My companion was sure that there was another event happening at the Civic Centre last night. Just looking at the number of vehicles parked on the curb in front of the stretch of Ozumba that’s home to the Civic Centre and Civic Towers in Victoria Island. We had the argument through the 42-minute long Ozumba Mbadiwe traffic that ushered us to our destination. “An art show in Lagos can’t pull that much crowd abeg,” he said.
Humbled by the recollection of many exhibitions attended in the past few years and doing some rough maths, I didn’t want to insist. So I responded with a “hmmm we’ll see” or “let’s get there first” from time to time.
Of course, I was right. And it wasn’t just the number of cars and the hustle for parking spots. It was also TP-Collective’s promise over the past few weeks leading up to the event. Art X Lagos has been ambitious for a first edition Art fair in a country that hasn’t played host to one. The themed short clips announcing over 47 artists exhibiting; the Art X Prize that already lured up-and-coming contemporary artists like the always-precise Ima Mfon with his captivating photography and the excellent engineer/artist, Dipo Doherty. There was also the promise of live art from contemporary artists including Uthman Wahaab who many have wondered how he works up the magic of his fat ballerinas.
Anyone who dismissed the promises of Art X Lagos’ artistic director, Bisi Silva, as just talk, had done themselves a great injustice. The Art X Lagos opening preview was a hit on every account. There were no delays from the part of the organizers and there was no doubt that a lot of hard work had gone into the curation of the fair. Never had the beautiful space of Civic Towers been that maximized.
It was exactly like walking into a splendid art magazine. First the editorials, in form of curated projects from masters like J.D Okhai Ojeikere -from whom we weren’t just treated to “Hairstyles” but also a few other photos from his other seminal projects, confirming the late icon’s dedication to documenting the modernisation of our nation through women’s hair and headgears.
There were also Uche Okpa-Iroha’s award-winning and extremely fun experience “The Plantation Boy” where he super-imposes himself into recognizable scenes from the Coppola classic, The Godfather. It’s always fun try to point out the artist in these scenes.
“EHN” was another interesting curated project on offer. Presented by photographer, Lakin Ogunbanwo, the multipotentialite, Yadichinma Ukoha-Kalu and the all round super star, Amaka Osakwe of Maki Oh, the project was bound to put a modern twist on things.
The artists through their individual works explore the concept of the Nigerian absent-minded response to anything: “Ehn?” You have probably never considered how complex and layered that word can be. But you will when you have to put a light to Maki-Oh’s condensated glass portraits to see “what’s going on“.
Yadichinma Ukoha-Kalu explained that this project is an on-going exploration of the Nigerian word (“ehn”) where each artist present’s a layered and flexible response through their works. Yadichinma herself explores the concept of purity through a series of photographs of natural elements. But are they just leaves or have they been stained by some nameless graphic soil? Exactly, “Ehn”?
All of that experience and you realise you have only gone through the editorial pages of your real life magazine. The second floor was made home to the fair itself. The foot traffic was testament to the comprehensiveness of those present – galleries from all over Africa.
To prove that there aren’t enough galleries to go round all the artists, the organisers added artist booths – Ade Adekola who’s Booth 1. announces “we didn’t come here to play” through his thousand dollar light boxes that explore socio-political issues like our Civil War and the role of Nigeria’s allies. Victor Ehikamenor continues to wow with his symbols and motifs to explore traditional beliefs and of course, incredible Obi Okigbo also had his own stall.
Art X Live last night provided not just the usual breaks one needs from being overwhelmed by so much brilliance in one space, it also ensured engagement as passers-by from time to time stopped them to ask questions.
Overall, the Art X Lagos fair delivered. Maybe even surpassed expectations with this opening. I cannot wait for today’s line up: the Collector’s series, a continuation of Art X Live and definitely the talks!
See more photos below: