Despite the economic challenges as a result of recession which began last year ended early this year, according to experts, the arts and culture sector in Nigeria fared well with series of activities, notably live theatre, especially musicals, carnivals, exhibitions, art fairs among others, took centre stage.
Significantly, the golden jubilee anniversary of the creation of Lagos State, was marked with series of art activities, including live theatre performances, colloquium, art exhibition. The Lagos @ 50 Planning Committee on Monday, March 27, unveiled a range of activities for the final celebration of the State’s Golden Jubilee anniversary. The final lap of the celebration, which started on May 27, 2016, three months after the 10-man Planning Committee to drive it was inaugurated by the Governor, kicked off on Saturday, April 8 with the stage production of “Wakaa”, a musical produced and directed by ace producer and director, Bolanle Austen-Peters, at the Muson Centre, Onikan Lagos. The celebration continued on April 13 with a three-day Broadway Musical Concert tagged “FELA” that featured the life and times of the Afrobeat maestro and music legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, and celebrate his pioneering music, which was performed by a combined cast of the original Broadway production and the Royal National Theatre production under Bill T. Jones.
On May 5, five of the highest box office films and five evergreen films were screened to local audience in the five divisions of the State including Ikeja, Badagry, Ikorodu, Lagos Island and Epe. Lagos Carnival was also hold on May 13 in both the Island and Mainland zones of the State and extend to the different communities and ethnic groups in Lagos, while the Eyo Festival, last staged five years ago made a grand return on May 20 at the Tafawa Balewa Square.
Also, there were jazz music concert mixed with a fashion show to celebrate the International Jazz Day on April 30th; comedy show tagged ‘Lagos Laughs’ on May 7th where 50 of the most outstanding stand-up comedians will mount the stage on the World Laughter Day to reinforce the fact that Lagos is the capital of Stand-up Comedy in Africa and there will be a competitive dance exhibition, as well as photo exhibitions and the unveiling of a special coffee table book that captures the essence of Lagos through the lens of 50 accomplished photographers. Several colloquiums were held under the direction of the Planning Committee Chairman, Prof. Wole Soyinka, as an intellectual voyage into different areas of life, culture, history, governance and business that make Lagos an exceptional state.
Highlights of the activities also include Lagos Street Carnival, Calabar Carnival among others.
Indeed, for the visual art sector, 2017 was a ‘monumental’ year. It will be remembered as the year of monuments in Nigeria because it witnessed the commissioning of a considerable number of public monuments. Lagos state government commissioned not less than 19 gigantic new monuments in various parts of the city in a move, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, stated, is aimed at boosting the tourism potential of Lagos – Nigeria’s biggest city and commercial hub. This is unprecedented, though Lagos has over the years been a melting pot of culture, lifestyle and entertainment. The art pieces reflect the various aspects of life and history of the city and thus elicited responses as expected. Among the monuments, is a statue of the late elder statesman, and the first premier of defunct Western Region of Nigeria, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. This 20-feet monument drew many reactions from Nigerians. Many said it was a bad representation of the late politician’s bearing. Particularly, his shoes in the effigy were described by many as misplaced, “they looked more like Timberland boots” which they pointed out did not go well with his flowing Agbada regalia. The criticism was rife in the social media and it went on for weeks.
In Imo state, Governor Okorocha’s love for monuments as a means of improving the tourist potential of the state is seen in his erection of giant statues of various African leaders at the Heroe’s Square in Owerri. The subjects of the statues have elicited reactions from Nigerians. While the perceived poor workmanship of Chief Awolowo’s statue was the matter in Lagos, Okorocha’s monuments drew questions about the relevance of some of the subjects to the sociocultural life and value system of Imo people. One of the seven above-life-size statues is the image of President Zuma of South Africa, who many argue was not suitable for such honour, especially in a state where workers and pensioners are being owed for months. Also, Nigerian citizens and other Africans living in South Africa have suffered rounds of xenophobic attacks in recent times and honouring the president of such a country is insensitive on the part of Imo state governor.
Reactions to these monuments are typical of feelings that public art generate, and 2017 saw lots of it especially in the social media.
The year also saw the successful outing of the second edition of Art X Lagos, a home-grown art fair which debuted in 2016. The fair became bigger, making it the most attended and talked about visual art event of the year. With 14 galleries, 61 artists from 10 countries and over 9,000 persons in attendance, an improvement on last year’s 5,000 visitors. Art X Lagos is obviously one of the highpoints of the Visual art sub-sector in the year. In October this year, Nigeria joined the rest of the world as it got a Pavillion for the first time in La Biennale di Venezia-the world’s oldest art biennale. Established in 1895, it has more than 120 years history and has reached over 500,000 visitors during its art exhibitions. A biennale is a mega art exhibition and many countries of the world host it as independent municipal projects, but they are considered critical artistic milestones through which arts and culture are showcased. A biennale like that of Venice is considered as the art Olympics for artists and curators across the world. Peju Alatise, Victor Ehikhamenor and Qudus Onikeku represented Nigeria in Venice. This year also saw Lagos making its debut as a city with its own art biennial. The event titled ‘Living on the Edge’, attracted over 40 international artists from 20 countries. According to Akete Art Foundation, the organizers of the event, the Biennial “is out to position Lagos on the map as a major art capital on the African continent.”
From a humble beginning at Enugu in 2007, the annual Life in My city Art Festival clocked its 10th anniversary in 2017, thus making it one of the longest running and sustainable art events in the country. The head of the 2017 edition jury, Jerry Buhari noted that there is an increase in the sponsorship and more people are showing interest in the program. Governor Ugwuanyi of Enugu state, Donald Duke, former governor of Cross River state, The Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe, Oba Otudeko, chairman of Honeywell group, French Consul, Laurent Polonceaux and the iconic visual artist, Professor El Anatsui- who has given tickets to four of the top winners to the Dak’art Biennale holding in 2018.
The year 2017 saw many cheery developments in the private sector such as the museums under construction donated by Prince Yemisi Shyllon to the Pan African University, Lagos and another museum being constructed by His Majesty, Igwe Alfred Achebe, the Obi of Onitsha. Also, the Thought Pyramid Arts Centre opened its Lagos branch this year.
Lagos based Omenka Gallery hosted series of art exhibitions in 2017, such as Bits of Borno by Fati Abubakar, Realm of Freedom by Raqib Bashorun, Bubbles of Emotion by Adeola Balogun, and Where Do We Go From Here by Ebenezer Akinola.
This year marked the 100th natal anniversary of Prof. Ben Enwonwu MBE, Nigeria’s late modernist artist. Apart from the Access Bank Collection of his work (a group of seven wooden sculptures, originally commissioned by the Daily Mirror in 1960) exhibited as part of the Art X Lagos art fair to highlight his posthumous birthday, in London a conference themed Positioning Nigerian Modernism was held in his honour at Tate Modern, London, United Kingdom.
While the private sector remained vibrant in the Arts sector, a lot is still expected from the Federal government especially in the provision of art infrastructure. Many are of the view that we need more public museums, galleries other art spaces that can provide opportunities and support for the artists and other players in the sector. Abdulfattah Adeyemi at a lecture held recently as part of Abuja Unlocked Exhibition and Jerry Buhari at his solo exhibition at Thoughts Pyramid Arts Centre Abuja lamented the lack of befitting public art spaces in the city of Abuja.
The arts sector in general performed well with various festivals taking place in Lagos and other parts of Nigeria. The Calabar Carnival for the year 2017 has grown and its beginning to attract more attention both locally and internationally. The arts and culture sector looks good and we can only hope that year 2018 will bring better fortunes for the arts.
For notable artist, critic and art administrator, Kunle Filani, it was a good year for the sector.
“I think it was a good year in the sense of the quality and the number of public outings that we had especially in Lagos. November was the year of Art X, Lagos Biennial, photography exhibitions and so on; as well as various exhibitions by the galleries. So, when you sum it up, it was quite a very dynamic year; very successful in terms of exposure for artists and the connoisseurs, galleries and individual enthusiasts. So in terms of the visual art, it was quite interesting and dynamic, and you can also say that for some of the other arts, like music, live theatre. There were a lot of activities. The good thing also is that even though we are complaining about government presence, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, is also a regular face at some of these events which is also very important. It lends credence to government’s interest in the art. So with that, I think we had a good year in 2017,” he said.
Filani, however, stressed the need for a cultural policy. He said, “There is a cultural policy, the 1988 Cultural Policy, which is quite elaborate. The problem is that we have never implemented it fully. If we begin to implement, just like any other area where we have good policies, like the National Policy on Education, but the implementation is the problem we have.”
Also, in an interview with New Telegraph, another notable artist, Nsikiak Essien, posit that it was a good year for the sector. His words: “It was a good year for the sector especially the visual art. Recently, we had an exhibition in Abuja, and it was well publicized to an extent and there were people who were able to have access to the art. In fact art was taking to new set of appreciators that were raised. It was an explosion. It was organized from one venue to another. I believe that if such shows keep happening all over the place it will reposition the art and make it more widely accepted.
So for me, the art sector – visual art sector – really fared well. We had many exhibitions, art fairs, residencies, among others.”
On 2018, he said he expects more programmes such as art exhibitions, residencies, fairs among others: “Things will improve,” Essien said.
Projection for 2018
We expect more activities, government support, say stakeholders.
According to Filani 2018 holds a promise of better sector. “I believe we should consolidate on what we have done and achieved so far. We expect more robust interactive sessions support from the government, especially the Ministry of Information and Culture, we should be able to talk about change in policies, implementation of policies, like Artist Registration Council, which we have all been clamouring for. It is also important that there is a befitting National Museum and Monuments.
“The good thing about Lagos is that we also witnessed a number of public sculptures that were installed in Lagos. It shows that Governor Ambode is an art lover and he is willing to spend money to make Lagos a tourist centre. In fact, for me, he is perhaps the most significant thing that happened to La
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