With its plan to move its selection process and exhibitions online, the Life In My City Art Festival is set through wade through the pandemic storm. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports
A cautionary obtrusion into the local art scene – at a time the latter gradually stirred back to life – earned the COVID-19 pandemic the diadem as the year’s ultimate party pooper. While some organisers of art events initially threw up their hands in despair, the more optimistic ones among them remained hopeful that things would normalise by June. Take the case of the Life in My City Art Festival, for instance. The annual fiesta’s call for entries for the 2020 competition – which would have climaxed with a grand finale in Enugu, by the last weekend in October – had gone out since January. And even while the main cities in the country reeled from the effects of the government-imposed lockdown aimed at stamping out the pestilence, the festival’s organisers stuck to its previously-announced May 30 deadline for the call for entries.
But, of course, the event which is more often known by its acronym LIMCAF would have to at some point bow to the dictates of the times. One way was to review the process of the build-up to the grand finale week in Enugu. Shortly after the “call-for-entries” announcement in January, the unfolding events cast a pall of uncertainty over the prospects of sponsorship. The unlikelihood of financial support of any kind was further exacerbated by the havoc wreaked on the economy by the pandemic.
“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, explains. “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.”
It was not surprising, therefore, when sometime in June the festival’s local organising committee unanimously recommended that its 14th edition be neither cancelled nor be postponed to next year. That was mainly because the committee members thought adding this year’s entries to those of the coming year in the event of a postponement would be “unfair and unnecessarily difficult to manage”. As the statement signed by Dr Adewunmi suggests, “the entries that have been received for this year will be judged and winners selected.”
Much of the recommendations revolved around the proposal of a virtual process and grand finale. Given the fact that all the entries (which were sent through as email attachments) have been downloaded, the committee members are in favour of using virtual galleries for the sifting process during the first and second stages of the competition. Of course, artists whose works are not clear enough would be asked to resend better images of their works.
The first stage of the selection of the works, which since the 2018 edition had been done through an online process, would consist of a compilation and the grouping of the entries according to their regions of origin and eventually eliminating the substandard works by a constituted national jury.
As for the second elimination stage, which had hitherto been done through regional exhibitions in nine locations across the country, the entire process would also go online. Besides the concerns about the prevailing COVID-19 protocols, which decreed social distancing at all public gatherings, there were also the uncertainties about the funding for the regional exhibitions.
This time, there would, over a specified period, be region-by-region online exhibitions featuring images of artworks, which would have been deemed good enough for this stage. “A timetable will be devised and agreed by jury members for the viewing and selection process,” Dr Adewunmi adds.
The final 100 works are expected to emerge after the conclusion of this stage. Previously, all the best 100 works used to be physically curated and displayed at the grand finale exhibition held in the festival’s concluding week in Enugu. And this exhibition’s more recent editions have been hosted at Institute of Management and Technology’s International Conference Centre. This year, only the top 25, from which the winning entries should emerge, would be physically sent to Enugu. The final sifting process will be done by the jury, who would probably be assisted by top artists from the board and the organising committee.
Nonetheless, all the best 100 works will form part of a virtual gallery and exhibition, which can be viewed on the annual long-running festival’s website for the grand finale exhibition.
Another innovation of this year’s edition is the introduction of the public viewers’ award, which the organisers say, would be instituted to encourage public participation and media publicity. On a yet-to-be-decided date, invitations would be sent out to a selected stakeholders – drawn from Enugu and cities around Nigeria – to witness the virtual awards of the LIMCAF prizes.
On the awards, the organising committee says they will be conducted by its members and those of the board, adding that details of the ceremony would be sorted out through discussions with a capable information technology company.
Meanwhile, the organisers are presently discussing the details of this proposal festival with major sponsors and patrons, hoping that this would be “quite a FIRST and high profile experience for LIMCAF.”
Talking about sponsors, the festival has not only elicited but also sustained the interest of FBN Holdings and the Enugu State Government and, more recently, that of 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.
In addition, one of its main patrons, the leading international art icon, Professor El Anatsui has in recent years consistently remained a pillar of support. The Ghanaian-born former University of Nigeria, Nsukka art lecturer had first sent the festival’s top four winners on an all-expenses trip to the 2018 edition of the Dakar Art Biennale, tagged Dak’ Art. Subsequently, he had extended this largesse to the top six winners of LIMCAF’s 2018 and 2019 editions, promising to add to this year’s top six winners to the waiting list of 12 artists, whose trip to the Senegalese capital was aborted by the obtrusion of the pandemic. Had this trip not been postponed, the chosen artists would have participated in an off-exhibition under the banner of LIMCAF.
Meanwhile – endorsed by Professor Anatsui, as “getting better and better” – LIMCAF’s awards night has been graced by such industry’s leading lights and a host of other dignitaries. They include 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. There were also luminaries like Bruce Onobrakpeya, the late Olabisi Silva, Jerry Buhari, Kunle Filani, Sani Mu’azu, Peju Layiwola, Joe Musa, Frank Ugiomoh, Sam Ovraiti, Chijioke Onuora and Tonie Okpe, among others.
Bankrolled during its first four years by Chief Robert Orji’s advertising and printing firm Rocana Nigeria Limited, it had the backing of the Alliance Française network and the French Embassy, whose support continues till date.