With the recent increased cash value of its prizes and the addition of new category awards, things are definitely looking up for the long-running annual Life in My City Art Festival, Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports

A theme like “Fix It!”—and, of course, eyes that are riveted on the prizes—should prime this year’s Life in My City Art Festival competition’s young contestants to strive hard to make sense of the raging chaos around them. Of course, these artists, who are called — or have taken it upon themselves — to distil inspirations from above into accessible forms for their audience, should be looking beyond the awards or the whims of the judging panel, if only for their own credibility.

In a poster announcing the annual festival’s recent call for entries, with the deadline for submissions set at 11:59 p.m. on May 31, the organisers explained: “The world is passing through unprecedented challenges, and we should all arise to this by acting well [on] our parts. Humanity appears to be at a critical stage of launching into the future, [and] it calls for a holistic response for all to “FIX IT!’” In other words, the contestants, who must be no older than 35 years old on October 28 and have lived in Nigeria for the previous five years, are being asked to perform their duties as mediators of higher inspirations while also eyeing the increasingly attractive prizes. 

The overall winner at the last year’s competition, Cold Pure Water, Cold Mineral, wood installation by Samson Ejiofor

Speaking about the prizes, the organisers have, in a recent press release, announced an overall 100% increase in the competition’s cash value. For instance, the overall winner’s prize, which hitherto was worth N500, 000, has now been upped to a million naira, while the main category prizes for painting, sculpture, textile, ceramics, and graphics, which were worth N250, 000, are now worth N500, 000.

Also, new category awards have been added to the existing ones. These are for the Most Creative Female Entry, the Most Promising Female Young Artist (known as the Fidelia Okoroafor Prize for the Most Promising Young Female Artist, open to young artists under the age of 18 and worth N200,000), and a Special Prize for Persons with Disability, according to the festival’s art director, Dr Ayo Adewunmi. 

He also said that the addition of these new prizes was meant to bring the festival—more commonly known by its acronym LIMCAF—”in line with international best practices”, in which females, the younger generation, and people with disabilities are given special incentives to practise and participate fully in all areas of human activity. This, of course, does not exclude female artists from competing in other categories.

Meanwhile, little has changed in the endowed award category. With the exception of the Justice Anthony Aniagolu Prize, which has been increased from N150,000 to N300,000, the financial value of the other prizes, such as the Dr Pius Okigbo, Barrister Mfon Usoro, and VinMartin Ilo Prizes, remains untouched for the time being.

Overall, it is now anticipated that the total monetary worth of all rewards offered will be N6.4 million per year, a rise of more than 100%. Of course, this does not include other perks like residency programmes and the top six winning artists’ free attendance at the Dakar Art Biennale (also known as Dak’Art) thanks to Professor El Anatsui’s funding.

Then there are the workshops offered by LIMCAF for secondary school students and art teachers, which annually welcome 100 young participants along with their teachers and coordinators. These workshops are intended to strengthen the festival’s grassroots orientation, which sees art as a potent tool for the social development of young people in our society, according to Dr Adewunmi.

In addition to continuing these workshops, LIMCAF seems determined to cast a wider net to include a lot more gifted young people in the hopes that sponsorship and public support will increase along with an understanding of LIMCAF’s mission and vision. The talk of sponsorship emphasises the support provided by the festival’s primary sponsors, the MTN Foundation and the Ford Foundation, as well as the patrons whose ongoing interventions, support, and encouragement have helped the festival reach new and significant heights. As a result, LIMCAF’s Chairman, Elder K. U. Kalu, and the entire Board expressed their gratitude during the meeting attended by Dr Adewunmi. 

As unarguably Nigeria’s biggest and longest-running visual art festival, LIMCAF has come a long way from its modest beginnings in 2007, when it was first organised by an Enugu-based art patron, Chief Robert Oji, who is also the CEO and founder of Rocana Nigeria Ltd. (a publishing and outdoor advertising agency). Back then, it had the support of the Alliance Française network and the French Embassy and the tacit endorsement of the local art community.

The annual art festival, which has been held for 16 years without interruption (excluding the COVID-19 year in 2020), has attracted an impressive number of participants totalling about 4,000 young artists, who have won an estimated total of about N19 million in prizes, ranging from the overall prize through the category prizes to the endowed and consolation prizes. 

Over time, it has amassed enough influence in the art world to catch the eye of notable figures from the field, including Bruce Onobrakpeya, Obiora Udechukwu, the late Okwui Enwezor, the late Olabisi Silva, Kolade Oshinowo, Jerry Buhari, Kunle Filani, Sani Mu’azu, Peju Layiwola, Joe Musa, Chijioke Onuora, and Tonie Okpe.

Andy Okoroafor, the founder of the international digital journal of pop art and culture, CLAM, who lives in France, was also drawn to the yearly fiesta and supervised workshops in one or more of its editions.

Additionally, its annual awards and gala nights, held in recent years at the Institute of Management and Technology (IMT), Enugu’s International Conference Centre, have been distinguished by the presence of personalities. Among these are the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe, who also serves as the festival’s grand patron; the former governor of Cross River State, Donald Duke; a prominent Nigerian industrialist and banking mogul, Oba Otudeko; the founder and chairman of OYASAF, Omooba Yemisi Shyllon; the MTN Foundation’s Dennis Okolo; and Professor Paul Modum (a former commissioner for information, social development, youth, sports, and culture in the old Anambra State).

With these recent developments and widespread support, LIMCAF appears to have cemented its status as a viable platform for the nation’s younger generation of artists to advance their careers. However, this places additional responsibility on it. And that is helping to shape the future direction of the contemporary Nigerian art scene.

Again, to remind artists of their roles as mediators of finer recognitions, the organisers might consider including seminars to acquaint them with concepts linking them to higher sources of inspiration.

The winner of the last year’s Prize for the Best Ceramics, Coming and Going this Severe Season, glazed terracotta, by Joy Joseph Oyiri.

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