Showing posts from November, 2016

Lorry Art Snippets: Photos from Lagos

I am not enough of a regular on Twitter not to miss the one or the other tweet that might be interesting and have some bearing on the theme of this blog. So, here's one that didn't escape me – although I've seen it somewhat late. So, here's two more images of lorry decoration from Lagos to add to the collection!

Financial Times features Contemporary Nigerian Art

The other day I was rather pessimistic that contemporary Nigerian arts would benefit from the popularity of by Njideka Akunyili Crosby, one of who's works sold for over US$ 1 mio the other week at Sotheby's African arts sale in New York. Turns out I needn't have been so pessimistic. I missed much more than I'd thought while I was offline – both here and in real life for almost two years. This week the Financial Times, of all newspapers, ran a feature on contemporary Nigerian arts (paywall).

The article by Matthew Green can be found in the section on Investing in Nigeria and accordingly argues that

… a growing number of wealthy Nigerians and international collectors are viewing the country's latest artistic creations with an eye on profit as well as aesthetics. Word of new talent in Lagos spreads quickly to London and New York where the market for contemporary African art is booming. Some buyers are quietly betting that many pieces as will be as well received as work from China once was. New Nigerian art is also resonating more strongly home, supported by a fast-evolving infrastructure of galleries, exhibitions and prizes. Rather than pursuing more timeless or abstract themes, painters, sculptors and photographers are building new audiences by engaging with social issues ranging from the Boko Haram insurgency to the impact of the migration crisis and evolving gender dynamics.

They mention among others Azu Nwagbogu, the director of African Artists' Foundation in Lagos who has been instrumental since 2010 in raising the profile of Nigerian and African photographers with his annual LagosPhoto (just about to come to an end for this year). As well as LagosPhoto, the recent inaugural Art X Lagos received a mention because the exhibition was 'seeking to bridge the gap between contemporary art and popular culture with bold immersive events.

Among the artists they discuss the sculptor Adeniyi 'Niyi' Olagunju features prominently. Olagunju had his first solo exhibition in London in 2010 entitled Structures of Trade (here, an interview he did with the BBC back in those days) and was recently represented at the 1:54 Contemporary African Arts Fair in London. Of particular interest to us here – with that slant towards northern Nigerians art and visual culture is their brief discussion of Fati Abubakar and her Instagram account @bitsofborno. That one's worth checking out for another, very humane perspective on life in the state that keeps on hitting the news because of Boko Haram and the resulting refugee crisis and famine.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby sells for over US$ 1 mio.

This isn't really the place for politics – So, let me just say that news from Nigeria this week have been less than pleasant again with bomb blasts in Maiduguri and the shooting of pro-Biafra protesters (although the army denied that). So, let's focus on the 'other,' more pleasant news that inspired me to write this post: This week a work by Njideka Akunyili Crosby sold for over US$ 1 million at an auction at Sotheby's New Work branch. Note, that's the second time she broke a record.

A new auction record was set for the Nigerian-born artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby in New York last week when "Drown" soared to sell for $1,092,500, over three times the high-estimate ($200,000-$300,000), in Sotheby's Contemporary Art Evening Sale. No fewer than 11 bidders competed for the work that was eventually sold to an anonymous buyer on the telephone.
This was the second time in less than two months that the auction record for Njideka Akunyili Crosby had been broken at Sotheby's. The previous auction record for the artist was $93,750, set by her "Untitled" work from 2011 at Sotheby's New York in September 2016.
"Drown" is an intimate self-portrait of the artist with her husband, Justin, and demonstrates beautifully how the layers of Njideka Akunyili Crosby's work reference the layers of her own identity.
In May next year, Sotheby's will launch its first dedicated sales of "African Modern and Contemporary Art" in London, led by Hannah O'Leary, Sotheby's recently-appointed Head of Modern and Contemporary African Art.
(source: This Day via

I think that's amazing. Good for her. One can only hope that her success somewhat raises the profile of contemporary Nigerian arts. I do have my doubts though. Contemporary art does seem to experience some kind of renaissance in Nigeria at the moment – with major exhibitions and sales and Nigerian collectors picking up works. Still, Crosby's success probably reflects – in addition to her undoubtable talents – the fact that, although born in Enugu in 1983, she studied arts in the US (her CV mentions Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia and Yale University School of Art in Connecticut) where she is still based. She lives in Los Angeles. In other words, she benefits from networks and a proximity to wealthy collectors that is denied to artists based in Nigeria. As I said, I don't envy her those privileges nor the success. I just think it's sad that in this day and age whether an artist is based in the so-called global north or south still matters this much.

Upcoming Publication: Kenda Mutongi on Matatus in Nairobi, Kenya

This looks like something I should read at some point – and you maybe too, solitary reader.

Matatu: A History of Popular Transportation in Nairobi
352 pages | 31 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2017
Drive the streets of Nairobi and you are sure to see many matatus—colorful minibuses that transport huge numbers of people around the city. Once ramshackle affairs held together with duct tape and wire, matatus today are name-brand vehicles maxed out with aftermarket detailing. They can be stately black or come in extravagant colors, sporting names, slogans, or entire tableaus, with airbrushed portraits of everyone from Kanye West to Barack Obama, of athletes, movie stars, or the most famous face of all: Jesus Christ. In this richly interdisciplinary book, Kenda Mutongi explores the history of the matatu from the 1960s to the present.
As Mutongi shows, matatus offer a window onto many socioeconomic and political facets of late-twentieth-century Africa. In their diversity of idiosyncratic designs they express multiple and divergent aspects of Kenyan life—including rapid urbanization, organized crime, entrepreneurship, social insecurity, the transition to democracy, chaos and congestion, popular culture, and many others—at once embodying both Kenya’s staggering social problems and the bright promises of its future. Offering a shining model of interdisciplinary analysis, Mutongi mixes historical, ethnographic, literary, linguistic, and economic approaches to tell the story of the matatu as a powerful expression of the entrepreneurial aesthetics of the postcolonial world.

The book will be published in June 2017 but can already be pre-ordered at the publishers and your favourite bookseller.

Cowboy Snippets: Themed Party in Lagos

Another little and rather charming piece of evidence that 'the cowboy' is alive and thriving in Nigeria ... even if cowboy's aren't joining masquerades during the Christmas celebrations anymore and whipping passers-by (which they apparently did in the 1940s and 1950s).

I'd have loved to give you the pics but the photographer, Olatoun Okunnu, doesn't seem to want that. So, let's respect his wishes. Here's the link instead. 

A Cow Boy Themed Party
Go and have a look for yourself.

Daily Trust (Nigeria): Offiong interview with Ayo Aina

The Daily Trust's Adie Vanessa Offiong has interviewed the sculptor Ayo Aina in September when I was just about to revive this blog (here's the link). I've just realised that some of the links to Nigerian sites in my old posts don't work anymore, so I give the full interview here in the hope that my blog outlives those links.

What inspired you to go into visual arts?
I would say passion, which developed at a very tender age. I was actually a science student in college. I had wanted to study architecture or civil engineering, and had even attended a one year advanced level Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics class. But the passion for what I could do well with little effort was stronger. It was a tough decision I had to make to drop out of science class, which I’m yet to have regrets over.
You started off as a painter but also do sculpture and mural. Could you tell us about the evolution of your art?
My journey in art is a very interesting one. I studied painting only because I had to choose between it and sculpture. I could have studied sculpture, graphics or ceramics. Growing up I had a broad understanding of these fields and actually practiced in every area, with the support of a father who, although was not an artist, encouraged and guided his first son to embrace anything art, hoping to raise a sound architect. On getting into the university, I fell into the hands of wonderful teachers, some of whom, I noticed, effectively combined these fields. At graduation I walked away with three of the five prizes my department offered.
Of all of them, which are you most comfortable with?
I’m fortunate to be an artist who has worked extensively in various genres. From painting to sculpture, mosaic to installations - and I enjoy every bit of what I do. But of note is my love for installations, given how flexible it is and the fact that it encompasses several postmodern art forms.
What was the motivation to do the installations on trafficking?
The media is filled with stories of human trafficking and forced labour. The victims who in many cases are children,  cannot reason or make quality choices, so I ‘speak’ for them. If these heinous crimes are brought to the fore, then we can begin to suggest ingenious ways of tackling them. Also, I’m fascinated, but appalled by the methods involved in human trafficking.
Why do the methods fascinate you?
The methods are replete with deception. Most of these children are baited into this devilish enterprise, with some of their parents being ignorantly supportive.
Is there one of your art works you feel most attached to and would not let go of?
None. I love to share my creations with the public. While my paintings, sculpture and murals target galleries and the luxury of connoisseurs’ homes as a final resting place, my installations aim at reaching the public with a special message expressed in an elaborate visual-spatial language.
Please could you explain your work, ‘Child trafficking'?
‘Child Trafficking’ uses humour, irony and metaphor to address critical issues of forced child labour and abuse, subtly embedded in our social environment and greatly suggestive of the prevalence of a new kind of slavery - contemporary slavery.
Your works sometimes straddle the space between paintings and sculpture. When did you first decide to break those barriers and how well received would you say the works are?
It started after my MFA program in 1996 when, upon setting out into full-time practice, I made a decision to dedicate an aspect of my art to addressing critical issues of social and political injustices in my society. I soon discovered that the two dimensional surface, single-handedly, became less effective for this task. I needed to introduce three dimensional forms of creation. So far, the technique has remained potent.
What does it feel like when you see your works adorn public spaces?
I feel fulfilled as an artist.
What is life like as a full time artist?
Very Interesting! You are always in charge of your life. You are able to create works that make you an artist. Just imagine a footballer who doesn’t play football or one who warms the bench. But you feel like a valuable striker.
Have any of your kids shown interest in art and are you encouraging them if they have?
Yes. My little boy who is six is doing very well now, and I’m not about to discourage him.
In your view, how much has the art industry grown into a proper one?
It is evolving at a great speed. Whether a boom may or may not be on its way, it seems smart for artists to stick with their practice, working diligently and professionally. The genre of African art that had largely been overlooked is finally getting a turn in the international spotlight.
What next after your ongoing trafficking project?
I’m working right now not knowing how my art is going to evolve. But you know there is always an issue to address.

The Mojo Gallery provides more information on Ayo Aina.

Cowboy Snippets: Rem Koolhaas and Kunle Adeyemi in the Guardian (UK)

This is Kunle Adeyemi and Rem Koolhaus talking about Lagos in the 1990s in a feature for the Guardian (UK) that was published 26 February 2016.

Note, how Adeyemi here uses the term 'cowboy' in sense that, at first side, owes little to American Westerns (unlike Sam Omatseye's article that relates 'the cowboy' of movies and TV serials to 'the Fulani herdsmen – inverted commas in both cases because, obviously, we're talking in terms of archetypes here rather than particular people or groups of people in particular films or in real life) but has quite a bit of currency in writing by and about Nigeria.

Call for Submissions: An Anthology of Nigerian Queer Art

A group of writers and artists called “14” are curating an anthology celebrating LGBT life and community in Nigeria. We strongly encourage you to send in your work. On January 13, 2017, the anthology will be available for download right here on Brittle Paper.
Here are the details from the editors:
On January 13 2014 the administration of Goodluck Jonathan passed the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act. Under the law, LGBT Nigerians have suffered persecution and harassment.
A group of Nigerian artists have chosen this date to celebrate the resilient spirit of the LGBT community, in writing and visual arts. The aim is to reclaim that date for ourselves, as we did with the word Queer.We are therefore calling on other Queer artists to join in this celebration by sending non-fiction, poetry, art commentary, art and photography, etc to
We also welcome works from non-LGBT artists, so long as they are LGBT-themed. The anthology will be published on Africa’s foremost literary website, Brittle Paper, on January 13 2017. It will also feature an introduction by a notable Nigerian writer. SUBMISSION GUIDELINESAll submissions should be made to our email: as a Word (PDF for art) attachment. The documents should contain the artist’s name and bio (more information on this under IDENTITY PROTECTION).
  • Poetry: The poet can submit a maximum of two poems of not more than forty lines each. Poems should be in a single Word document.
  • Non-fiction: Non-fiction should not be more than 3000 words and can be in the form of memoir or general commentary on LGBT life. More important is that the writing should be in the genre of creative non-fiction. A writer is allowed only one piece in this genre.
  • Art Commentary: Writer can submit only one art commentary of not more than 3000 words. The commentary must be on a work that is homoerotic in nature or has at its centre an expression of the LGBT experience.
  • Art & Photography: Artists can submit up to five drawings, paintings or pictures that are thematically and aesthetically related. These should be submitted as a PDF document, with a brief note (not more than 200 words) on the works.
  • My Life In Tweets: Tweet @naijaqueerart using the hashtag #IAmQueer. We are looking for tweets by LGBT and non-LGBT Nigerians at home and in the diaspora that can capture creatively and concisely an LGBT-related experience of love, sex, discrimination, friendship, etc. You can tweet as much as you can, and in connected threads.
Deadline for Submission: 8 December 2016 (12.00 pm GMT ).
IDENTITY PROTECTION: We are sensitive to the climate in Nigeria and know that most of our artists would like to protect their privacy. As a result, we encourage artists to create pseudonyms under which to feature their works. Bios, also, can contain non-specific points. Since this is an anthology celebrating queer art and resilience in Nigeria, artists are free to include their sexual or gender orientation in their bio.