By John Owoo – The Nigerian commercial capital Lagos never ceases to offer surprises to first time and regular visitors alike – it is alive and kicking – not withstanding a plethora of problems that confront it in all fronts – including development of the arts.
Undeniably, in the midst of an ailing economy, chaotic and crowded streets, very little or no support from government and corporate bodies, one can find a group of dedicated and committed artists, arts activists and organizations who are determined to raise the level of the arts in Nigeria.
Inspiring activities by these brave men and women came to light following a two-day orientation tour organized by the Mondriaan Foundation together with the Prince Claus Fund, Institute for Visual, Audiovisual and Media Art (BAM) and the Office for Contemporary Art (OCA), Norway for 22 representatives from various arts organizations, funding agencies and academic institutions.
A meeting with the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA) at the Bogobiri House in the affluent Ikoyi neighbourhood of Lagos revealed how professionals from other fields of endeavor are collaborating with artistes in the battle to help reshape and promote the arts.
CORA Secretary General Toyin Akinhoso, who is a geologist, enumerated a number of seminars organized by his outfit seeking ways to improve the film sector (Nollywood), which has become quite a phenomenon in Africa and some parts of the world in recent years despite persistent criticism on its quality and content, which is largely city life and elements of the supernatural.
Nevertheless, there are a group of filmmakers who are struggling to present another form of Nigerian film by employing the use of rich Nigerian literature as well as its culture. Speaking in his modest Oshodi office, filmmaker/director of Mainframe Productions, Tunde Kelani said the issue of piracy is the largest challenge while lamenting on the lack of government support and the low level of screenings of his type of films in newly constructed film houses in plush neighbourhoods such as the famous Victoria Island.
A visit to the Centre for Contemporary Art in the Sabo area of Lagos further reveals the resourcefulness of Nigerians. Located in the first and second floors of a new building, which is obviously part of the construction boom in Lagos, the CCA, directed by one of Anglophone West Africa’s dynamic curators Bisi Silva, has since 2007 been involved in activities aimed at contributing to the development and professionalization of artistic production and curatorial practice in Nigeria and the West African sub region as a whole.
Indeed, the group made up of representatives from The Netherlands, Norway, Armenia, Belgium, Brazil and Ghana interacted with participants of an ongoing residency programme on photography, with representatives from various disciplines in the visual arts. A well-stocked library with various books, journals, catalogues and
magazines on art is probably one of the best in the sub region.
Yet another remarkable visit was to the Ben Enwonwu Foundation, which is dedicated to the memory of one of the pioneers of art in Nigeria. Indeed, none of the Ghanaian masters, who spearheaded the art movements in Ghana in the 1940s and 50s, have foundations set in their memory – it is a big lesson and challenge to Ghana. Alongside a permanent display of works by Enwonwu, the foundation organizes annual lectures on diverse topics while creating opportunities for further research into new forms of artistic expression and the contribution of art to the development of society as a whole.
The Mydrim Gallery directed by the smooth talking attorney Simidele Ogunsarya sells a whopping 80% of artworks to local Nigerians – a remarkable feat which dozens of galleries in Ghana are currently struggling to achieve despite moderate gains made in that direction over the past five to ten years.
A group of young photographers known collectively as Depth of Field, whose member Uche Iroha won the highest prize in the 2009 edition of the Bamako Photographic Biennial shared their works with members of the delegation during meeting at the Bogobiri House. They shared the philosophies and inspirations behind their work while making note of the growth of photography in Nigeria.
One of the famous contemporary dance groups in Lagos and indeed the whole of Nigeria exhibited raw energy and self-confidence alongside highly imaginative and expressive movements as they showcased a section of one of their dance pieces. Infected by the high energy emanating from the stage, members of the visiting team ignored the intense heat and humidity and joined the young dancers on stage.
Dancer and choreographer, Adedayo Liadi, equally expressed sorrow at the lack of support from the Nigerian authorities adding that far from discouraging them, it rather serves as a source of motivation. He mentioned an ongoing dance/drama production to educate the masses on voting as an example of how lack of funds from government would not deter them.
As the group prepares to live this amazing city of initiatives divided by huge lagoons and rivers, the memory of extraordinary artistes and activists whose dedication is worth emulating would continue to be remembered and praised.