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It’s all happening in Lagos!

Whilst Africa-focused contemporary art fairs like 1-54 and AKAA open in Europe and the US, Lagos is hosting its own cultural events as an investment within the city itself. It does so in a bid to reach new collectors within Nigeria, as well as to inspire a new generation of artists. By Christine Xuereb Seidu

This is what Art X Lagos founder and director, Tokini Peterside, said of her own art fair in her city, which joins homegrown artists with those who have lived or studied abroad and returned home. After all, Nigeria already boasts many Nigerian names who have already reached international acclaim – these include Kehinde Riley (Barack Obama’s portrait artist); Njideka Akunyili Crosby; Yinka Shobinare; sound artist, Emeka Ogboh; and performance artist, Jelili Atiku.

Robe me in Egungun by Wole Lagunju 64 x 64 inches oil painting on canvas, 2019

The beginning of the twentieth century started out with Ben Enwonwu largely occupying the Nigerian art scene as one of Africa’s most influential artists. In the 1970s, artists with ties to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka group, started to interweave the Nigerian Igbo craft of uli (linear minimal perspective drawings of the Igbo women) with contemporary mediums. Among these artists were the Ghanaian El Anatsui, who taught at the university between 1996 and 2011, and Olu Oguibe, who studied there in 1986. Before the late Bisi Silva founded the Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA, Lagos) in 2007 – a non-profit making visual art organisation to provide a platform for development, presentation and discussion of contemporary visual art and culture – Lagos was full of galleries who worked with artists in non-exclusive arrangements, many being left vulnerable and taken advantage of. That same year, the African Artists’ Foundation was set up in order to encourage the highest standards or art, providing assistance to professional and emerging artists, organising the LagosPhoto festival (it’s of no surprise that the Nigerian photographic industry is one of the largest there is) and the National Art Competition each year.  In 2008, Nigeria’s first auction house, Arthouse Contemporary, was opened and for the first time, prices were made visible following sales. Since then, many young gallerists began to appear, engaging more with artists’ careers and encouraging new audiences. These included: the Rele Gallery, the Omenka Gallery, the Art Twenty One Gallery, the Revolving Art Incubator, Nike Art Gallery, Red Door Gallery, the Boys’ Quarters Project Space, the SMO Contemporary and many others.

Besides the loss of the curator Bisi Silva in 2019, Nigeria also saw the loss of another of its own – Okwui Enwezor, a very influential figure in the contemporary art world who put African art on the map upon realising African artists had almost no exposure. In 1994, he co-founded Nka, a magazine of contemporary African art. Debates about art and postcolonialism on Nka led to Enwezor’s invitation to co-curate an exhibition of African photography at the S.R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, where he was able to give a lot of African artists their first American exposure. This led to his involvement in more landmark exhibitions and biennales, including being named artistic director of the 11th edition of Documenta, where he was able to include artists from the developing world. Later, he was also named director of Haus der Kunst in Germany.

Chukwuemeka Bosah’s 2010 Celebration of Modern Nigerian Art- 101 Nigerian artists book delves into a great selection of modern Nigerian artists, but recent years has seen a surge in the number of Nigerian contemporary artists, especially those reaching international acclaim. Upcoming names include Otobeng Nkanga, Gerald Chukwuma, Modupeola Fadugba, Wole Lagunju, Peju Alatise, Ngozi Omeje, Taiye Idahor, Diana Ejaita , Toyin Ojih Odutola, Ayo Akinwande and others like Peter Uka, Uthman Wahaab, Nnenna Okore, Victoria Udondian, Marcia Kure, Sokari Douglas Camp, Frida Orupabo, Lakin Ogunbanwo, Dennis Osadebe, Obinna Makata, Ola-dele Kuku, Victor Ehikhamenor, Tyna Adebowale and Etinosa Osayimwen, who specialises in documentary photography.

There’s more to look forward to when it comes to contemporary art in Nigeria. This month, the Shyllon Museum of Art on Victoria Island, Lagos, will be opening to the public. It is named after Nigeria’s biggest art collector, Yoruba prince Yemisi Shyllon, who is also the Pan Atlantic university museum’s main donor. Together with this, Lagos’ art events calendar will peak in November: firstly with the LagosPhoto Festival from 29 October to 14 November 2020; concurrently, the Art X Lagos from 6 to 8 November 2020; all in the run up to the next Lagos Biennale, which will take place in 2021. If Lagos doesn’t look to be a destination in the near future, art enthusiasts should definitely check out Nigerian artists at one of the over fifty African art fairs coming up this year globally. Alternatively, local galleries specialising in West African art are always worth a visit.  

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