Lagos International Art Expo 2012: A shadow of its old self

Posted: January 8, 2013 in arts/culture

nigeriaThough notions of the primitiveness of successive leadership of the National Gallery of Art, Nigeria, have been important to virtually every historical development culture of the parastatal, a special relation of power game pertains to such notions when they are linked to professional imperial domination. Core professionals in the visual arts subsector thought we have been librated at least for once from our “Art Colonial Era” at the coming on board of Joe Musa as the Director-General of the art parastatal under the Federal Ministry of Tourism and Culture.

Since his ouster and the appointment of the incumbent Abdullahi Muku and his team, it is apparent and glaring judged by the activities of the art house in the last two years that there is no end in sight for “Art Colonial Imperialism” and significantly not an end to professional domination from our self acclaimed visual art administrators. This professional incompetence is brought to bear in the 2011 and 2012 Lagos International Art Expo.

The 2012 edition presented this year will possibly go down in history as the worst poorly planned and executed international Art Expo ever put together by the National Gallery of Art and the Art Gallery Association of Nigeria.

One thing is vividly clear in Nigeria’s political, administrative and professional landscape which if not checked will spell our doom. We have intentionally decided to remain primitive and passive in some areas of our professional life so as to satisfy some ‘cabals’ in our national life. The resultant effect is simple. In taking over a land to exploit the labour of its people and its natural resources, there is a clear economic and political advantage to viewing those people as savage, passive, simple, and inferior in a word, primitive – since it then seems justifiable not to share with them the products of their land and labour. Such assumptions are shared rather than cynically concocted; hence sincerity does not come to play and never be the issue, but rather how the colonizers construct the native within preconceived categories of human/subhuman and how this form of illegal occupation, and even “imperialism” continue to play a role in our contemporary ‘national arts landscape’.

Art exposition world over is simply public display of works of art which could be painting, crafts, textile works and so on by different galleries and artists brought together under one roof for a few days. It has the feature of bringing the whole component of the art – stakeholders, art patrons, buyers, dealers, critics, artists, students, representatives and art managers – all under one roof for a few days.

As a stakeholder, (professional artist, art scholar, and art teacher) I was filled with excitement when the news came that the National Gallery of Art (NGA) and the Association of Gallery Owners of Nigeria (AGAN) are presenting the 5th international art expo, Nigeria in Lagos. I went to the opening which was unprofessionally put on Monday morning, the 17thday of December, 2012 in company of an artist friend, Dr Nelson Edewor who just came back from a post doctoral research program from the school of Oriental Arts, United Kingdom. Therefore, from firsthand information I feel obliged to assess and re-assess the so called ‘international’ event so as to give a true picture of how our visual art administrators and the public servants ruin one of the country’s goldmines (visual arts sub-sector).

The opening and formal presentation of this year’s (5th edition) Art Expo was greeted with disappointment and poor display of professionalism which resulted into apathy and boycott from all the stakeholders (Galleries, artists, patrons, art dealers and the public). The opening and the other days of the ‘art expo’ did not only show poor planning of the annual event but illuminated outright professional incompetence by the planners and administrators of the art expo project. The publicity for the programme was below zero and little wonder the attendance to the annual event on all the days were very low.

Non-consideration of a good and conducive time for international exposition like this is a misnomer. Right timing is a veritable instrument in measuring the success of a show of this international magnitude. The team of organizers cannot absolve themselves of not knowing that December period and a Monday of all days of the week is a wrong time in the Gregorian calendar of putting up an international art exposition. The organizers (NGA) have shot themselves on the leg by exhibiting their naivety for putting up the opening of a show like this on Monday morning. They indeed exhibited their civil servant mannerism. It shows clearly that they lack the professional competence of organizing an art expo. The whole arrangement to the best of my knowledge is not only deceptive but a good way and opportunity in justifying reckless spending of public fund legally. The rush by public servants in spending tax payers’ money anyhow on badly managed projects such as the ‘international art expo’ in December of almost a gone year is an aberration and a misnomer.

The motives of the National Gallery of Art by putting up these shows in the past two years is not in the genuine development of the visual arts sub-sector but a means to line the pockets of some people in the name of contractors and service providers with naira notes as the case may be. We should by now in the interest of our contemporary visual arts be above the level of spending public funds anyhow and knowing fully well we may not get the desired results other than to justify public funds thrown down the drain in the name of organizing a planned to fail activity. We should go above the mundane thought of the usual public servant in Nigeria that ‘after all there was an activity’. All these activities are part of the stealing from the “Project Nigeria”.

These attitudes have reversed us to a total atavistic, retrogression which continued to plague us. If the professional technocrats in NGA and AGAN cannot organize a successful Lagos Art Expo for 2 years running, the question that had to be asked is ‘What is the essence of their leadership and holding tight on the job and spending public fund recklessly in the first instance? Is there a process of planning and development they missed as originally conceived by the Joe Musa administration? Who presently in NGA and AGAN determines the context of the development of our Art Expo? We care less of the usual and pervasive view that paucity of fund caused their non performance. It is not tenable and cannot be taken as an excuse.

With the present situation and the crop of managers of the Nigeria’s art Expo, there is the likelihood that the future would continue to be bleak. If the vision of the art expo is not clear to the present executors in NGA and AGAN, they have a choice of either to pull it down completely or to re-invent it with professionals who have the knowledge and experience. Thank God, Nigeria never lacked these professional resource persons for one day. With this year’s (5th) Lagos Art Expo presentation, I opine that the present executors (NGA and AGAN) have tried and done their best which unfortunately is not good enough for a local government exposition talkless of a big giant of Africa, Nigeria.

The camel’s back of the Lagos International Art Expo was broken when it became clear that a seed of discontentment, insincerity, disagreement and crack has been sewn within the leadership and members of the Art Galleries Association of Nigeria (AGAN). The ‘sit-tight’ and undemocratic leadership style of AGAN has finally thorn the 5-year old body apart, and so ‘the centre can no longer hold’. It is shameful and unfortunate that the galleries that showed in this year’s art exposition are close to ten even at the height of the afterthought celebration of our own patriarch, Dr. Bruce Onobrakpeya.

His 80th anniversary celebration to me is a Greek gift from the NGA to the Onobrakpeyas as well as the artist community. Bruce Onobrakpeya’s 80th  anniversary celebration is a laudable idea executed at a wrong time to a wrong audience. What the NGA did was to bulldoze its way to Dr. Bruce Onobrakpeya’s heart and dammed the consequence and say ‘rubbish’ and ‘to hell’ with other Nigerian artists. I just understood that ‘a tree makes a forest’ to them at NGA. It became clear to me and I can fathom some truths from the grapevine ascribed to one of the current NGA ‘respected’ senior official that ‘we don’t need all the artists. We know how to get their masters. They cannot but fall in line afterwards. It is very unfortunate and only in Nigeria that the government established structure (parastatal) that is supposed to act as pivotal glue, and bind every artists, students, instructors, dealers, collectors, galleries, in fact all art stakeholders together is the one currently creating hic-ups in the visual art body, taking us back in the course of development through their crafted divide and rule system. To them, the psychology of the Nigerian artist is easily read. They (artists) are usually ‘hungry and disgruntled people’ who became ecstatic when selected few amongst them are sponsored or promoted in one deal, show or the other. In reasoning, Nigerian artists are so gullible to stupor, ‘just put a small fry in their pan, they will all be drunk’.

Attaching Bruce Onobrakpeya’s 80th anniversary celebration as an appendage in this year’s international Lagos Art Expo does not come as a surprise because it is just one of the intrigues put together by the NGA authorities. Unfortunately, after the ‘fake glamour’ of the opening ceremony with rented crowd and commandeered staffs of Lagos, Abeokuta and Abuja stations, our friends from the press, and some invited guests numbering about 40 people, the venue became a graveyard afterwards. What a ‘celebration and expo’. It would have been better and more honourable if our patriarch’s name (Dr. Bruce Onobrakpeya) is not mentioned along with their deceptive, unstandardized and failed outing. With the standard NGA and AGAN exhibited in the last two years of International Lagos Art Expo, I, like so many other stakeholders are curious to know how Joe Musa and other founding fathers of the novel idea feel five years later, seeing it at a dead end and standstill where it is crashed today. I am very sure rain of curses and stones would be cast on those who have made our own visual arts stagnated and battered. Time will tell.

The Art Expo in its present state has failed and may not meet the objectives with which it was established; some of which are:

1.      To help Nigerian artists and gallery owners maintain presence in both local and international market.

2.      To enable Nigerian artists and galleries sell their art and creative work to new and existing patrons, customers, agents, dealers and even occasional buyers

3.      To help re-invigorate the marketing and patronage aspect of visual arts to a level where it can continue to be a foreign exchange earner for the country.

4.      To create a platform that would help the Nigerian artists and galleries reinforce links with patrons, art buyers, art users and art speculators.

5.      The exposition is to help discover new and emerging talents, support local crafts, arts and artists market at private, governmental, local and international levels.

6.      The Expo is to help improve artist’s creative research and intellectualism.

7.      It is equally created to give room for critical knowledge, contemporary competition and intelligence gathering on how the arts can move forward.

8.      It is a forum for new discoveries and bringing artists and galleries together.

9.      It is sometimes an avenue for visual arts to fulfill its role of critical thinking and mirroring the society which could boost human existence and improve living standards. By so doing act as a forum for correcting societal ills or shortcomings.

10.  It is an educative forum to new people in other spheres of life and potential artists.

11.  It is to help the Nigerian artists to meet the press and people in the upper echelon of the society.

The 2011 and 2012 international Lagos Art Expo has failed in its bid to actualize any or all of these aforementioned objectives and so a total overhaul of the machinery is suggested as early planning would not be a bad idea. Sponsorship drive for the event to corporate organizations, other governmental bodies, foreign institutions and their cultural arms, agencies, etc. as the project itself needs to be marketed. It is regrettable that visionary leadership of the government Art house (NGA) is missing at this stage of our development. Is it not about time we transcended this hydra headed monster of unprofessional, non visionary leadership after over 19 years of the establishment of NGA as a parastatal.

The right staffs equipped with the right drive, acumen and resourcefulness should be drafted into the team. As opposed to the present constitution of ‘wait for budgetary allocation syndrome’.

A systematic round the year publicity should be employed so as to make the programme gather the much needed local and international awareness and value. At that, all stakeholders would look forward to a great yearly event that would affect their lives positively. Aside from the main art expo, other educative seminars, lectures, workshops (pre and post events) should be arranged as a drive to the main event.

Development in the Art Expo is a great opportunity for the arts. And there are so many possibilities that lie within. Our inability to fully exploit these opportunities carry the seeds of implosion. I propose that we artists should wake up from our slumber and shake ourselves from intellectual slothfulness for the perpetrators of these acts are not doing it to us alone but the coming generation of artists. Therefore we should create the will power to deal with the consequences of individual actions. We should stop living with or shying away from dealing with bad consequences. Finally, the present ‘public service opportunist theory’ of the National Gallery of Art cannot drive the international art expo of our dream.

Courtesy: Dr Kunle Adeyemi lectures art at the School of Art, Design & Printing, Yaba College of Technology, Yaba, Lagos.

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