TO RELISH ART IN SECLUSION, FIVE IS COMPANY… 

A coterie of five artists, cloistered in a resort for a five-day residency programme, away from the hustle and bustle of Lagos city life, had a time of their life learning and bonding with each other. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke writes

Courtesy: Art for a Reason, Africa

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Out of 150 artists, who had responded to an open call by The Artist Ladder Konnect – a. k. a. TALK – residency programme, only six were initially chosen. But, five artists – three of whom were female and the remaining two, male – eventually showed up at The Love Portion Creative Hub in the Ajah area of Lagos, the venue of the programme. For one reason or the other, the male artist who would have been the sixth had failed to take up his slot, leaving the organisers with little or no time to find a replacement. Thus, things eventually came to a satisfactory – albeit an unintended – resolution: five artists were engaged by five mentors/facilitators during the five days of the residency programme.

Two of the participating artists, Timothy Popoola, left, and Moses Oyeleye, during a drawing session

Talking about those five days – from Monday, December 6 to Friday, December 10 – they only flagged off the first and on-site phase of TALK’s two-phase project. During this period, the five emerging and mid-career artists – Marietta Schulze-Berning, Ella Ojadi, Mofoluso Eludire, Moses Oyeleye and Timothy Popoola – lived as housemates at a resort, away from their usual environments. At this serene venue, they not only interacted and exchanged ideas with each other, but they were also exposed to special sessions with visiting facilitators like Imal Silva, Iniabasi Leye, Adesola Fakile and Oludamola Adebowale, as well as with the mentor-in-residence Olusegun Adejumo, who is one of the leading artists in the Lagos art scene.

Reliving her experience during this first phase of the programme, one of the female artists, Marietta Schulze Berning, says: “Honestly, this experience has been more than just about my work. Surprisingly, it has done so much already to my sense of value and self-worth, both as an artist and a person.”

Art, according to the University of Lagos graduate, had always been something she considered a part of herself and always felt good about. “Seeing that I have been always good at it, it was one part of me that could never be wrong or that I could never do badly.”

One of the residency programme’s interactive sessions

For one of the two male artists, Timothy Popoola, this phase of the programme was a liberating experience. “I experienced a shift in the way I see and do things,” he discloses. “I used to be very serious-minded before, but in the course of the residency, I discovered that being too serious can affect my freedom and self-expression.” 

The artists’ return to their homes, after the five-day retreat, launches the project’s second phase, which continues for three months. During this second phase, the mentorship programme will extend to such capacity-building activities as studio and gallery visits and artist talks. An exhibition featuring works that were inspired by, and/or created during, the residency is expected to round up the entire programme by sometime early next year. 

Before the residency programme, which is being supported by Goethe Institut Lagos and The Love Portion Creative Hub, there was The Artist Ladder Konnect (TALK) online series. According to the cultural producer and arts consultant Blessing “Bee” Azubike, who is also the director of the programme, the online series, which were launched a few months ago, inspired the residency programme. “This sort of programme is an assignment – a calling of sorts. All I’m doing is obeying destiny’s call.”

The online series, she explains, featured in-depth discussions with experts and practitioners from both within and outside Nigeria. “They were basically insightful conversations executed via Instagram lives. Following a successful digital run, and with an apparent need for more extensive and intensive sessions, we launched a physical edition, The Artist Ladder Konnect (TALK) Residency, a hybrid (on-site and off-site) immersive and participatory programme, designed to give emerging artists a rounded, transformational experience.”

Blessing Bee Azubike, centre, flanked by facilitators Segun Adejumo, left, and Imal Silva

Looking back at what the residency had achieved so far, Azubike was certain that it was, among other things, able to connect, nurture and transform the participants. “I particularly loved the connection between the participants, the mentors, the facilitators, and the residency team. You couldn’t ignore the communal feel and the camaraderie, developed in just five days. While the connections were established and the nurturing process began, we are aware that the rest of the nurturing and the transformation will be experienced in the following months which make up the second phase of the residency programme.”

Corroborating this assertion, Schulze-Berning noted that the passion expressed by both the participants and the facilitators was overwhelmingly inspiring. “It is amazing meeting people who are just as passionate as you are in a profession that not many people understand or appreciate.”

Silva, one of the facilitators, described it as “truly a time of creative retrospection, engagement and practice”. According to the Abuja-based artist and businessman, it was also a week, during which the participants collaboratively explored their passion for art, honed their skills, engaged to understand market trends and worked on leaving a lasting legacy. “It was a call to artists to be thought leaders and influencers in their generation.”

Azubike – known in the art circles as the “Chief Artvocate” – had in the programme’s early planning stages envisioned a “getaway”. Indeed, she had wanted “the residency to hold in a dreamy, almost magical location, so that it could be some sort of ‘escape’ for the artists. I mean, Lagos is already a chaotic city, why not take everyone away from it all, so that we can focus on thinking, and creating. I’m so glad that even with a tight budget, we did pretty okay with that.” 

The mass communication graduate, who had previously worked, among other things, as public relations and communications consultant as well as media and project manager, owes her involvement in the arts to her aesthetic sensibilities. She had first initiated Art for a Reason, Africa as a platform to promote and showcase artists as well as art projects and initiatives. Then, sometime in late 2019, The Artist Ladder, which mainly focuses on the support, opportunities, education, liaison and career advancement for artists and creatives, was conceived as a spin-off of Art for a Reason, Africa.

A session on art therapy

Azubike, who doesn’t believe in the concept of Art for Art’s Sake, sees artists as social engineers and culture-shapers. “But if they are not conscious of this power that they possess, then they will be unable to fulfil their purpose.” 

Meanwhile, the selection of the facilitators and mentors was no easy task. Because the focus was on honing the drawing skills of the participants, the organisers enlisted the services of Adejumo. As for Silva, his background as an artist, gallery owner and businessman, stood him in good stead for an advisory role to help the artists see the business side of things. 

“As regards the other facilitators, we put together a long list of topics and possible facilitators we wanted to feature, and after a few conversations, we decided on which to start with for the on-site phase of the residency, and for the months to follow,” Azubike discloses.

Ultimately, TALK Residency’s goals of instigating a mind-shift among the participants were realised. The quintet returned to their homes brimming over with self-confidence and optimism.

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