EVEN WITH COVID-19, LIMCAF REMAINS RESILIENT

After last year’s suspension of its 14th edition last due to the restrictions imposed because of the pandemic, Life in My City Art Festival resumes this year as an online competition.  Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports

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Not even the unforeseen obtrusion of the last year’s COVID-19 scare can deny the Life in My City Art Festival – more often known in the art circles as LIMCAF – of its rightful claim to the crown as the country most resilient and consistent art event. It was in a bid to avoid sinking below the industry’s horizon that the annual art festival held an international webinar on Saturday, December 12 last year.The webinar, which was attended by leading internationally-acknowledged art scholars, was in an obvious nod to the government-imposed restrictions caused by the pandemic. Indeed, any attempt to host its grand finale and awards night at the Institute of Management and Technology, Enugu’s International Conference Centre would have been deemed ill-advised.

Now with a total of 488 entries – since 170 fresh entries were added to the previous 318 rolled over from the suspended 2020 edition – on the waiting list, the festival is set once more to take its place in the national ecosystem. This is even when this has to be achieved exclusively online.

Perhaps, industry analysts would be curious to see what the suspended 14th edition, themed “Vision 2020: So Far, So What”, hopes to bring to the table. Indeed, among the aims of the last December’s webinar was – according to the festival’s artistic director, Dr Ayo Adewunmi – to re-examine its founding assumptions. This is besides charting a path for its future growth, which implies exploring the possibility and means open to it for an even greater contribution to the development of art in Nigeria and beyond. 

One of the works displayed at a LIMCAF grand finale exhibition

Of course, it helped that the said webinar, whose lead speaker was the University of Port Harcourt’s professor of art history and theory Frank Ugiomoh, also featured credible art personalities like the USA-based Prince University’s professor of art history Chika Okeke-Agulu, the then USA-based artist and professor of art history Peju Layiwola, the Federal University of Lafia based artist, curator and art historian Chike Obeagu, the renowned artist and the University of Nigeria, Nsukka professor emeritus El Anatsui as well as collectors like the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe, the founder of OYASAF Omooba Yemisi Shyllon and the art patron Ufom Usoro. That online event, which was an apparent attempt to appease the disgruntled sensibilities of those who would have enthusiastically looked forward to physically attend the grand finale exhibition and the awards night, was based on the theme: “Life in My City Art Festival and the Growth of Contemporary Art in Nigeria/Africa”.

On LIMCAF’s new format, the entries will henceforth be sorted out and organised according to regions, which are otherwise known as exhibition centres. The competition’s first level will see the national jury assess and select quality works online. These selected works will be featured for the second-round online exhibition to be held at the festival’s traditional nine exhibition centres. “Going online for the 2021 festival is as a result of Covid restrictions,” says Dr Adewunmi. “On dates to be advertised later, we will hold online exhibitions for each of the centres.” 

From these exhibitions, the top 100 entries will emerge for the grand finale in Enugu, which it is hoped will hold physically under strict COVID restrictions sometime in early November this year.

As for the cash prizes, which include that of the overall, category, endowed and consolation prizes, the naira values remain unchanged. 

Already, the top 12 winners of the festival’s 2018 and 2019 editions – six drawn from each edition – are waiting on the sidelines to join the top winners of this 14th edition to embark on an all-expenses trip to the Dakar Art Biennale, tagged Dak’Art, which is being bankrolled by Professor El Anatsui.

The latter, on whose financial support the festival has partially been leaning in recent years, had initially sponsored its top winners in 2017 to the 2018 edition of the event, which holds biennially at the Senegalese capital city.

Sadly, the suspension of Dak’Art’s 2020 edition due to the pandemic scuttled the hopes of the 12 winners from two editions, who had to wait for the next opportunity to attend the elite international art event. Had things gone on as planned, they would also have leveraged the opportunity to hold a Nigerian off-exhibition at the biennale under the banner of LIMCAF. 

Still on sponsorships, LIMCAF first evolved from being the pet project of Chief Robert Orji’s advertising agency Rocana Nigeria Limited and eliciting the interest of the Alliance Française network and the French Embassy to attracting big-time sponsors like Diamond Bank, FBN Holdings, the Enugu State Government and, more recently, the MTN Foundation. It is an eloquent testimonial of the festival’s rising profile that the top-echelon staff members of these organisations deemed attending LIMCAF’s grand finale and awards nights worth their while. Equally heartwarming was the fact that some of the annual festival’s other partners, associates and supporters from within and outside the Nigerian art community, instituted category prizes.

Meanwhile, LIMCAF has, since its inception in 2007, lived up to its billings as a youth-empowerment art platform, through which a long list of aspiring young artists from across the country have clawed their way to the limelight. Among these artists are the maiden edition winner Olumide Oresegun, the 2014 winner Ngozi Omeje-Ezema, the 2011 third prize winner Sor Sen and the 2013 and 2015 category prize winner Izuchukwu Muoneme. 

Besides the annual average of 400 entries that have been recorded since inception at its much looked-forward-to themed series of competitive exhibitions and graded awards, the quality of works at the event have once been endorsed by Professor Anatsui “getting better and better”. 

There have also been commendations by such local industry leading lights as Bruce Onobrakpeya, the late Ola Oloidi, the late Olabisi Silva, Professor Jerry Buhari, Kunle Filani, Sani Mu’azu, the late Nsikak Essien, Peju Layiwola, Joe Musa, Frank Ugiomoh, Sam Ovraiti, Blaise Gundu Gbaden, Chijioke Onuora and Tonie Okpe as well as from a gaggle of international consultants. Indeed, much of the festival’s activities pivot on the participation of the art community’s key figures – among whom were studio artists, curators, art scholars and gallery owners – in such role as jurors, advisers and regional centre’s coordinators. 

As for the awards nights – first held at the Nike Lake Hotels and Resorts and later at the Institute of Management and Technology, Enugu’s International Conference Centre – they have the meeting ground for such dignitaries as the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe; Nigeria’s former high commissioner to the UK, Christopher Kolade; former Cross River State Governor Donald Duke; the founder of OYASAF, Prince Yemisi Shyllon and the chairman of Honeywell Group, Oba Otudeko, among others.

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