Stopped from holding last year by the pandemic, the long-running annual Life in My City Art Festival returns this year, albeit online, with great expectations. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports
With that fleeting moment of perplexity soon dispelled, the painting begins to assert itself more forcefully. By this time, notions about the artist’s rights to the unrestricted free expression of his fantasies have taken the front seat. So, further lingering misgivings about a magnifying glass growing out of an otherwise headless muscular human body clad in a white sleeveless singlet would have long been quietened by specious allusions to artistic licence.
“Smudged Vision”, as the charcoal on paper painting is titled, curiously beat off over 550 other arguably strong contenders to be adjudged the overall winning work at the just concluded Life in My City Art Festival, which is often referred to by its acronym LIMCAF. Perhaps, the fact that its originator Chichetam John Okoronta – a 24-year-old information technology graduate of the Federal University of Technology, Owerri – is a self-taught artist adds more sheen to this feat. And as for the disclosure of his avowed adherence to hyperrealism, it – for all it is worth – only aids an informed academic appraisal of this work which won the overall prize worth N500,000.
The Dr Chijioke Onuora-led LIMCAF jury – saddled with the expectations of fairness – this time outdid itself with its choice of other category prize winners and the recently-instituted Hitch Prize’s lucky 10. Thus, listed as the other winners of LIMCAF’s 14th edition are: Abuja zone’s Segun Victor Owolabi, for his thread and nails on board work, titled “Resilience”, for the Best Sculpture/Installation prize; Lagos zone’s Adewuyi Olusola Samson Arojinle’s terracotta, “Deep Thought”, for the Best Ceramics prize; Abuja zone’s Paul David Enyi’s “Safety” for the Best Graphics/Digital Art prize; Port Harcourt zone’s Godfrey Godstime Uche’s print on wood board work, “How We Roll” for the Best Photography/Video prize; Lagos zone’s Elizabeth Motorola John’s thread on board textile art, “The Chronicle” for the Best Textile/Fashion prize; Enugu zone’s Samson Ejiofor’s wood sculpture “Played” for the Justice Aniagolu Prize for Originality; Auchi zone’s Ismaila Jimoh Odera’s sculpture made with flat metal bar and bottle covers and titled “Ozi ema Apapa na nahe eza” (As you sow, so shall you reap) for the Pius Okigbo Prize for Technical Proficiency; Uyo zone’s Umoren Edidion Akpanta’s mixed media sculpture “Save the Wild” for the Mfon Usoro Prize for the Best Uyo Entry; Lagos zone’s Ifechukwu Ugonabo Stanley’s oil on canvas painting “Gold Mine” for the Lawrence Agada Prize for the Most Promising Young Artist and Enugu zone’s Abigail David-Ase’s installation made with noodle packs, titled “Unfulfilled Promises”, for the Vin Martin Ilo Prize for the Best Enugu entry.
Then, there are also the Hitch Prize winners, who are listed as follows: Abuja zone’s Peter Eneji Ebem for his acrylic on canvas painting “Chronicles of Despair”; Auchi zone’s John Adegbite’s oil on canvas painting “The Circumstance”; Enugu zone’s Ahumaraeze Ekeoma Itah’s oil on canvas painting “Deep Thought”; Owerri zone’s Chibuikem Benedict Okpala’s charcoal and graphite pencil on paper work “Puzzled Vision”; Ibadan zone’s Isaac Ademola Ojo’s oil on canvas painting “What’s the Update?”; Lagos zone’s Gbenga Samson Bakare’s acrylic on canvas painting “The Recycling”; Ondo zone’s Temitope Oyeyemi Adewuni’s charcoal on canvas painting “Verge of Freedom”; Port Harcourt zone’s Michael Onyekachukwu Okoye’s oil on canvas painting “The End Will Tell”; Uyo zone’s Isiah Victor Daniel’s charcoal pencils on FFB paper work “A Creative Mind” and Zaria zone’s Mathias Ameh’s “Poor Education”.
Thus, LIMCAF – arguably Nigeria’s longest-running annual art festival – stomps back this year into the industry’s consciousness as a mainly online event. This was after the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic forced its organisers to suspend the annual festive gathering of its participants in Enugu despite their having received several entries for the competition.
Hence, it was in compliance with the COVID protocols that only 25 winners out of the top-100 competitors were invited to physically attend the awards night, which was held on Saturday, November 20 at the Institute of Management and Technology, Enugu’s International Conference Centre. Other participants, meanwhile, had the opportunity to follow the night’s event on their social media timelines or through a Zoom link. As for its theme – “Vision 2020: So Far, So What?” – it was a carry-over from the last year’s, which couldn’t hold.
This year’s LIMCAF – which would have been the 15th had the pandemic not obtruded – continued to carry the torch of art activism. And this was why its highly-revered chairman Elder K. Uke Kalu reiterated the fact that it remains “the biggest and most impactful art event in Nigeria’s today.”
Welcoming the guests on behalf of the other trustees and the festival’s organising committee, Elder Kalu acknowledged the contributions of such major sponsors as the Institute of Management (IMT), Enugu, the Enugu State Government under the watch of Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, First Bank Nigeria Holdings, MTN Foundation and the new gold sponsor Pinnacle Oil and Gas Limited.
Talking about sponsors, the Canada-based NGO HITCH has upped the ante by breathing new life into the annual art fiesta with its introduction of 10 new prizes – each worth N250,000. Excited about “this strategic partnership with Hitch”, the LIMCAF’s executive director Kevin Ejiofor said it would “encourage and promote art education, accelerating exposure for the young artists it seeks to empower.”
This chimes in so well with what the HITCH’s co-founder and CEO, Uche Onuora, explained as his organisation’s mission, which is “to apply impactful technology to address severe education inequality.” The selected beneficiaries of the NGO’s largesse will be spotlighted in the arts education series, which is to be featured in HITCH’s digital video library and educational resources.
Still on sponsors, no individual sponsor in the festival’s recent memory has been as impactful as the renowned Ghanaian-born artist and the former University of Nigeria, Nsukka lecturer Professor El Anatsui. This year’s top six winners will join the previous edition’s top six winners on all-expenses-paid participation in the Dakar Art Biennale – a. k. a. Dak’ Art – in the Senegalese capital in May 2022.
Professor Anatsui, in his remarks as the LIMCAF patron, pledged to continue his support of the annual event and was hopeful that it “will become famous internationally and those emerging through it will help to make Africa proud on the world art stage.”
Recalling his attendance of the first edition in 2007 at the Nike Lake Resort Hotel, Enugu, he expressed his delight that the art event was back this year.
From modest beginnings as the brainchild of Chief Robert Orji’s advertising and printing firm Rocana Nigeria Limited, which was supported by the Alliance Française network and the French Embassy, it has gained enough clout in the visual arts scene to attract the attention of such industry greats as 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, among others.
Also, its annual awards and gala nights have been graced by the distinguished presence of such eminent personalities as the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe, who doubles as the festival’s grand patron; the former Cross River State governor, Donald Duke; a foremost Nigerian industrialist and banking mogul Oba Otudeko, the OYASAF founder and chairman 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), among others.
Momentarily attracted to the event from his base in France was Andy Okoroafor, the founder of the international digital magazine of pop art and culture, CLAM, who facilitated workshops in a couple or more of its editions.
Meanwhile, more and more younger generation artists from all over the country have continued to see the annual festival as the platform to launch their careers into the limelight.