From any perspective Nigeria is interesting to observe. It is one of Africa’s biggest economies, a country with one of the world’s largest populations, and a centre player in the continent-rising narrative. There is also the obvious extreme poverty and saturation of internally displaced individuals and families: the dissonance is hard to ignore.
Yet, Nigeria is many wonderful things and its cultural heritage cannot be denied. Even before the digital age where social media gave the rest of the world the chance to experience and learn about it without flying thousands of miles or making African friends. As one of the major hotspots in cultural reformation, Lagos is making leaps and strides in music, fashion and art. In West Africa, Nigeria is hot shit right now and rightly so!
In only a few years Lagos has exploded into a vibrant African cultural front and people are not showing signs of stopping as the country continues to grow. This past year, the art scene has cultivated along the lines of music and fashion towards headlining creative African development to the world.
So one needs to question that if the art scene is developing so well, are the benefits of contemporary African art as widespread as its growth? Is art reaching the deepest recesses of West Africa beyond charity photographs or conceptual series that achieve visibility and zero progress for the societies explored? Or is this newfound coolness the reward of an insane or privileged few?
Art X Lagos, West Africa’s first art fair, opened last Friday 4th Nov 2016 for 3 days and as a novel initiative it deserves credit for at least being the first to implement such. Bringing a business approach and visible marketplace for the sale of art defies the stereotypes of art limiting its patronage to an elite few; as well as an open door policy, introductory panels and a wonderfully sublime ending performance that infused music and art.
In a conversation with a curator during the event, he commented “It’s a fair, it’s a market, a supermarket.”
Supermarkets are important to an ecosystem because it provides conveniences under one roof with the added option of giving the consumer choices between brands. A strange metaphor perhaps but an art fair offers its attendees the cultural experience of viewing and engaging in discourses about art, and it also proposes an alternative business model to encourage more people to invest in art. This is a vastly different model of the gallery and private exhibition spaces and yet is just as important.
ART X Lagos is a baby fair. It has fulfilled its major purpose of creating a well-organised and fun space for one of the biggest art markets in Africa. It has been an opportunity for new and old culture lovers to learn and observe art, as an industry that needs substantial support from its inhabitants. The panel series were marvellous and insightful plus a necessity for those considering art as a vocation. Where else will one have easy uninterrupted access to Ade Adekoya ,Victor Ehikamenor, Olajide Bello and Mr Yemisi Shyllon, the man with the largest art collection in Nigeria? Or have a chance to snuggle up to Tate curator, Zoe Whitley and Hannah O’Leary, Director and Head of Modern Art at Sotheby’s?
Yet, it could be argued that ART X Lagos, in its first attempt, has already bypassed the critical function of art especially within a developing economy. In a country like Nigeria, even a microcosm of it like Lagos with its epic social and financial divide, art should provide the function of giving options and supporting its artists. Art in any presentation, whether to collectors or viewers, should offer basic aesthetic value and also offer a way into intelligent discussions while carrying the potential to trigger some small feeling and thought processes in even the least artsy type of person. Art X Lagos, as popular as it already has become, has done as well as can be expected giving its surroundings. The only way left is forward.
By Fareeda Alithnayn Abdulkareem
About the author: Alithnayn writes mostly cultural criticism and fiction. She was a member of the Farafina 2015 workshop and a finalist for The Writer 2016. Her work can be found in Afreada, The Kalahari Review and Saraba Magazine.
Twitter & Instagram: @alithnayn
Facebook: Alithnayn Abdulkareem