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Beyond All Odds… Rise And Rise Of Life In My City Art Festival

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Ceramics Installation

Winning work of grand prize in 2014 edition: Placenta, ceramics installation by Ngozi Omeje

WITH eight editions already delivered and preparation for the 9th outing this year in upbeat swing, it will not be an exaggeration to conclude that the Life In My City Art Festival (LIMCAF) is reestablishing the profile of the Coal City as the hub of creative enterprise in the Eastern Nigeria.

Initiated by the founder and CEO of Rocana Nigeria Limited, an outdoor advertising agency based in Enugu, Chief Robert Oji, LIMCAF, from the onset in 2007, has been serving as a platform to encourage artistic creativity and awareness of environmental issues.

In the last eight editions, it has provided space for young people to make meaningful statement about the lived environment in Nigeria in addition to empowering young artists throughout Nigeria by promoting and commercializing their creative endeavours on a national and international platform.

But like a mustard seed, it was conceived as a visual art competition for young people in Nigeria. “We see this as way of contributing to promotion of our national assets, creating opportunities for young people and a pilgrimage for art lovers to this part of the country.

We are also committed to educating young people about art and culture and giving space to help create the future legacy of our great country,” Chief Oji had told The Guardian in 2007 shortly before the first edition.

The strength of the project has been further emboldened by the integrity as well as commitment of personalities that make up its Board of Trustees with the former Chairman of Union Bank of Nigeria, Elder Kalu Uke Kalu as its head.

What appeared to have given the festival a sound footing was the Board’s interpretation of the original motivations of Chief Oji into a set of aims and objectives which include the restoration of the old glory of Enugu as a vibrant art and culture centre with a view to promote the coal city as an important national and international destinations for the arts.

In the reckoning of the Board, LIMCAF would also seek, on a continuous basis, to excite the public imagination about the culture and tourism potentials and other development strides in Enugu in particular and the Southeast in general; provide space through art for young people to make meaningful statements about their environment wherever they may live in Nigeria; as well as to encourage, inspire and economically empower young artists by promoting and commercializing their creative endeavours on a national and international platform.

That today the festival has collection centres for submission of entries by artists across Nigeria is a testimony that the project has grown in leapS and bounds.

The originator of the idea, Chief Oji was full of happiness, during a chat with The Guardian recently in Enugu that “my small idea had grown big within a very short time.” For LIMCAF, he said, it had been so far so good.

“It has been wonderful. This is because my people are taking it to greater height whereby I would not have done if not by collaborations like this, so, I am very grateful.”

He recollected his frame of mind when the project was being conceptualized in 2006. “My goals were small, it was like someone thinking to himself and hearing his own voice.

But now, it is being magnified. I made it for schools, young people. Though it is still young people that we are trying to encourage, using it as a social vehicle for the youths of Nigeria.

But now, it’s quite expanding, many people are coming in, and my people are giving more consolation prizes to more youths, which is wonderful. Alone, I could not have done that.” He expressed optimism that the festival would continue to attract corporate support since its vision tallies with social responsibility functions of big players in the corporate world.

He saluted the commitment of the Board as well as organizing committee for their tenacity in pushing for the acceptability of the project. “I am happy and optimistic.

The purpose of advertising is repetition. Coca cola will put billboards throughout Enugu to keep telling why you should continue to drink ‘Coca cola’.

Nigerian Breweries will just keep popping boards or adverts through the electronic media, they are just reminding you of their brands. So, what we are doing is just to keep reminding, so, by the time it gathers momentum, people would understand. Remember, Nigerian economy is not smiling, and people are trying, I want them to try more because this is a social responsibility.

Whatever anybody can contribute, let them do so, it will go a long way. We are not talking of millions, but what we may use more is using the social media to reach out to young people who think they are disadvantaged but are not.

Any amount you can give, give it out to help these young boys who are really beginning to see the light.” And incidentally, the theme for this year’s edition is Beyond All Odds, which invariably, reflects also the bridges that the project had crossed in the last nine years of its existence.

But its choice is premised on the understanding that, “in all spheres of existence, humanity is faced with challenges which severely test the resilience of the human spirit. In confronting these existential issues, man has relied on his ingenuity, resourcefulness, innovative and improvisational abilities, as survivalist modes.

For the artist, these attributes can be creatively applied, using the different channels of artistic media, to address issues, as well as experiences that highlight the resilience of the human spirit to adapt to changes; move beyond all odds, and meaningfully appraise the past, positively engage the present and lay a better foundation for tomorrow.”

Already, artists who are interested in participating in 2015 edition have been asked to submit their entries for such categories as Painting/Drawing/Mixed Media; Sculpture/Installation/Ceramics; and Graphics/Textile/Multimedia.

There is also Photo Africa competition, a pan-African photography/video art category. Requirement for participation includes being 35 years old as at October 30, 2015 with, at least, five years experience studying or working in Nigeria as artist. Deadline for submission of entries is June 30, 2015.

Further details about submission of entries could be sourced from www.lifeinmycityartsfestival.org. As a strong supporter of the project since inception, facility of Alliance Francaise in cities such as Abuja, Enugu, Ibadan, Jos, Kaduna, Lagos, Owerri, and Port Harcourt has been serving as collection centres for entries.

While Department of Painting, School of Art and Design, Federal Poly in Auchi; Perrywinkle Gallery, Tinapa, Calabar; and National Gallery of Art, Uyo are collection centres for artists from those parts of the country. There are always two stages of assessment plus a week-long grand finale exhibition which will climax with award presentation night.

At every stage, the jury is always composed of competent professional artists focusing on criteria of assessment such as: thematic interpretation, conceptual depth and material.

First round begins in June at the various collection centres with Jury at each collection centre selecting high quality works that best interpret the theme.

Second round of the contest will feature a weeklong exhibition of selected artworks in each zone, running from July 10 to 31, 2015 at the zonal centres with selection of a maximum of 10 works from each zonal centre as the zone’s entry for the grand finale in Enugu.

Artists whose artworks made it to the grand finale will be notified by August 25, 2015. The grand finale exhibition starts on Monday, October 26 and the emergence of winners on Saturday, October 31, 2015 will rap up the festival.

Gradually and consistently, LIMCAF is gathering momentum as the largest yearly gathering of artists and stakeholders of visual arts in Nigeria.

For this 2015 edition, Chief Oji’s expectation is high. “We are hoping that this year would be better than last year. I feel so strongly because there is nothing you will start that will be so easy.

It has never been easy for anybody, both in business and in life, so, I think this year will be better than last year,” he said.

The commitment of the Board members, especially its chairman has continued to serve as inspiration to grow the festival despite all odds.

Overall Winner

Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Achebe with the Overall Winner, Ngozi Omeje during the presentation ceremony in October 2014 in Enugu

Elder Kalu told The Guardian the massive followership that the project has continued to attract among the young artists has equally motivated his team to soldier on. “We happen to see what some young people have done; responding to effort started by Chief Oji.

And the way the young people responded to it, this was about eight years ago, something struck me, that if opportunity can be given to this young people, they can achieve a lot. And so we keyed in to it, to help the young people to discover themselves, and we were amazed at their response, which gave us more enthusiam to help them.

These young people can create something for themselves, so, we are in it to try to create the opportunity for them. And eight years down the line, Elder Kalu said the Board was “amazed at the progress we have made, and this shows through the number of the participants, young people all over the country.

Enugu is just the final receiving centre, as you know, we get this thing done in Lagos and other zones. The winners there are collated here.

The numbers have increased astronomically and that shows their enthusiasm, the awareness by the young people to grasp the opportunity given them. So, we have succeeded to that extend, but the problem is, that success has created a lot more problem.

This is because we are not getting the kind of support we envisage from those we thought could easily give us such support, like the banks and some well-to-do individuals.

For this 2015 edition, preparation began by the end of last year as we started writing letters to the banks to support us. We are not really making a headway.

We have gotten support from a bank, Diamond Bank, which has been consistent. Others are just one time off. We are worried! Is it that we are not explaining it correctly or adequately to them of the benefit and what it will impact on the young ones? This year, we had to visit some of the bank executives to explain to them.

Funding is our problem. Because of that we have not been able to hire a proper accommodation to keep the artworks we are collecting, because each year, we give prizes to the best artworks, and when we do, we collect those artworks and there is nowhere to store them.

If they are not properly stored, they can get damaged, and we cannot readily sell some of them to finance our current activities.

That is our problem. But why the focus mainly on banks since the impact of the economic meltdown is still heavy on banks, therefore, they may not have ‘extra’ funds to throw around project like LIMCAF? The Board chairman said, he only used banks as an example.

The team has also approached other corporate bodies for support. “We go to them and ask for support. If you take any bank’s Annual Report and look at the gift they give, is not that much, but every drop helps. Nonetheless, we are approaching them.”

On a general note, Elder Kalu said LIMCAF, so far in the last eight editions, has succeeded in reawakening interest in Enugu as a culture centre that it used to be in those days. “We find that people are responding but then, even the governments around here are not responding as much as we thought they will.

Enugu, right from the time of Mbari movement has been known as artistic hub of Eastern Nigeria, and we thought LIMCAF was a natural sequence, and maybe, someday, we will still hit it. “Sometimes ago in IMT, some people used to have artworks. The trained, young artists have these artworks and they would leave them there and go away.

But one of the state governors in the past came and pictured those artworks and started mounting them at important corners, and it awakened interest and people from other states started coming, copying the eastern way, and getting the artworks planted for people to see. That increased the enthusiasm of the young people who produce these artworks.

We now got a lot of young artists under 35 years, showing their works everywhere. And when we see that, we get so proud and satisfied that something is happening along the lines we dreamt of.”


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