Arts + Culture

The Future of Nigeria's Art World Is In the Hands of its Young Artists

We caught up with artist Victor Ehikhamenor at ART X Lagos on the challenges he faces and the future of Nigerian art via its young artists.

Victor Ehikhamenor is an award-winning writer, photographer and visual artist who’s had a career that spans over two decades and has covered Nigeria’s creative industry.


Before his solo exhibition at the inaugural ART X Lagos, Ehikhamenor talked to Okayafrica via email about how social media has contributed to the growth of contemporary art in Nigeria, Lagos as a source of inspiration and the talented young Nigerian artists whose work he admires.

Ashley Okwuosa for Okayafrica: How does your experience as a writer influence your work with designing book covers? Do you read the work before you design the covers? And if so, how does that influence how you go about designing a cover for the book?

Victor Ehikhamenor: It has helped in various ways, I can catch the essence of the book quick enough. I must say my cover designs are not autocratic, the writers and publishers have a lot of contribution in the birthing of a new cover. Some work I read in their entirety to get the soul of the book, others I design based a good synopsis. Sometimes the publishers or the authors choose from my existing art as a cover. All in all, it is a collaborative effort.

A lot of your work is influenced by the time you spent growing up in the village and it's obvious that those experiences have never left you. But is there anything about the city of Lagos that inspires you to create new work? Whether it's writing, photography or paintings?

Lagos is always an influence for all my creative forms. I am able to marry my village and Lagos in a very harmonious way. Majority of the time, the yellow in my paintings are a homage to both the vibrancy of my village and Lagos. I have written, photographed and serenaded Lagos in many ways. The energy in this town is not comparable to anywhere else—the good, the bad and the pleasant.

As an artist working and living in Nigeria, what are some of the challenges you encounter—whether it's on the business side of working in the art industry or just non-art related challenges you face?

Every society has its peculiar problem. Ours is mostly a lack of institutions like museums and community art centers that are properly managed. The government has not really paid attention to the industry, and that became very obvious when the arts and culture ministry was yoked with the information ministry. Also, corporate patronage is still very minimal, hence most artists have to do all the heavy lifting themselves. We need art critics and more curators to engage with the increasing number of practicing artists.

How do you think social media has contributed to the growth of contemporary art in Nigeria?

In an amazing way. I think social media has pretty much moved the art industry from a despotic regime to a democratic system. Work and artists travel faster without leaving their studio in Nigeria. We are talking to the outside world and they are responding in equal measure. Some artists are also making sales from these platforms and work that has no traditional places to be displayed is finding its voice on social media, i.e. video art. Also, younger artists are learning from more experienced artists they follow on how to manage their young careers. There are so many benefits if you ask me. But it also has it's downside if poorly used and a lot of copycats find treasure troves in other hardworking artists' platforms.

Is there anything about the new crop of Nigerian artists that excites you or makes you feel hopeful about the future of art in Nigeria?

A lot of things excite me. Their medium, their style, their thematic preoccupation and the freshness they exude are all exciting and refreshing. It shows a society that is in tune with contemporary practice.

I'm pretty sure you encounter a lot of aspiring artists, can you name a few whose work you're interested in at the moment?

Well there are quite a few I really love, but there so many of them. I love Ngozi Schommers' work, Taiye Idahor is doing great stuff, Abraham Oghobase is pushing boundaries in photography, Eloghosa Osunde's experimentation with painterly photography also works for me. I know I am missing a whole lot of young wonderful Nigerian artists right now but these come to mind readily.

How do you think initiatives like ART X Lagos can help strengthen Nigeria's art community?

In multiple ways. Apart from creating awareness for the country, it brings foreigners to Nigeria to see what is going on here. It also helps Nigerians engage with work created by others. There is also the economic aspect of things—job creation and cultural authentication for the country. I have been to two art fairs outside Nigeria this year and it is really refreshing to see others come to my country. I pray it grows healthily as time goes on.

What are some resources or initiatives that you would like to see implemented in the art industry to help grow and sustain it?

We have two or more artist residencies in Lagos now which were not there two years ago. Now you have an art fair and hopefully we can have more Nigerians tune into the trend and have a very strong local market that will sustain the art industry when the external fanfare slows down. With time most of the things we lack will eventually materialize.

What does the future of the Nigerian art industry look like to you? How do you see it growing and expanding in the next couple of years?

The Nigerian art industry has always been healthy, though there are moments of quietness, it always roars back. I can not really predict the future, but like every other thing it will have it's ebb and flow, it will grow and we must capitalize on it's hype now and build long lasting collectors, managers, infrastructures and institutions that will sustain it when the external hype moves elsewhere.

ART X Lagos touched down this month at The Civic Center in Victoria Island, Lagos and widened Nigeria’s connection to the contemporary art scene across Africa and the world.

If you missed our conversation with Nigerian artist Olatunde Alara, who participated in the fair's 'Intersections' live performance piece, have a look here.

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Artwork: Barthélémy Toguo Lockdown Selfportrait 10, 2020. Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co

1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair Goes to Paris in 2021

The longstanding celebration of African art will be hosted by Parisian hot spot Christie's for the first time ever.

In admittedly unideal circumstances, 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair will be touching French soil in 2021. The internationally celebrated art fair devoted to contemporary art from Africa and the African diaspora will be hosted in Paris, France from January 20 - 23. With COVID-19 still having its way around the globe, finding new ways to connect is what it's all about and 1-54 is certainly taking the innovative steps to keep African art alive and well.
In partnership with Christie's, the in-person exhibits will take place at the auction house's city HQ at Avenue Matignon, while 20 international exhibitors will be featured online at Christies.com. And the fun doesn't stop there as the collaboration has brought in new ways to admire the talent from participating galleries from across Africa and Europe. The fair's multi-disciplinary program of talks, screenings, performances, workshops, and readings are set to excite and entice revelers.

Artwork: Delphine Desane Deep Sorrow, 2020. Courtesy Luce Gallery


The tech dependant program, curated by Le 18, a multi-disciplinary art space in Marrakech medina, will see events take place during the Parisian run fair, followed by more throughout February.
This year's 1-54 online will be accessible to global visitors virtually, following the success of the 2019's fair in New York City and London in 2020. In the wake of COVID-19 related regulations and public guidelines, 1-54 in collaboration with Christie's Paris is in compliance with all national regulations, strict sanitary measures, and security.

Artwork: Cristiano Mongovo Murmurantes Acrilico Sobre Tela 190x200cm 2019


1-54 founding director Touria El Glaoui commented, "Whilst we're sad not to be able to go ahead with the fourth edition of 1-54 Marrakech in February as hoped, we are incredibly excited to have the opportunity to be in Paris this January with our first-ever fair on French soil thanks to our dedicated partners Christie's. 1-54's vision has always been to promote vibrant and dynamic contemporary art from a diverse set of African perspectives and bring it to new audiences, and what better way of doing so than to launch an edition somewhere completely new. Thanks to the special Season of African Culture in France, 2021 is already set to be a great year for African art in the country so we are excited to be playing our part and look forward, all being well, to welcoming our French friends to Christie's and many more from around the world to our online fair in January."

Julien Pradels, General Director of Christie's France, said, "Christie's is delighted to announce our second collaboration with 1-54, the Contemporary African Art Fair, following a successful edition in London this October. Paris, with its strong links to the continent, is a perfect place for such a project and the additional context of the delayed Saison Africa 2020 makes this partnership all the more special. We hope this collaboration will prove a meaningful platform for the vibrant African art scene and we are confident that collectors will be as enthusiastic to see the works presented, as we are."


Artwork: Kwesi Botchway Metamorphose in July, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Gallery 1957


Here's a list of participating galleries to be on the lookout for:

Galleries

31 PROJECT (Paris, France)
50 Golborne (London, United Kingdom)
Dominique Fiat (Paris, France)
Galerie 127 (Marrakech, Morocco)
Galerie Anne de Villepoix (Paris, France)
Galerie Cécile Fakhoury (Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire/ Dakar, Senegal)
Galerie Eric Dupont (Paris, France)
Galerie Lelong & Co. (Paris, France / New York, USA)
Galerie Nathalie Obadia (Paris, France / Brussels, Belgium)
Galleria Continua (Beijing, China / Havana, Cuba / Les Moulins, France / San Gimignano, Italy / Rome, Italy)
Gallery 1957 (Accra, Ghana / London, United Kingdom)
Loft Art Gallery (Casablanca, Morocco)

Luce Gallery (Turin, Italy)
MAGNIN-A (Paris, France)
Nil Gallery (Paris, France)
POLARTICS (Lagos, Nigeria)
SEPTIEME Gallery (Paris, France)
This is Not a White Cube (Luanda, Angola) THK Gallery (Cape Town, South Africa) Wilde (Geneva, Switzerland)

For more info visit 1-54

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