also won Second Prize (University category,) in the 2014/Third National Education and Innovations Exhibition organised by the Ministry of Education. He teaches Sculpture at Federal University Lafia, Nasarawa State, Nigeria.

Omeje-Ezema, a former LIMCAF overall prize winner, makes the link between an older generation and the growing distinguished alumni of LIMCAF prize winners. She graduated from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in 2005, Department of Fine and Applied Arts. She also obtained her MFA where she was retained as a lecturer to teach Ceramics since May 2009. As an MFA student, she participated in a two-week international workshop (Aftershave International Workshop, under the umbrella of Triangle Art Trust) in Jos, Nigeria.

Since then, she has participated in several local and international workshops and exhibitions and was a resident artist in Sevshoon Art Centre, Seattle, USA, 2010 where she created the ‘Think Tea, Think cup’ art work as a permanent installation in the centre. Her works are configured with globular clay units, clay rings, strings and savaged flip-flops from her environment, using them to accentuate her place in her immediate socio-cultural context.

Omeje-Ezema was selected for the Saatchi START Art Fair 2018 and also involved in the 60th Faenza Biennale Prize in Italy, 2018. Her ceramic installation, Imagine Jonah II, was part of the First International Biennale in Central China and In My Garden there are Many Colours II –First West African Art Fair (ART X), Lagos, 2016 respectively. She also participated in Le Pinceau De L’Integration in Senegal, during the Dakar Biennale, 2016.

Ifedilichukwu Chibuike, who won in 2018, is the founder and art director of the Student and Teachers Art Festival. He won the 2019 Red Cap Zero to Hero Challenge, and also, winner of the maiden edition, Sterling Bank Recycle Art Competition 2017.

For Ibrahim Afegbua, “winning the overall prize was an open door and it brought me to the limelight. First, the prize boosted my art productions, and secondly, it opened the window of connection to my life, it connected me to other reputable art collectors/ galleries here in Nigeria and abroad,” he said. “The award has really pushed me into the limelight. After the award, many people started inviting me — the ones I know and people I don’t know. I have exhibited in France, Belgium and Senegal and also participated in SNA exhibition and others.”

Omooba Yemisi Shyllon, eulogised organisers, sponsors and others “who make it happen every year.”

Shyllon, the special guest of honour in 2018, argued that art is a very important component in tourism, which makes great resources for countries around the world. He predicted that soon, Enugu would be the next place to host art fair as Lagos already has one.

He counselled, “we need to invest in creativity to make our country great.”


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