The large turnout of aficionados at a recent group exhibition opening at Terra Kulture in Victoria Island, Lagos suggests anything but distress in the art scene. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke writes
Surprise! Who would have guessed that it would have come to this? That the number of guests at the group exhibition opening would be overwhelming enough to have them admitted in batches into Terra Kulture’s exhibition hall! Since any smug prediction hinting at a poor attendance based on recent experiences in the local art scene would clearly have fallen flat, the group exhibition, titled Tenacity, raises the aficionados’ hopes for a resurgent art scene.Indeed, not even the terrors of these ravaging COVID-19 times, which pundits wagered would exacerbate the creative industry’s vulnerability, seemed to have stymied the growing patronage. Nor could they hinder the reported sale of 40 per cent of the exhibited works barely halfway into the duration of the exhibition.
If Tenacity – which opened on Saturday, February 27 at Terra Kulture in Victoria Island, Lagos – sounded like a coterie of artists’ battle cry, it’s because it evoked words like focus, courage, resilience, determination and diligence. Of course, flaunting such industry favourites as Lekan Onabanjo, Fidelis Odogwu, Damola Adepoju, Chika Idu, Tayo Olayode and Bolaji Ogunwo among the 18 exhibiting artists must have ratcheted up the expectations swirling around it.
Meanwhile, even as its curator, Yakubu Yahaya, who is also among the exhibiting artists, decries the effects of the lockdowns, event postponements and cancellations on his colleagues, he remained upbeat about the group show. This is corroborated by his assertion that “through inspiration, innovative thinking, collaborations, and sheer persistence, the Nigerian creative industry has not only survived but thrived during these difficult times.”
Apparently, the quality and diversity of the artworks seem to have made quite an impression on the guests, who were seen interacting freely with the artists. For the collectors among them, this was an opportunity not only to discover new emerging artists but also to commission them for new works.
Yet, not even the fact that some isolated compulsive collectors have kept the faith translates into any remarkable increase in art patronage. Interestingly, the curator alluded to “insurmountable odds” while, in the same breath, crowing about what he extolling the works in the exhibition as “a thought-provoking collection of art in various media, on a plethora of subject matters aimed at holding a mirror to modern-day society in all its chaotic beauty and flawed perfection.”
Perhaps, there could not have been a more auspicious time for the exhibition, which ended on Monday, March 8. See it, therefore, as an affirmation that, even in these dire times, the artists are not about to give up any time soon. This fact is further bolstered by Yakubu’s assertion: “Through our art, you can see our struggles, our persistence, our victories. Our can-do spirit. The inherent conviction to never give up. The Nigerian Tenacity.”
As a rallying cry, the exhibition’s title united the Babel of eclectic and impersonal offerings in a common focus. This somewhat lightened the burden on the artists, most of whose works groan under the numbing predictability of the traditional media.
Take Lekan Onabanjo, for instance. The fact that he is known to have over 25 post-qualification studio practice and had his early formal tertiary art education at the renowned Auchi Polytechnic puts him in the spotlight of the exhibition circuit’s habitués. Even when he is acclaimed for his mastery of the watercolour medium, some of his keen devotees remain starry-eyed about his paintings in oil and acrylic. Focusing on the Nigerian society’s fringe-dwellers as well as on topical issues bordering on rural-urban matters have been the theme song of his studio practice. The Guild of Fine Artists of Nigeria (GFAN) member, who also belongs to the Watercolour Society of Nigeria (WSN) and the Institute of Contemporary Art, London (ICA), is also renowned for his deft use of light and reflections, which are dramatic elements in his compositions. As an alumnus of the Lagos Business School and Pan Atlantic University, his skills on the business side of his practice are well-honed.
Not less reputable are the records of two of his co-exhibiting artists Suraj Adekola and Ajayi Porter, who preen themselves on their international exposure. Adekola, for instance, whose five works sold at the Bonhams African art auction in London in 2015, was also listed among the Top 50 Nigerian artists by turnover at African art auctions in 2017. Between 2017 and 2019, the works of the 2007 Auchi Polytechnic graduate made it to other auctions in the French capital, Paris and the Swiss town, Geneva. Meanwhile, Porter, who graduated from the Yaba College of Technology in 1997, had participated in such international events as the 23rd Pan African Films and Arts Festival in Los Angeles, USA and the 27th Wurzburg African Festival in Germany. “As an abstract expressionist artist, my approach to painting is not to interpret philosophy alone but to answer questions with a better interpretation using bold brushes and palette knives,” he says. “My mixed media approach continues with the use of collage… on the surface of the canvas.”
Another Yaba College of Technology graduate, Bede Ifeanyichukwu Umeh, is reportedly ranked, albeit by unacknowledged sources, among the art world’s Top 1,000,000 globally and the Top 1,000 locally.
Perhaps, the artist, who takes the prize as the exhibition’s oddball, is Alex Peter, whose interesting approach to pyrography leaves a pleasant aftertaste in the viewers’ palate. His works, which reference African contemporary realities, are produced through the use of fire, razorblade and sandpaper. “Working on wood makes me collaborate creatively with nature and [offers me] a sense of connection with life in all wonderful adversity, which adds meaning to my art,” he declares.
Also engaging are the works of the other artists like Raji Mohammed, Yakubu Yahaya, Ifeoluwa Olukoya, Olamilekan Abatan, Robert Oniha, James Amuta, Taiwo George-Taylor and Gabriel Jideonwo,
Hence, it made good sense that the collective of artists, figuratively speaking, held the title, Tenacity, aloft like a banner.