Unable to physically host its much looked-forward-to grand finale and awards night this year, the organisers of the Life in My City Art Festival have embraced an online option for the festival’s this year’s edition, which holds on Saturday, December 12. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports
For all its legendary resilience as Nigeria’s longest-running art event, the Life in My City Art Festival had to be tailored to suit the mood of these times. Even as the annual fiesta – better known by its acronym LIMCAF – whirred to life with the enthusiastic response to its call for entries, there were already hints that the activities swirling around its 14th edition would be altered by the prevailing circumstances.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the organisers of the annual youth art extravaganza have opted for a webinar. This is in a nod to the restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which would have made the hosting of its grand finale and awards night an ill-advised venture.
“It is also quite clear from the restrictions on travel and other cautionary measures put in place by federal and state governments that gatherings either at the regional centres or here at the grand finale would be neither advisable nor even feasible,” the festival’s artistic director, Ayo Adewunmi, had conceded sometime this year. “Still, we have to wrestle with the fact that we advertised for entries, and have received just over 300 entries from all over the country. This, we consider a good number given the fact that the entry fee was raised to N2000 per person and that, with the closure of schools and other institutions, many young persons would have been hard put to it finding ways and means to undertake production.”
Nonetheless, a virtual meeting of LIMCAF’s trustees settled for an international webinar, which holds on Saturday, December 12 from 3:30 pm, as an alternative to the visual feast of exhibitions and awards nights. The webinar, which promises to feature some of Nigeria’s leading artists and scholars, will revolve around the theme “Life In My City Art Festival and the Growth of Contemporary Art in Nigeria/Africa”. According to Dr Adewunmi, it will aim to examine, in real terms and a holistic manner, its contributions to the art ecosystem in Nigeria; re-examine its founding assumptions and chart a path for its future growth as well as explore the possibility and means open to the festival for even greater contribution to the development of art in Nigeria and beyond.
Expected to be headlined by the visual arts luminary El Anatsui, who is also a LIMCAF patron, the webinar promises a rich harvest of ideas and information on not only the annual event and the Nigerian art scene but also on the future of the sub-sector in the now-unfolding virtual world.
Since its institution in 2007, LIMCAF has asserted itself as a youth-empowerment art platform, through which a long list of aspiring young artists from across the country have come to the limelight. Indeed, its themed series of competitive exhibitions and graded awards, have come to be cherished in the art circles as an annual harvest of young talents. Specifically speaking, the festival’s past 13 years have chalked up an annual average of 400 entries. Even so, the organisers hail the fact that this year’s entries were more than 300 despite the obtrusion of the pandemic and promise to carry them forward to the festival’s next year’s edition when it is assumed that things would have returned to normal.
Also, Professor El Anatsui – on whose financial support the festival has partially leaned in recent years – had first sponsored the festival’s 2017 top four winners on an all-expenses trip to the 2018 edition of the Dakar Art Biennale, tagged Dak’ Art. The Ghanaian-born University of Nigeria, Nsukka emeritus professor later extended this largesse to include the top 12 winners of art event’s 2018 and 2019 editions – six each from each edition. Even winners from this year’s edition, which has been aborted by the pandemic, would have joined the already-waiting list of 12 winners for the trip to the Senegalese capital. The chosen artists would have leveraged this opportunity to hold a Nigerian off-exhibition at the biennale under the banner of LIMCAF.
Talking about sponsorships, LIMCAF first grew from being bankrolled by Chief Robert Orji’s advertising firm Rocana Nigeria Limited as well as enjoying the financial and administrative support 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, whose director Dennis Okoro has on more than one occasion graced its grand finale and awards night with his company’s top-echelon staff members in tow. Of course, the event also boasts of other partners, associates and supporters both from within and outside the Nigerian art community, some of whom have instituted prizes for some of the event’s categories.
Indeed, the crème de la crème of the art industry have since the festival’s inception played such roles as jurors, advisers and its regional centre’s coordinators. These industry leading lights – among whom are studio artists, curators, art scholars and gallery owners – have undeniably positively impacted on the image of the increasingly popular event, which Professor Anatsui had once endorsed as “getting better and better”. The roll-call of celebrated art personalities so far include Bruce Onobrakpeya, the late Olabisi Silva, 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.
Besides, LIMCAF’s awards night at the Institute of Management and Technology, Enugu’s International Conference Centre have hosted 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.