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Coronation Art Gallery: When Art Is A Big Deal

By Njideka Agbo
29 May 2022   |   6:39 am
Art is life. But then, how do you describe life within the creativity context? Despite its several philosophies, one word that would resonate with its many answers would arguably be warmth. If you asked the same question to an art lover, he would probably describe it as the burst of colours that lighten up the…

Coronation Art Gallery. Design by Philip Chime

Art is life. But then, how do you describe life within the creativity context?

Despite its several philosophies, one word that would resonate with its many answers would arguably be warmth. If you asked the same question to an art lover, he would probably describe it as the burst of colours that lighten up the environment, it is the greenery that provides the musky sweet smell we yearn for in the dry season, it is the different moods of the seasons, it is the abstract forms that pleases the aesthetic senses, it is the inspiration behind each stroke of a pen.

With the bustling ancient cities of Badagry, Calabar and the Nok districts of the Middle Belts part of Nigeria, among several others serving as home to some of the finest finds in the world, it is also the origin of some of humanity’s greatest artists such as Ben Enwonwu, Yusuf Grillo and Dr Bruce Onobrakpeya. With its gifts, African modern artistry through the proper representation of African cultural aesthetics has been appreciated. It is of little wonder that Enwonwu once said, “European artists like Picasso, Braque and Vlaminck were influenced by African art…I knew Giacometti personally in England, you know. I knew he was influenced by African sculptures. But I would not be influenced by Giacometti, because he was influenced by my ancestors”.

Why Should I Follow, 2021 (acrylic on canvas). Art by Tonia Nneji

Perhaps the summation of life as defined by art lies in its appreciation. As addictive as the appreciation of art is, collectors, most often, are highly possessive of their collection. And when collections are built on non-commercial interest, they become even more private.

However, the beauty of art appreciation takes almost infinite value when collectors share their collections with the ‘extended family’ of a community of art lovers. It takes a high depth of art philanthropy for a collector to share private collections with the general public. For Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, it was a double feat on May 13, 2022, as regards sharing his passion: some of his private collections were exposed to public viewing just as the event was also used to launch Coronation Gallery, Victoria, Island, Lagos.

The new gallery, from all indications, has been conceptualised to expand art appreciation, through the perspectives of collectors. With Aig-Imoukhuede’s collections shown as ‘When Art Is A Big Deal’, the exhibition provides a lead for others in the passion of art collecting to share their art habits with the general public. Enthused by the response of the Lagos community of art lovers at the opening, Aig-Imoukhuede assured that more collectors will be showing at the Coronation Gallery.

“I want to democratise the appreciation of art, I want to democratise the love of art, I want to democratise access to art. Just as Coronation seeks to democratise wealth creation. The only way we can do this is by bringing art to … the man on the street,” Aig-Imoukhuede explains.

Apart from creating windows into the vastness of artists’ studios, the Coronation Gallery’s concept of showing collectors’ private pieces, will also, specifically, broaden the public’s knowledge of provenance. Being the most crucial aspect of art appreciation, provenance connects art enthusiasts, particularly historians, with iconic art pieces, of which tracks were either lost or details unclear.

Inspiration, 2020 (oil on canvas). Art by Oluwole Omofemi

The artworks on display focused on contemporary art, offering a depth of knowledge into how artists, across skills, styles and techniques in Africa, keep evolving. From Oluwole Omofemi’s portraiture impression of the tragic George Floyd to expressionism texture ‘Feeling Needed’, by Deborah Segun as well as Tonia Nneji’s bold figural painting ‘Why Should I Follow’, the exhibition gave an insight into the emerging energy of contemporary art space in Africa.
The depth of art as the medium of recording memories gets an assertion in Omofemi’s George Floyd (oil on canvas and dated 2020) as the artist, in nine compartmented identical pieces, each with a sealed mouth, speaks volume with the different hues. Away from the recurring tragedies that keep troubling the mental wellness of people across the world comes a shift and reprieve in Ugandan artist, Henry Mzili Mujunga’s naturalism paintings. In each of the paintings titled ‘Children Through Plants’ and ‘Life Through Plants’ comes an artist’s skills in using hues and shades to release the beauty of nature onto a troubled world.

It is of interest that, despite having the resources to show modernists like Yusuf Grillo, Ben Enwonwu MBE, among others from the vast collections of its patron, Coronation Gallery chose to largely exhibit contemporary artists. The curator of the exhibition, Ugoma Ebilah noted how Aig-Imoukhuede has been a keen observer of the contemporary art space across Africa. The curator argued that the patron’s passion that connects well with the unfolding energy of contemporaneity on the continent “are notably and increasingly present in his bold, verdant, dexterous, hope inducing collection.”

Moments II and Moments III, 2020 (oil on canvas). Art by Olawunmi Banjo

Although Aig-Imoukhuede is known to the public as one of Africa’s most successful financial market leaders, many are becoming aware of a passion he has nursed since the age of 5. Born into a home of art enthusiasts, his mother, a curator and gallerist and his father, an intellectual and pivotal civil servant in the cultural ministry during Nigeria’s post-independence era, and a relationship with Ben Enwonwu MBE, Aig-Imoukhuede’s passion for art was wet and at age 5, he collected his first art.

His refined taste becomes evident once you enter the space which has now become the home of this collection.
For Coronation Gallery, taking off on a strong pedestal of a passionate patron was a privilege. The gallery clarified that the works on display were from the generous loan of Aig-Imoukhuede. Perhaps the richness of the pieces on display at its debut exhibition promises a great expectation from the gallery in subsequent shows, especially as there will be a gallery space in every Coronation building.

“While the majority of the works are paintings, the inclusion of sculpture and works on paper points to a broadening of media that is based on personal interests in art-making and kinship with the artists’ intellectual ambition,” Coronation explained. “Artists from Nigeria are well represented in addition to practitioners from South Africa, Ghana and Uganda in a growing list that, in the future, will include the wealth of art production across the continent.”

A welcome idea to other art collectors, this will also see that art, defined solely by Africans is expressed and showcased to the world.

As Peju Alatise once said, “… art from Africa remains still largely burned by negative social, political and economic realities from its mother continent, hence, is unable to be judged by its own merit and without negative bias or condescending patronage. However, Africans must take the responsibility upon themselves to project their own art and learn to value them as one of their greatest cultural exports.”

Everyone can experience a virtual tour of the gallery by visiting this link

MAGAZINE DESIGN: PHILIP CHIME