Archive for the ‘arts/culture’ Category

The prominent Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre was filled long before the commencement of an event that introduced another literary work into the public space. And attendees had also waited patiently till it was all over; not even members of the high table that had men and women of prominence was deserted. That goes to show the honour accorded one of Nigeria’s most prolific journalist and writers, Uche Ezechukwu.

It was the presentation of his book, Ojukwu: the rebel I served, that all had gathered from across the country to be part of.  And just as Ezechukwu, who had worked closely with strong men across the land such as Ikemba Nnewi, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu and Gen. Mohammed Buhari pulled crowd, so did the subject of his book – Ezeigbo Gburugbruru, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, the late leader of defunct Republic of Biafra. There was no doubt that everyone from all walks of life, that the journalist had come in contact with in the course of his three decades’ practice took time out to honour Ezechukwu with their presence.

As several commentators at the event noted, in this book, Ezechukwu who had worked with the late Ojukwu as a Media Assistant after he returned from exile shed light on the mind of the Biafran warlord than any work on him by other writers had done. While many wrote, based on their not so objective opinion, and from a distance, as well as what they researched about Ojukwu, it was obvious Ezechukwu set out to write on some of the more intimate details about Nigeria and prominent Nigerians that the late Ikemba Nnewi shared with him, as well as selected episodes that involved both of them as employer and employee.

Speaking at the event, the Chairman of the occasion, Senator Ben Ndi Obi said Ojukwu was not a rebel in that standard use of the word, rather he was a man who stood firmly for what he believed was just. And he stated that the presentation of the book should serve as a moment of reflection.

On his part, the Chief Servant of Niger State, Governor Babangida Aliyu, who was represented by the Honourable Commissioner of Information, Danladi Umar Abdulwalid, stated that Ezechukwu is a sincere writer, and that there is need for all to emulate Ojukwu who stood for justice, for equity, and that he was a man who was prepared to die for those values that have become lacking in present day Nigeria.

He therefore called on youth to stand for what they believe is right because it is the only way the country can be lifted from its present unenviable state.

Also speaking at the event, National Chairman of All Peoples Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Victor Umeh, and the former Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Dr Chukwuma Soludo, eulogized the ideals of the one known as Ezeigbo Gburugburu, the king of Igbo people worldwide, while calling on all Nigeria to ever cherish the memory of the man of destiny, and uphold his firm resolve to stand against injustice that confronts every Nigerian no matter his tribe or religion.

There was a poetry performance at the event by Ikeogu Oke, Technical Assistant (Media and Communications) to the Minister of Power.

Other dignitaries at the occasion were the representatives of the Governor of Anambra State, Sarkin Jiwa who represented the Sultan of Sokoto, representative of the Inspector General of Police, as well as the representative of the Comptroller-General of Customs, and others.

Courtesy: Tunji Ajibade

Advertisements

In one of the biggest upsets in literary prize history, the mobile services company Orange has announced Tuesday morning that it will not be renewing its sponsorship of the prize for women’s fiction that has borne its name since the award’s inception 17 years ago.

The prize, which was set up to “celebrate excellence, originality and accessibility in women’s writing from around the world”, is given annually to the best book by a woman written in English. Winners, who in the past have included Marilynne Robinson, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Zadie Smith, are presented with a cheque for £30,000 and a bronze figurine known as “the Bessie”.

The prize money itself is supplied through the endowment of a private donor, but the remainder of the award’s expenses have been met by Orange’s sponsorship since the prize was launched in January 1996. After this year’s award is presented on 30 May, Orange – which joined with mobile company T-Mobile to form the UK’s largest communications company, Everything Everywhere, in 2010 – will withdraw its support of the prize in order to focus on film industry sponsorship.

Speaking to the industry magazine the Bookseller, Steven Day, chief of brand and communications for Everything Everywhere, said: “While relinquishing sponsorship of the prize is tinged with sadness, we’re hugely proud of what Orange and the women’s prize for fiction have achieved over the past 17 years. The partnership has significantly raised the presence of international literature written by women in bookstores and on bookshelves across the country, and has played a key part in Orange’s success over the past decade and a half, taking our brand into areas that were traditionally harder to reach.”

Despite the termination of what is at this point the longest continuous arts sponsorship in the UK, Kate Mosse, the award’s co-founder and honorary director, was upbeat about the prize’s future. Speaking to the Guardian, she praised Orange’s sponsorship of the prize, but said that while she was “very sad” not to be working with them anymore, “we’re excited at the idea of taking the prize on for another 17 years, and working with a new sponsor to grow it. It’s very rare for a sponsorship like this to come onto the market – the investment generates something in the region of £17.5m a year in advertising, and the cultural capital of the women’s prise for fiction is practically second to none. The potential is very exciting.”

Although there was not yet a firm agreement with another sponsor in place, Mosse said, the prize was in talks with several interested parties. “We’re in the very early days,” she said. “Over the last few days we’ve started to have informal conversations with companies, and as a result of going on the Today programme this morning to announce the end of Orange’s sponsorship, we’ve had more calls. Of course, I’ll be a happty wopmen when we’ve signed on the dotted line, but I feel pretty confident that this time next year it’ll be a bigger and better prize just with a different name over the door. Sponsorship is a marriage between the company and the prize, and it’s about finding the perfect match.”

The six titles on this year’s Orange prize shortlist are Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan, The Forgotten Waltz by Booker winner Anne Enright, Painter of Silence by Georgina Harding, The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, Foreign Bodies by Cynthia Ozick, and State of Wonder by former winner Ann Patchett. Chair of judges Joanna Trollope, said emphatically that the change would have “no impact” on this year’s prize, and was optimistic about the award’s future under different sponsorship.

“Because it’s been orange from the beginning, of course it’s very embedded in people’s minds,” she said, “and Orange have been terrific sponsors. But there can be something very liberating about a change. The prize is in such a strong position that it’s a sponsorship peach; I imagine there’ll be a lot of competition to pick up the baton.”

Among friends and associates, he is the multi-media communicator, more for his versatility in the various genres of the art where he is not just player but an accomplished practitioner, Mufu Onifade is very much at home on the art turf as a dramatist, playwright, journalist, painter, recording artiste, and now a policy influencer by virtue of his new robe as special assistant on media to the Director General of the National Gallery of Art (NGA). In this chat with VICTOR NZE, Onifade explains events that have shaped his life and career, and many more. Excerpts:

Congratulations on your recent appointment as Special Assistant on Professional Matters to the Director-General of the National Gallery of Art; but now tell us in your own choice of words, who is Mufu Onifade?

Thanks a lot…particularly for your media support over the years. To answer your question: Mufu Onifade is an artist, by training and by practice. He is a total artist. He is what a senior colleague once called “multi-media communicator”. I am into all areas of art – visual, literary, performing and reproduction. But I feel much more comfortable to simply introduce myself as an artist. My academic training was in Fine Arts, with specialisation in Painting, but I also had informal training in Theatre, Performance and Writing. So, Mufu Onifade is an artist.

How would you explain your versatility in the arts?

I started my foray into the arts from virtually all fronts at the same time. I did a lot of drawings in my primary school. I was into the sport of boxing while I was learning the the vulcanizing job in Ebute-Ero, Idumota, Lagos Island. At a point, I had to jettison boxing for art when I met someone we called Art Master. In my secondary school, I became the Social Prefect. I also held a number of posts at the same time. I was President, Art Club; President, Dramatic Society; the School’s Chief Cartoonist, and many more. But I was more outstanding in Art Club, Dramatic Society and as Social Prefect. I led my school to art competitions and won prizes.

I also won first prize in Art from Class 2 to 5 when I passed out in 1985. In 1984, the Lagos State Government organised what was called Lagos State Secondary Schools Drama Competition. I wrote my school’s play titled The Consequence of Truancy. We eventually won second prize and that meant a lot to us at the time. Our school was less than five years old, and we were able to beat many long-established schools. That was our joy. So, all along, I have combined all areas of the arts.

I joined the Lagos State Council for Arts and Culture in 1985 – both as a visual/performing artist. I had the privilege of working with masters of the game like Tunji Oyelana, Yomi Obileye, Funmi Odusolu, late Segun Taiwo, Biodun Ayoyinka (Papa Ajasco). We were effectively coordinated by the firebrand Gbenga Sonuga (now Oba Gbenga Gbadebo Sonuga – the Fadesewa of Simawa). We travelled all over Nigeria and later went on tour of the United States in 1986. That was the golden era of the Lagos Arts Council. There can never be another director like Gbenga Sonuga, mark my word. All of us who went through him then are doing very well today. We remain eternally grateful to him for the training.

Incidentally, I had never been conscious of my versatility. As far as I was concerned, I was merely practising my passion. I have always had passion for everything I do. Luckily for me, writing, painting, performing and all come to me naturally. So, I don’t really have to squeeze myself to do it. And it’s even difficult for me to explain how I have managed to harnessed all these areas of the arts. All I know is, I have never done anything outside the arts. My life revolves around the arts and I feel fulfilled being in it.

You’ve been in the arts sector for 3 decades or thereabout, what would you define as the highpoints and challenges of the industry?

For me, the inability of the Government to implement the Cultural Policy has been a major setback for the arts. The issue of endowment funds for the arts has been a major one not being addressed by many governments. In Theatre, the National Theatre is being run in a way that impedes on steady progress of the industry, and the practitioners are not finding it funny at all. In visual art, we do not have an infrastructure – an exhibition space called National Gallery. This is a major challenge particularly to the Nigerian artist who has to, in most cases, depend on shylock private galleries to survive. In Literary Art, we all know that our reading culture is in a shamble. You just wonder where we got it all wrong. However, you must agree with me that the highpoints of Nigerian arts dates back to FESTAC ’77. We should have latched on to that and develop on it. All the same, we need to recognise the efforts of stakeholders, particularly various associations which have initiated projects that constantly remind us of the invincibility of our arts. For me, I look into the future when we would have a true National Theatre that is run with serious consideration accorded the stakeholders. I dream of our own National Gallery where anybody from any part of the world can walk in to enjoy the best of Nigerian creative products. A National Gallery where we can see the works of great artists like Aina Onabolu, Akinola Lashekan, Ben Enwonwu, Lamidi Fakeye, Agbo Folarin, Uche Okeke, Obiora Udechuckwu, Demas Nwoko, and so on. I dream to witness in my lifetime, a National Gallery where the best of our paintings, sculptures, ceramics, textiles, graphics and drawings can be viewed with relish.

Recent newspaper publications have levelled serious allegations against your person, could you clear the air on some of these supposed misrepresentation?

Well, it was Kunle Adeyemi’s trademark propagation of lies published in The Guardian of Friday, 2 March 2012 titled ‘Conspiracy and Trials in NGA…. Visual Arts, Artists are greatest losers’. He wrote and I quote: “Sponsorship to Groups and Individual Artists: The group of artists under the nomenclature, ‘Araism’ led by Mufu Onifade received consecutive sponsorship for two years within this period to the tune of N750,000 each”. He claims I got the money from NGA under the embattled former director-general, Mr. Joe Musa.

How can a professed scholar be so bold in selling blatant lies to the public? Where and how did he (Adeyemi) get this misleading information? What or who was his source? He claimed to get his facts from National Gallery. Which one? The same National Gallery where I work as SA to DG? Adeyemi is a pathological liar who is being used for selfish purposes.

The truth is that the National Gallery under then former Director General Chief Joe Musa did not release funds to Araism led by Mufu Onifade. The said money – seven hundred and fifty thousand naira – was released in 2008 to Ara Studio, an arts-based outfit that requested for, got the funds and packaged a memorable event marking the 10th anniversary of Araism as a painting technique. Indeed, 2008 marked the 10th anniversary of Araism as a painting technique, which I had single-handedly invented through dedicated and thorough studio experiments. The launching of the technique in 1998 was predicated on the success of the experiments which began in 1989 and terminated in 1996. As at 2008, Araism as a painting technique had attracted many exponents, and this, for proper coordination of their activities, led to the establishment of the Araism Movement in 2006. This had occurred two years prior to the 10th anniversary of Araism as an authentic African painting technique. Araism is our genuine contribution to the development of Nigerian art and we had no cause to shy away from requesting for funding from the National Gallery of Art for the sole purpose of celebrating the 10th anniversary of Araism.

You will agree with me that N750, 000 (seven hundred and fifty thousand naira) is a meagre sum considering the elaborate nature of the event. Titled Araism: African Ideals and Authenticity of Creativity in Contemporary Nigerian Art, the event was an open seminar chaired by Nigeria’s quintessential art historian, Prof. Ola Oloidi (of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka) and moderated by co-ordinator of the Committee for Relevant Arts (CORA), Mr. Toyin Akinosho. Keynote address was delivered by Prof. Ahmed Yerima (the then Director-General of the National Theatre/National Troupe of Nigeria). Other scholars and guest speakers include Dr. Kunle Filani (Federal College of Education, Osiele, Ogun State), Dr. (Mrs.) Bridget Nwanze (University of Port Harcourt), Dr. Ken Okoli (Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria), Dr. Ronke Adesanya (University of Ibadan) and Dr. Hellen Uhunmwangho (Federal Polytechnic, Auchi). The seminar, which was held at the Cinema Hall 2 of the National Theatre, Lagos was also graced by major stakeholders and heavyweights in the culture sector: Ambassador Segun Olusola, Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi, Mr. Sammy Olagbaju, Mr. Kolade Oshinowo who won a special recognition award at the event and students from virtually all art schools across Nigeria. It was a big celebration that enjoyed robust supports from every participant.

The outfit did not get 750,000 twice. There was only one-time funding in that sum, not twice as maliciously claimed by Adeyemi. The second funding either only exists in the imagination of Adeyemi or was cooked for him to swallow by those who employed him and bought over his conscience for mere media propaganda. I am constrained not to mention anything about the much-touted Art Expo Las Vegas (an international art exhibition, which Joe Musa led us to) whose ripples of corrupt practices are still causing a widening gap between the artists and Joe Musa’s National Gallery of Art. The purported show came and ended with a stinking can of worms. Adeyemi was not in Las Vegas; so, he didn’t know my role in pacifying aggrieved artists like Abiodun Olaku, Ben Osaghae, Abraham Uyovbisere, and others.

For record purpose, it is important for the members of the public to know that Ara Studio’s partnership with Joe Musa’s National Gallery of Art wasn’t a germane effort. Those of us who believe in the progress of the visual art sub sector have always partnered with the National Gallery of Art. I remember vividly that a similar collaboration in the aspect of seminar, had happened between Ara Studio and the National Gallery of Art under the dynamic leadership of Dr. Paul Chike Dike way back in 2006. That seminar was titled When Does an Artist Become a Master? Dr. Dike, who is loved by all for his dynamic leadership and progressive tendencies, fell in love with the idea of interrogating such an important provocative issue that many art scholars had never thought of. So, without hesitating, the National Gallery’s action, courtesy of Dr. Dike’s soft heart for progress and development of Nigerian art, was pronto! The seminar hosted paper presentations by respected art scholars and promoters including Prof. Bruce Onobrakpeya, Dr. Peju Layiwola, Mr. Nsikak Essien, Mr. Moses Ohiomokhare and others?  It was successfully moderated by Oba Gbenga Sonuga and dedicated to one of Nigeria’s finest scholars and art practitioners, Prof. Yusuf Grillo. The seminar even coincided with the publishing of a voluminous book in honour of Prof. Grillo, titled Yusuf Grillo: Master of Masters.

When Dr. Dike left the office, I’m sure he never went as parochial as Adeyemi has done on behalf of Joe Musa, by creating unfounded propaganda and debasing our genuine intention. Despite his staggering achievements, I don’t think he has ever gone to Press either to blow his own trumpet or even placing someone on his pay roll to reel out his achievements.

Still for the records: Ara Studio has also partnered on various other germane creative ideas with such other government agencies as the National Theatre, Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization (CBAAC), National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO), and so on. It was these monumental legacies of successful delivery, credibility and integrity that attracted the partnership from Joe Musa’s National Gallery of Art – and this should not be courted and exploited for blind ambition and propaganda as being perpetrated by Adeyemi.

As a bona fide member of the Society of Nigerian Artists and a professional artist, I know and I am bold to say that Adeyemi’s views, which were falsely expressed in The Guardian and The Nation newspapers do not represent the thinking and standpoint of an average Nigerian artist. It is a personal agenda arising from discharge of his allegiance to those who have placed him on their payroll to scuttle the relative peace that we now enjoy in the visual art sub sector.

What is the future like for Nigerian arts in general and the visual arts sector in particular?

Honestly, I see a very, very bright and robust future. The visual art sub sector is already exploding. Do you know what the numerous auctions have done for Nigerian art? Galleries now know they have to sit up and do things properly. The venture is becoming much more lucrative. People are now aware that you can earn big and live big as a visual artist. It will only get better.

Do you see yourself as a recording artiste one day, since that remains the only uncharted path for you in art?

I have already recorded my music with a working title; Adun Ife (Sweetness of Love). It’s a traditional genre, folk music of sort. It involves traditional tonal poetry and original folk songs – not any of those existing ones. The hallmark of the piece is its originality. I have done the recording since 2004, but I haven’t been able to put minds together to complete work on it. I believe we can get it sorted out before the end of the year. As soon as I hand over as Chairman of the National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP-Lagos Chapter), I will have enough time to myself to pursue various aspects of my career. I will have enough time to paint and up my living standard.

One of Nigeria’s top contemporary photographers, Andrew Eseibo, will feature as one of the major attractions as his current collection of photographic works titled; Alter Gogo, shows at the forthcoming 11th Havana Biennial.

Scheduled to hold from between May 11 through to June 20, in Havana, the Cuban capital city, the collection Alter Gogo, is a diptych portrait series featuring grandmothers who play football with the Gogo Getters Football Club in Orange Farm, a large township in South Africa.

According to Eseibo, the characters featuring in the works believe ‘playing the football has become a passport to a better life, giving the women social relevance in their community, as well as better health. Playing football is their solution to many social and physiological problems like diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and alcohol addiction.’

Alter Gogo also offers an alternative image of African women. Quite often in the mainstream imagination, African women are located in the sphere of “tradition”.

“They are presented – if at all – as victims of oppression, who have been forced to submit to tribal customs, with no authority, freedom or conception of self. Women with sad faces often complement the ever-pervasive images of Africa as a continent of famine, poverty and violence. Alter Gogo challenges all of these stereotypes as well the role attributed to women in their old age.

“The grandmothers’ regalia, their proud postures on the soccer field along with the charm of their intimate spaces and loves create a powerful socio-cultural scenario in which soccer is the means and expression of a new gender and generation identity.”

Andrew Esiebo started out in photography by chronicling the rapid development of urban Nigeria as well as the country’s rich culture and heritage.

As his work began to gain international recognition, Andrew started to explore new creative territory, integrating multimedia practice with the investigation of themes such as sexuality, gender politics, football, popular culture and migration.

In 2010, he was selected for the Road to Twenty Ten project to form an All-Africa Dream Team of 16 journalists / Photographers to provide alternative stories from the World Cup in South Africa. His work has been exhibited at the Havana and Sao Paulo biennials, the Guangzhou Triennial in Beijing, the Chobi Mela V Photo Festival in Bangladesh, the Noorderlitch Photo Festival in The Netherlands, African Photography Encounters in Mali and the Lagos Photo Festival among others.

His works have been published in books, magazine and websites such as guardian.co.uk, Marie Claire Italia, Time Out Nigeria, Mail & Guardian online, Laia Books, Geo-Lino, KIT and African style magazine Arise.

Eseibo has also completed a number of artistic residencies including a five-month stay in Paris under Cultures France’s Visa Pour Creation, a three-month residency at the Gasworks in London as part of the Africa Beyond programme and a three-month residency at the Gyeonggi Creation Center in South Korea from December 2011.

He is the initiator and co-organizer of My Eye, My World, a participatory photography workshop for socially-excluded children in Nigeria.

Business advisor in strategis communications firm in the country, C&F Porter Novelli, has reiterated its resolve to continue in the process of investing in the Nigerian visual arts sector following the success of its recent partnership with the Nimbus Art Gallery for the first solo exhibition of the works of Nigeria’s renowned artist and sculptor, Emmah Mbanefo.

The exhibition titled; Ambivalence, which held at the Ikoyi-based Nimbus Art Gallery, and featured over 60 paintings, etchings, sculptures, and installations, was declared open Friday, April 20, , by a leading patron of the arts, the Obi of Onitsha, His Majesty Nnaemeka Achebe, lasted till Sunday, May 6, 2012.

C&F Porter Novelli provided its services to Nimbus Art Gallery and Mbanefo on a pro bono basis.  This involved providing strategic advice and counsel to Nimbus Art Gallery and Mbanefo, developing a communications plan for the exhibition, and managing implementation of the plan.

“Nigeria is blessed with rich culture and traditions but some of us seem to be oblivious of this fact; and fail to realise that our arts and culture are ready materials for projecting the image of our country,” said Nn’emeka Maduegbuna, Chairman/CEO of C&F Porter Novelli, adding: “Our partnership with Nimbus Art Gallery on this project forms part of our effort to draw attention to the need to give our rich cultural heritage the primacy that it deserves.”

Continuing, Maduegbuna said: “Mbanefo’s works take pride of place in public spaces and in private collections within and outside Nigeria; however, he has largely remained unknown outside of the Nigerian arts community due to his recluse nature. What we have done is to bring him ‘out of the closet’ as it were and put him on a pedestal.”

Commending C&F Porter Novelli for its role in the arts exhibition, the artist, Emmah Mbanefo, said: “I would never have been able to achieve the results I did even from the first day of the exhibition but for C&F Porter Novelli. I hope this serves as an eye opener for other corporate organisations in the country. The art industry in Nigeria has suffered serious neglect for many years and this has negatively affected the fortunes of our talented artists.”

While declaring the exhibition open, the Obi of Onitsha, His Majesty Nnaemeka Achebe, also commended C&F Porter Novelli for this gesture and urged governments at all levels and corporate Nigeria to make more committed inputs to the development of Nigerian arts and culture. “There is an urgent need for the review of our National Policy on Arts and Culture and its implementation with a view to achieving greater relevance and sustainability such that our art and culture will become key development resources. I commend C&F Porter Novelli for its roles in this exhibition,” he said.

Nigerian contemporary writer Rotimi Babatunde joined a shortlist of four other writers drawn from across the continent for the 2012 edition of the Caine prize for African, in what the judges have described as five stories which avoid the “stereotypical narratives” of African fiction.

The £10,000 Caine award, also known as the African Booker, is for a short story by an African writer published in English and is backed by the African Nobel prize winners Nadine Gordimer, Wole Soyinke, Chinua Achebe and JM Coetzee, with Booker winner Ben Okri as its new vice president.

Novelist Bernadine Evaristo, chair of this year’s judging panel, set out to find a shortlist of stories which “enlarge our concept” of Africa beyond the images which dominate the media – “War-torn Africa, Starving Africa, Corrupt Africa – in short: The Tragic Continent”.

She and her fellow judges found five tales which fulfilled her criteria: Nigerian Rotimi Babatunde’s Bombay’s Republic, Kenyan Billy Kahora’s Urban Zoning, Malawian Stanley Kenani’s Love on Trial, Zimbabwean Melissa Tandiwe Myambo’s La Salle de Départ and South African Constance Myburgh’s Hunter Emmanuel.

“These stories have an originality and facility with language that made them stand out. We’ve chosen a bravely provocative homosexual story set in Malawi; a Nigerian soldier fighting in the Burma campaign of the second world war; a hardboiled noir tale involving a disembodied leg; a drunk young Kenyan who outwits his irate employers; and the tension between Senegalese siblings over migration and family responsibility,” said Evaristo. “What we don’t have is the sort of familiar tragic stories – there is no war, no starvation, no children in really terrible situations. I don’t want to disparage this sort of story, as these are things which happen on the continent and need to be written about. But I wanted to show there is a bigger picture.”

This year, the Caine prize’s 13th, saw 122 entries submitted from 14 countries. Evaristo said this included “a lot of uninspired prose that feels so dated, so Middle England circa 1950s, even though it might have been written in Central Africa in 2012”, and called, in a blog, for “more experimentation and daring, stunning image-makers and linguistic explorers who might, for example, infuse English with an African language or syntax. Not necessarily pidgin, but perhaps something else, something new – the English language (and forms) adapted, mutated, re-invented to suit African perspectives and cultures.”

This year’s winner will be announced July 2. Last year the award was won by the Zimbabwean writer NoViolet Bulawayo for her story Hitting Budapest, about six shanty-town children.

This no doubt is turning out to be one hectic year for in the calendar of visual art practitioners in Nigeria. With barely four months gone, it’s becoming hard, of sorts, to keep up with the unusual volume of traffic to arts galleries for exhibition openings in different parts of the country, with busiest being Lagos and Abuja.

This new attitudinal shift towards the visual arts genre is not necessarily on the strength of actual purchases of artworks by the public and patrons alike but rather for the sheer enthusiasm that now greets practically every exhibition opening of late.

It is even all the more remarkable when considered against the backdrop of the fact that up until now, the trend had been quite the exact the opposite, whereby the performing and literary genres of art had a beehive of activities to the envy of visual artists who suffered not just dearth of popular appeal but also government disinterest over their welfare.

As noted by observers, the silver lining which seemed to have appeared in the clouds of visual arts in Nigeria with the Nigeria @ 50 exhibitions organized by the Presidential Committee for Nigeria’s Independence anniversary celebrations has remained there nearly two years after.

That exhibition had gathered 20 most prominent artists in the country at the Shehu Musa Yar’Aua Centre in Abuja to signpost what has become the beginning of the upward assent for the various practitioners of the genre which previously carried an elitist tag around.

However, in the plethora of exhibitions steadily opening around the around the country on a weekly basis, one appears to stand out; the first solo exhibition at the returning Nimbus Gallery, Ikoyi, Lagos, titled; Ambivalence; an endotelic exhibition of sculptures, paintings and installations by renowned artist, Emmah Mbanefo.

Remarkably, both artist and the gallery are on a rebound, of sorts, which not only further paints that stroke of uniqueness to the exhibition, but also serves up a freshness which even saw the media briefing preceding the actual exhibition opening witness a rather unusually large attendance more than even some exhibition openings.

Ironically, nobody apparently took the gallery serious when it had announced the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe (Agbogidi) as guest and the joke was further on the doubters when on the exhibition’s opening, Friday, April 20, the traditional monarch graced the occasion in person top declare it open.

The Emmah Mbanefo also succeeded in breaking the hitherto assumed elitist myth that the public had labelled the genre with in terms of the mass appeal that his exhibition had generated from preparation to actual opening  and going by the crowd that had thronged the event’s opening.

That added to the fact of the relatively well priced artworks which were as low as less than N100, 000 for some, which many considered cheap for an artist in the class of Mbanefo.

For a school of opinion within the visual arts sector, owning an Mbanefo piece is the closest to owning a Ben Enwonwu work, as  it is also generally believed that collectors who missed out on works by the iconic Enwonwu grabbed Mbanefo pieces with both hands. And a cursory inspection of the Mbanefo’s works at the Nimbus Gallery confirmed this position, which on its part was also seeking to use the Mbanefo solo exhibition to re-establish its once prominent place as the centre of art activities following nearly six years of absence.

Explaining the theme of the exhibition, Mbanefo, noted that: “Ambivalence is premised on the understanding that in all things there is a foundation, one which is predetermined and beyond control. However, that singular foundation is challenged, pushed and pulled as we fight to define ourselves. Ambivalence is the search for the good, the spirit of humanity. In exploring ambivalence, the work explores, and sifts through humanity, interrogating emotions – strong feelings.

“The collection of which is simply ambivalent, made up of both the positive and the negative. Yet, when one looks deeply enough therein lies a foundation of goodness, in the individual spirit and in humanity as a whole, goodness that is defined by humanity’s balance, association  and place in accordance with the laws of nature. It is the quest to see this goodness, to bring out this goodness in day-to-day life that the works of ‘Ambivalence’ explore.”

Remarking, Mr. Chike Nwagbogu, the Creative Director of Nimbus Gallery, said the exhibition remains the much sought after opportunity for art patrons to assuage their cravings; given the creativity and versatility of the artist.

“As social entrepreneurs committed to using art as a vehicle for fostering societal change, we at Nimbus are proud to collaborate with Emmah Mbanefo in presenting Ambivalence,” Nwagbogu said, adding: “Nimbus Art Gallery is proud to host the first solo exhibition of this sublimely talented artist. Indeed some art patrons have made bold to state that Mbanefo falls into the mould of artists often described as ‘Artist’s Artist’”.

Continuing, Nwagbogu also noted that “Mbanefo’s inspiration and driving force is the continuous pursuit of artistic originality and perfection with the fervent belief that through his work, this spirit of excellence can be set loose on the greater Nigerian and African psyche for true freedom of expression to reign.”

Emmah Mbanefo was born 1960 in Jos, Plateau State. He studied Fine Arts at the Federal Polytechnic, Auchi, majoring in sculpture and textiles. Over the years, Mbanefo has developed a reputation for producing bold and imaginative works. During this period, he has had close working contact with such masters as Ben Enwonwu, Ben Osawe, Okpu Eze and Bruce Onobrakpeya.

Mbanefo’s works take pride of place in public spaces and in private collections within and outside Nigeria.

Mbanefo’s career has traversed a number of decades. During this period, he has had close working contact with such masters as Ben Enwonwu, Ben Osawe, Okpu Eze and Bruce Onobrakpeya. His works take pride of place in public spaces and in private collections.

His inspiration and driving force is the continuous pursuit of artistic originality and perfection with the fervent belief that through his work, this spirit of excellence can be set loose on the greater Nigerian and African psyche for true freedom of expression to reign.

Mbanefo is a disciple of the Endotelic branch of arts; a field where the artist explores his own individuality without recourse to any rules. According to Ben Enwonwu, the positive end of Endotelic art seeks “the objectification of the artist’s beliefs, his feelings, meanings or significances, and volition”.

Heavily influenced by the pioneer African modernist, Ben Enwonwu, who incidentally, along with Mbanefo hails from Onitsha, the rich cultural heritage of Onitsha is very evident in their works. It is a heritage that has also produced quite a number of artists including Oseloka Osadebe, and Okechukwu Odita, who were members of the Zaria rebels, the group that revolutionised Nigerian arts.

In 1980, Mbanefo began his professional training as an apprentice to an Onitsha based carver, Mr. Michael Orji of the Orajis carvers, while two years later in 1982, he enrolled at the Federal Polytechnic, Auchi, now Edo State, where in, 1985, he obtained the National Certificate in Education (Sculpture) textile option) and a Certificate of Excellence.

Bruce Onobrakpeya, the internationally renowned printmaker, painter and sculptor, in a testimonial of Mbanefo, hailed his mastery in depicting the rich cultural heritage of the Igbo race in his unique works.

“Exhibitions and the catalogues that document them are building blocks for moulding the personality of the artist,” he said. “They also constitute important materials for writing the history of a people. Being called upon, therefore, to introduce Emmah Ifeanyi Mbanefo’s solo art exhibition, ‘Ambivalence’, I have a feeling of witnessing, as well as contributing, to the writing of our art history. I feel deeply honoured by the invitation.

“In Mbanefo’s works I see the leitmotif of the mask and the masquerade, which in the Igbo cosmos, particularly the Onitsha Igbo, are the manifestations of the spirit of the world. The departed ancestors return to the world as masquerades during festivals to interact with the living ones. This is the theme perfected by the pioneer artist and foremost Nigerian sculptor and painter, Ben Enwonwu, in his Ogolo series.”

Emmah Mbanefo was born 1960 in Jos, Plateau State. He studied Fine Arts at the Federal Polytechnic, Auchi, majoring in sculpture and textiles. Over the years, Mbanefo has developed a reputation for producing bold and imaginative works. During this period, he has had close working contact with such masters as Ben Enwonwu, Ben Osawe, Okpu Eze and Bruce Onobrakpeya.

The solo exhibition Ambivalence, scheduled to run till this Sunday, May 6, is a historic first for Emmah Mbanefo, whose works in over three decades of practice enjoy prominence in public and private collections.

The platform stage of the expansive Expo Hall of the Eko Hotel & Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos, is still reeling from the heavy impact of the two-hour high octane dance steps and drumming from last Sunday’s performance by the visiting Africa Umoja dance company from South Africa.

The marathon of songs and dances by the Africa Umoja which held the audience in excitement and awe has become the trademark of the group known for its beautifully designed costumes and award-winning, internationally acclaimed choreography.

Performed for kings, presidents and members of the public in over 30 countries worldwide, the Lagos performance which was facilitated by First Bank left barely a dozen seats empty as the packed auditorium marvelled at the explosion of songs and dances by a theatre company which would not be out of place on Broadway stage.

The first show, a matinee performance, was earlier staged in the afternoon, and it was watched by hundreds of arts and entertainment lovers, which was followed by the command performance in the evening that drew a full house of guests from all walks of life.

The one-day performance, which is aimed at celebrating arts, and ultimately restoring the culture of theatre, arts and stage performance in Nigeria, attracted high net worth individuals in private and public sectors, corporate organisations and the diplomatic community.

Africa Umoja (Umoja is Swahili word for ‘spirit of togetherness’) not only celebrates the southern African country of South Africa, but also the human spirit which also explains the ease with which the average African relates with the story the dance tells.

Told by a narrator, the Africa Umoja which also incorporates a western musical band called the Africa Umoja 5-Star band relives dances that have been performed for hundreds of years in South Africa including the Vende snake dance and the tribal Zulu ceremonial and war dances.

The showpiece also chronicles the musical evolution of the country and revealing how both the negative and positive historical and political events had shaped the evolution of the country’s music genres as the people in an attempt to survive those events created songs and beats.

The Africa Umoja captures the memory of the legendary Sophiatown, infused with passionate voices as they tell their story; the adventure of the gold miners and their intense gumboot dancing that tell some of the history of South Africa, the remarkable journey travelled to the current sounds and dancing of the Kwaito that make Hip Hop and rap look like it is standing still.

Created by the duo of Todd Twala and Thembi Nyandeni, who were originally part of the iconic Ipi Tombi troupe that had toured Nigeria and other parts of the continent before its dissolution, the Lagos show was produced by Nyandeni.

According to the creators of Africa Umoja the idea was to provide a platform for assisting the youth of South Africa to remember their heritage, and to keep the underprivileged youth of the country off the streets and give them a chance to live a dream.

This dream has become a reality for many of the South African-born Africa Umoja cast members over the years going by the success of the company on account of the now traditional applause that greets every performance by the troupe including the one last Sunday night at the Expo Hall.

The choice of Africa Umoja, according to First Bank’s Head of Marketing and Corporate Communications, Folake Ani-Mumuney, was predicated on the share values between the bank and the group in the areas of contributing to the economic and social development of the people.

While Africa Umoja is committed to the empowerment of underprivileged South African children, First Bank, a leading financial institution is committed to deploying its financial expertise to provide quality, accessible and expertise affordable financial services to the populace with a view to enhancing the standard of living of Nigerians.

‘’The show offers networking opportunities for high net worth individuals, it offers a good platform to relax and enjoy good artistic performance by one of the foremost dance group from Africa’’, she said.

Preparations for the first edition of the All Igbo Music Awards, otherwise known as Ekwe Awards were unveiled in Owerri last Thursday with the hosting of a select media-cum-artistic parley at the Lodan Hotels by Ugo Stevenson, the originator of this unique musical prizes event.

“Ekwe is a percussive instrument used in all Igbo music styles. That is why we have chosen to brand the All Igbo Music Awards as Ekwe Awards.” The main focus of the honours ceremony, he also said, is to celebrate those who have preserved Igbo language and culture “through the most effective medium of mass communication known to man, which is music.”

According to Ugo Stevenson, AMEN best highlife artiste, 2007 and NMA best highlife artiste 2008, each Igbo speaking state in the federation has a unique brand of music that is peculiar to it. “Anambra State is home of Ekpili music while Enugu boasts of the Ogene sound. Bongo and Abigbo are peculiar to Imo, Odumodu is of Abia. Ebonyi has Nkwawite while our Ikwerre brothers in Rivers State have Ori Obo and the Igbo of Delta are masters of Oyorima.”

These unique music styles have found strong expression in Highlife, which may rightly be described as Igbo contemporary music. ‘These music styles are currently performed by more than two thousand practitioners around the globe, with high record of success,” Ugo Stevenson maintained. His audience included journalists, broadcasters and art enthusiasts from around the South East zone of the federation including Delta and Rivers State.

Ugo Stevenson, a former national director, research and documentation of the National Association of Nigerian Theatre Artistes and Practitioners (NANTAP) was recently honoured with the chieftaincy title of Ogene Emebiam in his home town Emeabiam in Imo State.

He studied theatre arts at the University of Port Harcourt and worked at the Imo State Council of Arts and Culture as a performing artiste. He is the founder director of the Ogbakoro Theatre Group, a professional theatre arts company in Owerri.

Three of the recently graduated Master’s in Fine Arts (MFA) students of the University of Benin, Edo State, have described their degrees as a realisation of their life-long dreams of becoming masters in the visual art genre, just as they expressed gratitude to God for surviving the rigours of the programme.

The graduates; Stephen Ekeamaye, Olajide Opaleye and Olatoye Okunuga, are among the 17 who became Master’s in Fine Arts (MFA) degree holders after their final exhibition and defence of works at the at the Ekenwan Campus of the University of Benin, Edo State.

It would be recalled that last month, 17 gifted Nigerian artists graduated from the prestigious the University of Benin’s Department of Fine & Applied Arts.

Supervised by Dr Sweet Ebeigbe, the Head of Department (HOD), Fine & Applied Arts Department, and under the coordination of Dr John Ogene, the programme’s Post Graduate Coordinator, the 17 Masters in Fine Art (MFA) graduates are spread across various disciplines in the department made up of three MFA Textile Design artists, five MFA Painters, two MFA Sculptors, two Print makers, one web artist as well as four ceramists.

Describing the experience garnered during programme at the Department of Fine & Applied Arts, ‘interesting’ Ekeamaye said the degree bagged at the end was also a dream come true for him as an artist and presently a lecturer in Graphic/Printmaking art at the Delta State Polytechnic, Ogwashi Uku.

“My experience on the MFA programme is quite interesting. I’ll say it was a dream come true for me. And I feel really elated and I give God all the glory,” said the Sapele, Delta State-born Ekeamaye, who equally holds a HND in Graphic Design.

Also reacting, Osogbo, Osun State-born ceramist Olajide Kehinde Opaleye thumbed up the lecturers just as he commended the quality of the course programme leading to his Master’s degree award.

“My MFA experience has been very rewarding, thanks to the good lecturers I had and the will to succeed. My thanks also goes to all my course mates for their support and contributions as I pray for the Good Lord to continue to keep and guide them all,” prayed Opaleye.

The artist who also holds a second master’s degree in Visual Arts from the University of Ibadan, Oyo State is presently a lecturer in Ceramics at the Kogi State College of Education

On his part, Ile-Ife, Osun State-born painter Olatoye Okunuga, said his Master’s programme afforded him the opportunity to master the conversion of Yoruba architectural forms and motifs into a grotesque asymmetrical formation of organic and geometric shapes.

“My works have been used as a weapon of propaganda for social political reforms and as a document of faith for democratic ideals,” said the artist who attended the renowned Edo College as well as the Federal Polytechnic, Auchi School of Art.

The artist who has participated in various exhibitions in Nigeria in addition to handling several commissioned works, explained that his works  produced during programme involve ‘the liberating use of symbols, shapes and signs of Yoruba heritage, plucked from numerous artisanal traditions and reworked as a form of modern cryptography.’

“During my Master’s programme, I worked under three currents; (1) representational: this is when you can relate with my paintings just at a glance. (2) Stylization: representational forms are distorted and mutilated with motifs of harmonious colours, derived from the Yoruba traditional architectural forms. (3) Abstraction: found objects of wood cuts, ropes cover bottles spoons etc but mostly woodcuts into various shapes, reminiscent of angular shapes found on portals, windows, pillars arches, fretworks on afro-Brazilian style of building practices,” he said.

Rating the present crop of graduates from the department under the programme he coordinated, Dr John Ogene, the programme’s Post Graduate Coordinator, said he regards them in high esteem as they possessed unique talents rich with personal style and individuality.

“It has been a harvest of discoveries; the discovery of potential of the individual student and if you were here to see the final exhibition you’ll agree with me on that. The styles are very unique and impressive. I must also commend them for having persevered. The department laid down the requirements insisting that standards are to be maintained and kept in line with its tradition for excellence and the students keyed in to it. In fact I can confidently tell you from I’ve seen from them, they are yet to reach their full potential. They have raised the bar for others to come, which is what we do generally also,” stressed Dr Ogene.