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Scramble for contemporary Art from Africa

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Anyawu by Ben Enweonwu at the National Museum Lagos

Art house contemporary art auction ended Monday with “Anyawu” a 1955 work by Ben Enweonwu closing the evening with 54,000,000 naira breaking auction record of the most expensive piece ever sold in Nigerian auction. The piece which its original gracefully adorns the entrance of the National Museum of art Lagos is one of Enweonwu’s earliest pieces and still remains a landmark work in the history of his entire career.

Chike Okeke Agulu, a popular U.S based historian describes the piece in 2016:

“Anyanwu’s formal significance lies in its dramatic combination of movement and stasis, realism and abstraction, anthropomorphic and vegetal forms, grace and power. Though anyanwu literally means ‘the sun’ in the Igbo language, this bronze is of a 6ft 10in woman dressed in the royal regalia of the Bini people: a ‘chicken-beak’ headdress, heavy coral necklaces and bracelets. But nothing in Bini or Igbo traditional sculpture explains Anyanwu’s distinctive body. A Nefertiti-type neck – seen here in Anyanwu – is a clear indication of feminine beauty in both cultures, yet her skinny, near-emaciated limbs are reminiscent not so much of traditional representations of powerful female deities as modern-day haute-couture models.”

In the 1960s, the United Nations’ Anyanwu’ was commissioned by the Nigerian government, giving the work more prominence. The value of Enweonwu’s works have risen tremendously over the last decade. It would be recalled that in July of 2004, at the 10th anniversary of the death of the artist, 55 of his works were valued and insured for a Hundred million naira “100,000,000” .

Speaking to an eye witness of the auction mr Chukwuma Cowries Okoye, he said:

“It went well, there is hope for Nigerian Art, and with its demand internationally (for) most of the collectors are foreigners. (Even though) the harsh economy played down on the sales expectations” he concluded.

Proving his point;

Sotheby’s held its first auction of modern and contemporary African art on Tuesday, where 83 pieces by artists from Cameroon to South Africa sold for a total of nearly $4 million. The star of the sale was the Ghanaian artist El Anatsui’s sculpture made from discarded aluminum bottle caps and copper wire that went for about $950,000. (source NYT, May 20, 2017)

The Arthouse auction also sold an el Anatsui wood panel for 13,000,000 naira taking second place after Enweonwu.

We could also remember Ndjideka Akunyili Crossby’s work “The beautiful ones” sold at a whooping amount of 2.5 Million Pounds at Cristies in March.

crossby beautiful ones
The beautiful ones by Njideka Akunyili

CHIKA OKEKE-AGULU on May identified the beauty of this new improvement, he said:

“This is very good news for the African modernists who will benefit from the increased visibility. They were, some say, the postcolonial avant-garde, who set out to create new art for independent Africa during the mid-20th century. African contemporary artists have also moved beyond nationalism and are more likely to sound off about globalization and complex identities.”

But he also pointed out the implications of this new trend:

“The continent’s masses will be the biggest losers. They will be denied access to artworks that define the age of independence and symbolize the slow process of postcolonial recovery. That’s because whole countries in Africa cannot boast of a single art museum of any renown. On other continents, you might expect to see at least one public art museum in any city big enough to have a sports team. But good luck trying to find a museum in Lagos, one of the world’s largest cities, that displays the work of a big-name Nigerian artist. A child there is even less likely to learn of the art in the classroom.” (Source NYT)

 

These raises some questions; are Africans collectors afraid to invest in their own? And do you think it would be right for posterity to demand the return of these works to Africa after now?

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Anambara born student wins National art competition.

​Nwadike chizoba David From Anambara State, a Jss3 student of Redeemed people’s academy Jos, yesterday became the first prize winner of the national art competition for secondary schools that was organized by Chevron; NNPC; and ministry of education Nigeria with his painting titled : Civic Duties. 
“He also won first prize in sculpture during the children days art competition in JOS as organised by NGA” a close source revealed.

His teacher has described him as a bundle of talent and as one who has great passion for art.

The first price winner will get 100,000 naira per year as scholarship All through his school year.

 Congratulations to him.

Dike Chukwumerije breaks record: Makes more than One Million naira in one Night with poetry.

Few years ago, there was nothing like the comedy industry. There were just random guys who followed their passion to entertain and make people happy. Years later into their hard work, the comedy industry boasts of big names like AY,Ali Baba, Basket mouth, and others. Infact the industry is the one competing side by side with the Music Industry.

Dike and his crew @ the made in Nigeria show. Photo credit-Minabj.

Today, the poetry industry in Nigeria just grew from a baby to a teenager. Dike CHUKWUMERIJE becomes the first poet in Nigeria to make over a Million Naira in a single Night of poetry performance, with his Made in Nigeria brand getting bigger and bigger. The show was held at Merit House, Abuja on the 1st to 2nd of October, celebrating the story of Nigeria in Hundred years in theatre. It also marked Nigeria 57th birthday. His Tickets sold out. We would remember he had a nation wide tour with the brand this year. History would remember his efforts, and this would encourage other poets in Nigeria never to give up.  

The news came today when he took to his official Facebook page to express his joy. He boasted:

“This is how we did it. So, let me tell you, if anybody ever asks you if you know any poet in Nigeria with a collection of 20 poems who has in one night of reading made up to N1m in sales, tell them you do. This is not a boast. It’s just a recognition that no one is telling my story. So, here I am telling it. Keep walking. This is what I tell myself. For I have not yet executed my vision perfectly. And so, and so, it keeps calling me. Keep walking”

There are other Nigerians who are working hard or had worked hard to set the stage for the dawn of the next entertainment genre in Nigeria. There are the Likes of Sage Hassan who was doing spoken word in the 80s. There is the War of words stage which is the biggest poetry competition currently in Nigeria, organized by 12x media. They planned for war of words Africa with a cash price running to millions, but never achieved it this year. There are other organizations working hard to make it happen.

This year alone had recorded proliferation of poetry stages and shows, bringing poets to limelight.

Change is coming. Congratulations to Dike. But one question comes to mind:

Are we getting to the point where we would have recording deals, poets as brand ambassadors, poetry videos streaming live on our Tvs?

​The artist is not almighty; He is Human.

History can be a hoax; it can in the right hands turn myths into subtle realities and realities into uncertain myths. It begins from stereotypes which begets banal platitudes and gradually graduates to relative truths, what truth is, I really wonder. Leonardo da vinci would come to be a man with so much appraised story in the art world with a mix of fantasy, mystery, subtlety making up his story. One can never deny that he was a genius, but if you understand the politics of art, you would come to know that many times such stories are told to hold the minds of men, to hold true and dear, something approved by the powers that be- for whatever reason. The truth remains that there were African masters who were and are more introspective and creative, but I must say their crime was to have come from Africa, the third world and wretched of the earth. There are less myths about our very own Ben Enwonwu and KOFI Antubam or other African masters, and if there come to be any at all, it was something less motivating, less frugal and capable of damaging the skinny image of them in our heads- Africa never tells her stories.
But without deviating much, I want to remind us all of a constant truth that disturbs the mind. I have come to understand from a very long history that a greater percentage of artists usually die wretched or in misery. This is basically because of the reckless lifestyle associated with the art. We were thought and groomed into this lifestyle as we begin to practice, because we have the almighty perspective of the artist. The artist forgets, like any other profession or way of life it is greatly affected by the environment it thrives. Let’s take for example, that recession hits Nigeria. There are basically things that would hit the art:

Low sales,under representation of the art, broke artists, hungry artists, expensive art materials, high productivity and less returns et cetra.

This year for example, recorded a lot of fall in art sales especially in Nigeria. I attended a lot of shows from January, and for those I didn’t attend, made inquiries. The sales dropped. Even at auction houses. That’s an example. 

I have been around a lot of contemporary masters, and to tell you the truth they have all made lots of mistake because of the “The almighty artist” thing. Now, no one can rule out that the artist is powerful, but so is the politician, the lawyer, the doctor and in fact a whole lot of others. But our uniqueness is like that of the scientist, which is, creating something from nothing. But we should not forget we are humans too.  I have seen painters work with harmful chemicals with no safety measures- and I have seen painters die from the after effect. Most importantly artist out of carelessness do not care for their health among other things. Like the Americans would say, they just wing it. Jean Micheal Basquiat died at 27 and Massacio 27 too, Yves klein 34. There are others maybe to mention also that van Gough only added a decade on 27.


Question?

Doesn’t the knowledge of the fallibility of the artist discourage Artistic prowess?

I would be straightforward in answering this question. 

“It doesn’t”

Let me put it in a quote properly.

“Courage is not fearlessness, but knowing what to fear”

Knowing your limits doesn’t mean you are weak; on the contrary, it means you are strong enough to acknowledge them, and by acknowledging them you find a way to overcome them- For one cannot solve a problem he doesn’t acknowledge exists.

This year, I had a talk with master artist Demas Nwoko and from all he said I picked something:

“If what you have to offer to the world is of the mind, then do not live in the body” simple but loaded with unanswered questions. I have also met some people who knew Christopher Okigbo, they described him as the most creative of them all. But he died with all that because of recklessness.
Simple recommendations

-Know when to play safe.

-Eat well

-Exercise well

-Keep your body and mind safe at all times

-Apply safety cautions in using materials especially toxic ones.
I watched an interview by a popular 90 years German writer and his advice was simple:

“The most important thing for the artist is to stay alive” 

Do not die for what you are willing to live for. You better stay alive and watch your works sell millions than be in your grave to answer the most creative of them all. Be wise.

​Some simple facts about prof. Bruce Onabrakpeya you may not know. 

“Age is not age: For dreams set in rainy season and achieved in harmattan ”

Today 30th August is the 85th birthday of Ace artist, master print maker, painter and outstanding sculptor Prof Bruce Onabrakpeya. It is true that one is as old as he feels. Bruce at 85, feels nothing like he had aged, with the strength of youth and energy of a child he executes his works like no other. At 85 he can exercise and run and work late like he was 16. You are shocked right? Here are some simple facts about him you may not know.

Receiving a  honorary PhD from Delta state University, Abraka. Image source: Vanguard Online.

He runs the Ovuomaroro studio at Mushin Lagos in Nigeria as his official studio.

Saddam Hussein was his big fan. (Yes, now you know)

He likes to dress in simple shirt and shorts and Canvas unless on traditional functions. (You can’t be the only one looking young)
He was named LIVING HUMAN TREASURE by UNESCO in 2006.

Prof during the regular Morning exercise at the Harmattan workshop
An art Gallery in Delta state university is named after him.

He was one of the Zaria Rebels of the 1958.

He works mostly on folklore, mythical realism and legends.

He founded one of the biggest artist residencies in Nigeria, THE HARMATTAN WORKSHOP 1998.

Morning Jogging.
He was once a teacher at St. Gregory College Lagos. (Art teachers be proud)

He was a studio assistant to prof. Ben Enwonwu.( you heard right)

He is the second winner of Nigeria’s Creativity award, which has only been awarded to Chinua Achebe. (Wow)

Prof Bruce Onabrakpeya with artists after receiving an award of excellence from the Delta state Government.

His works are in the collection of Barrack Obama, King Mohammed VI of Morocco as well as Vatican museum Rome.

He has been practicing art for more than 50 years.

Bruce was born on 30th August 1932 at Agbarhaotor in Delta state. (August born)

He is one of the pioneer faces of contemporary Nigerian art. 

He is married with 5 kids.

He had exhibited all over the world including Tate Modern London, Smithsonian Washington, and National Gallery of modern art, Lagos.

He is regarded as one of the most humble and celebrated artist in the Nigerian art scene.

We wish him many more creative years ahead.

In the middle of a plate- Things that inspired us.

“Every Child is an artist, but the problem is how to remain a child  once we grow up” Pablo Picasso.

You may have forgotten, quite an unfair world. You know the story of our artistic rise to masters was moulded by little things in and off the classroom environment. Half way down the line, we grew up. The sad thing about our growing up is not just our excessive grub for Money . No, its our forgetfulness, especially of where we are coming from. 

If we can remember how far we came then we must not forget the little things that inspired us. Before we knew the names of the big artists and masters that we quote as a source of inspiration we had other little things that kept us going.

Plates: I can remember getting so drawn to ceramic plates because of the beautiful paintings inside. I would most times find myself redrawing and copying them. Its unfortunate that most of the new glass and ceramic plates have less or no painted drawings in them anymore.

Awake – I’m not a witness but I was drawn to copying images from that book. Especially of animals and people in Paradise.

Textbooks- illustrations on textbooks was a bomber, it did the magic.

Cars- oh yea. Cars got us rolling. Most times drawing the da** thing with 6 or 8 tires. I wonder why that has still never been invented.

There are other little Inspirations, and its relative to our unique experiences.

Never forget.

5 things you should not say to an artist.

Things you should not say to an artist.
You probably have an artist friend and wondering why both of you don’t get along pretty well. You may have used any of these words mistakenly or you must be really bad at getting along with people. Either way, if you are trying to buy an artist’s heart, avoid these words.

  1. it’s not Fine.
    Yes, that sentence can sentence an artist to death. Naturally, every artist want to be appreciated for his works, no matter how bad the works are. More so, there is really no good or bad art. So next time you want to talk about an artist’s work, don’t use the word “Not Fine”. Some works are not fine but make for a good aesthetic quality. A good appraisal would help the artist to become better. P.s tell him its fine even when he doesn’t want to hear it, and watch the magic.

Continue reading “5 things you should not say to an artist.”

4 Jargons Artists use frequently.

Artists are simply complicated people. They switch on and off at anytime. Yes, its that bad. But they are the most lovable people around town, look around.  So if you have been around an artist a long time, you must really be getting used to these his unpredictable culture.

1. Untittled

Artists can be very lazy people. Yes. They are hardworking when it comes to creating and giving life to an idea, but goes all lumpy at the simple idea of naming their creation. And so they found a short cut; “Untitled”. A lot of work bears more untitled than works named. However, the negative aspect of this is that it makes the works harder to stick. Example, you can actually remember works like Da vinci’s ‘Last Supper’ and ‘Mona Lisa’, Picasso’s ‘The Meal’, Michelangelo’s ‘David’, Demas Nwoko’s ‘Adam and Eve’, Ben Enweonwu’s ‘Anyawu’, Damian Hirsts ‘For the love of God’ etc. It would also be noted that most of this masters have works titled “Untitled “. One question, How many untilled works can you remember?

Continue reading “4 Jargons Artists use frequently.”