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.

Fati Abubakar was already featured by Africa is a Country back in 2015 (when I was still busy running between doctor's appointments) and more recently by CNN, among others. Back then, Africa is a Country quoted her saying that
I love photography and love what it can do as a medium to tell a story. Hence, I’ve decided to use that to document my home state of Borno simply because the religious crisis that has ravaged it showcases only the trauma and despair while forgetting that there are survivors trying to lead normal lives and go on every day despite the insurgency. It is as vital to show resilience as it is death and destruction. Hence my need to capture this aspect of our lives. In my opinion a good photograph is what speaks to your soul. … What I hope to achieve with the photos is to help people see that we are thriving, living, moving on and help rekindle memories of old glory.

Meanwhile, CNN writes

Abubakar is one of the survivors [of the Boko Harm insugency]. During the ongoing insurgency, she has lost neighborhood friends and her mother's best friend was shot. Her family were forced to relocate for a time due to the hostilities. … Abubakar has made it her mission to document the lives of the people of Maiduguri, finding both deep trauma and steely resilience along the way. …
"The (media) focus has been entirely on the bomb blasts, the deaths and the displaced," she says, and though she concedes that those are not unimportant subjects. She adds "I feel there's less focus on anybody left... I wanted people to see after the bomb blast, who was left behind."

With her camera, Abubakar has patrolled Maiduguri for the last six months seeking out personal stories and captioning her images accordingly. …Her lens has captured schoolchildren and grandmothers, vigilantes and merchants, all with a story to tell. People like Alhaji Bukar Tijjani who complains that business has slowed since trade connections with Niger, Chad and Cameroon closed. Mohammed like others Abubakar has met, is putting his trust in Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari, and believes change is already at hand.
"I ask them about what has happened, how they are coping, just very normal questions," she explains. However with Maiduguri's newest residents "it's usually the same stories that keep occurring. People who have lost family, people who have lost parents," she says, trailing off.

(P.S. Apologies that my choice of photographs from among Abubakar's Instagram account reflects my own interest in the visual arts rather than her more humane interests.)


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