Sunday, October 10, 2010

Fresh lift for artists, art journalists

As part of educational programmes of the international art expo Nigeria, series of lectures and workshop were organised during the duration of the expo in Lagos. Some select art writers were at a workshop to shore up the quality of reporting. Assistant Editor (Arts) OZOLUA UHAKHEME who participated in the events at the National Museum, Lagos, reports.

There was no better way to round off this year’s international art expo Nigeria organised by National Gallery of Art in collaboration with Art Galleries Association of Nigeria, than the presentation of two key papers last Saturday in Lagos on the rights of visual artists and rule of law as well as artist-gallery partnership. Art Barn, (Richmond Ogolo’s booth at the expo hall), venue of the lecture, could not take all the participants who later stretched to Nkem Gallery’s booth opposite Art Barn.
Curator of the expo and acting director of Research and Education, National Gallery of Art, Mr. Simon Ikpakronyi set the tone for the lecture with a brief review of the expo giving detail facts and figures on the total exhibits on display, the medium of expression, the content of the brochure in terms of images among others.
The Southwest regional coordinator of Department for International Development (DFID), of the British High Commission, Mr. Shina Fagbenro-Byron, a lawyer and musician, spoke on Plagiarism: The legal position, while founder of ArtBakery, Douala, Cameroon, Mr. Goddy Leye talked on Artist-Gallery partnership.
Expectedly, both papers touched on very significant aspects of every artist practice ranging from copyright to plagiarism, inspiration versus imitation, consequences of abuse and remedies. Also highlighted at the lecture were factors like, market, value shifts in art market, production spheres, the middle men and consumer that influence artist-gallery relationship. Given the size of participants and the attendant issues raised at the lecture/closing ceremony, this year’s expo made a significant improvement in the area of education and awareness of promotion of art.
Earlier on Tuesday, the international art expo opened a fresh window for an effective media appreciation and coverage of visual arts sector with a workshop on art journalists at the National Museum, Onikan Lagos penultimate Tuesday. The workshop featured Dr. Kunle Filani, Kryzd Ikwuemesi, Prof. Tonie Okpe and Simon Ikpakronyi as guest speakers.
The workshop was held to afford art journalists in visual art the opportunity of updating their knowledge on the various basic terms and vocabularies of the genre with which to improve their skill of art reporting and critiquing. Beyond providing participants, especially art writers with fresh registers in lifting arts reporting, the guest speakers highlighted diverse issues ranging from destructive or negative approach to critiquing, artists’ attitude to criticism, steps and factors in art critique, style and technique. However, there was confusion in the application and interpretation of criticism to mean critique during the presentations.
Ikpakronyi who spoke on Art Criticism And People’s Opinion, described art criticism as a medium for analyzing, discussing, interpreting and elucidating on art work noting that it is also a vehicle for increasing access to art, presenting art works to people who otherwise might not see it. “It is a way of bridging the gap between artists and the people. The role of art criticism therefore, is to create a supportive environment for art in the society. Art criticism is a presentation of supposedly informed opinion about what is right or wrong about an artistic effort, but this must be done objectively, as much as humanly possible. And as earlier stated, criticism f art work is popularly done after visits to exhibitions and artists’ studios,” he said.
He noted that art criticism is a controversial enterprise from which disputes sometimes arise about the purpose and nature of the judgment made by the art critic, and the nature and propriety of what it is that art critics had discussed.
Ikwuemesi who spoke on Beyond Monologue: personal notes on the critique and Hermeneutics of art, suggested that for adequate interpretation of art, the hermeneutics approach should be adopted by art journalists, saying it ‘would seek an understanding of the obvious and hidden meanings in art through a constructive deconstruction of its tonal, formal, or conceptual architecture.’ He explained that the critique of art requires four steps, namely; description, analysis, interpretation and judgment.
On the Nigerian reality, Ikwuemesi observed that the business of art criticism in the country is yet to match the practical activities in the art sector, noting that the antidote could be found in greater interaction between artists and critics. He also added that Nigerian art institutions do not offer art criticism or critical theory as a core area of study, saying art historians often arrogate to themselves the critical ability. “But the truth is also that artists in these part of the clime do not like criticism and some critics prefer to be sky dwellers occasionally touching down to trumpet the praise of some over-celebrated artists, rather than discovering and making new talents…But we must concede that the contribution of journalists to the art debate in Nigeria has come a long way and ought to represent more than a meal ticket so that it can become meaningful to the practitioners, artists and researchers,” Ikwuemesi said.
Prof. Tonie Okpe’s slide presentation on Installation and performance art: A single platform co-existence agenda was an interrogation of the two art forms as a possible and healthy agenda for contemporary art practice in the country. He stressed that art/theatre debates are much less compelling now, as art practice and criticism have moved beyond traditional definitions and boundaries of experience and research. He added that performance itself has become central to an understanding of contemporary culture beyond its aesthetic connotations.
He showed several installations and performance art by some artists including UK based Nigerian artist, Yinka Shonibare’s recent and old works as images to explain the relationship between the two forms of art and their possible co-existence. However, some artists expressed reservation on nude images in Okpe’s presentation while stressing that ‘Nigerian artists should not be stampeded into creating such weird works of installation.’ Former chairman, Society of Nigerian Artists, Lagos chapter, Mr. Olu Ajayi who said he would refuse to be confused by the kind works of the west, urged Nigerian artists to believe in their choice of media and do what please them and not the west. He however wondered why expo, like most exhibitions, does not enjoy the presence of serious issue based paintings that dwell on everyday happenings in the society.
If the lecture series were very rewarding to the artists and art critics, most of the 635 exhibits on display at the expo might not have turned the heads of many enthusiasts and collectors. Though there were quite a number of mixed media works, but the content of the dominant medium, painting, still reflects the old and regular theme and content. Apart from a few like Emmanuel Inua’s mixed media on president Goodluck Jonathan and political landscape, and Askihia Rodney’s giant size mat made of chips from abandoned Dunlop slippers displayed by TribesArt Gallery, the collection tells same story.
Again, of the 635 pieces of works exhibited, photography accounted for six at a period the medium is being given priority among plastic art forms. It also shows the level of appreciation of that medium, especially among gallery owners.
This year’s brochure is an improvement of past editions especially the French translation. The translation is a wise decision if the dream to market the event to other countries will be realised especially across to French speaking West African countries. But the size of the brochure is fast becoming a burden of a sort to users and as such it should be trimmed to a user friendly size. Unfortunately, the organizers of the expo never tapped into this volume (246 pages) to attract advertisers.
The changing of the expo to read international is unnecessary except there is an agenda yet behind that. The mission statement of the expo, the scope of the event, its market strategies, size of participants (to include non-Nigerian artists), and packaging are what will shape the expo to be international. After all, other similar arts fests (Documenta, Dakar biennale, Venice biennale, Art Expo New York) across the globe do not carry the tag of international to be attractive to the world. Already, if Benin and Togo artists participated in the expo, how else does an event go international?
Despite all the numerous short-comings at the expo, the organisers offered an ideal ambience by providing air-conditioned expo hall unlike past editions when heat was a constant threat to viewers’ long stay in the hall.

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