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

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.