Friday, February 16, 2018

Creative Convergence: raising issues, harnessing untapped vibes

In the next few years Nigeria stands to reap in the excess of $500 million from art annually. This opinion as espoused six years ago by a notable visual art practitioner and researcher, Dr. Joe Musa, was enough to ignite a heated debate at the maiden conference of creative artists under the tag name – Creative Convergence. The creative (visual) art community reasonably dominated by the fine art practitioners like painters, sculptors, and designers is the main hub of the noble idea for the birth of this forum.

Art practitioners at the Creative Convergence forum

Mr. Deji Ajose, the convener took participants on a methodical journey into the variegated labyrinth of the (visual) arts. Treading the awesome landscape was not at all a burden as he dribbled his way through the narrative of modern artistic paradigms – raising relevant questions that are programmed to set the ball rolling for now, and even afterwards. What really happens when there is a convergence of thoughts by creative artists? Imagine what could come out of a well tailored process of even simple thoughts or ideas by creative minds engaging to forge a vision for the New Year? The forum is raising issues that are clearly woven around the various art genres as veritable tool for social engineering – taking into cognisance new trends and, or the ‘untapped vibes’.

For Mr. Dayo Fagbulu, the artist turned engineer, so much of the creative potentials remain largely untapped. In fact, he says, even 500 million dollars a year is meagre an amount compared to the measure of talents and resources on ground. If properly harnessed Nigeria can easily do in excess of that amount. “But where are the indices and data with which to determine this?” he asks.

This gathering thus becomes a wonderful opportunity to confront the President of the Society of Nigerian Artists, Mr. Oliver Enwonwu with some seething or vexed issues: What is the fate of photographers in the scheme of things? Mr. Deji Ajose, himself a painter and a dedicated man of the lens, wants to know. “Even some photographers themselves do not seem to understand that they are also artists,” he says. But Enwonwu did not seem to have done justice to this matter as he diplomatically parried it, especially as no meaningful stakeholder was willing to take up the gauntlet as it were.

In its very maiden public ‘performance’, Creative Convergence seemed to have pulled off a little more than it bargained for - in a manner of speaking. The Virtual Hub, being the arena of convergence saw an impressive turnout of practitioners of the arts coming to grace a round-table kind of performance. The mystic man, that is the effervescent Jelili Atiku – arguably Africa’s foremost practitioner of the less-travelled and eccentric genre called performance art, was on hand to electrify the day. No, Atiku did not give a public performance of his preferred medium of expression, but rather his still photo and animated slide presentations as well as scholarly delivery, was as thrilling as can be.

Atiku at the Venice Biennial (Photo credit: Google images)

Atiku basks in the processes of creative engagements while taking a swipe at every exponent of any form of ‘colonisation’ and anyone who detested honest art. He delves unabashedly into mainstreams - attempting a foray into the philosophy and ontology of the world art, and the energies that hold sway, but especially swinging from his Yoruba mythology. “I know you are a very spiritual person, and you are very deep,” quipped an observer; and the question is: do these white ‘models’ and contracted co-performers know what they engage in when they accompany Atiku down that procession that is typically of Yoruba epistemology and traditional rituals?

Now, what is the role of myths and superstition in all of these; or are there far reaching consequences we may wish to share here? For Atiku, these very curious images border on ancient rituals that are not fortuitous – “we know how to commune with nature,” he says. According to him, his major concern is to be a sincere artist; his meat as it were, is to challenge bad policies such as is typified in his epic (wedding) performance enacted at his Ejigbo local community in Lagos.

The procession had to wade through dilapidated road networks of mud, sewage and garbage, in a political art performance that was to lampoon the infamous bill earlier sponsored by a Senator of the Federal Republic, Ahmad Sani Yerima – seeking to make 11 year old girls marriageable by law! “Instead of members of the hallowed chambers focusing on how to put the necessary infrastructures in place, they are rather preoccupied with sex! How dreadful,” Atiku lamented.

Left: Oliver Enwonwu, President SNA and others listen to a lecture 

The word – honesty, that the artist must be truthful to himself is an issue that we cannot rest on the shelves. But just how possible is this in a prostrate economy; can the artist really be truthful to himself in a system so corrupt and treacherous? Looking at the visual art landscape of Nigeria, Oliver Enwonwu urges that the artist needs to improve on content no matter the amount of pressure on practitioners to bend to the seductions of commercialisation.

Enwonwu insists excellence must not be thrown to the dogs. In as much as the general consensus is that government cannot be expected to provide everything, he believes that still, government has an inalienable role to play in the whole equation. But Atiku seems to have lost total confidence in the role of government in the development of art, yet participants generally opine that government must not in any way shirk its responsibilities. “I got an invitation to perform at the Venice Biennial but did not have the means to attend,” Atiku said. Having approached the Lagos State government, and gone everywhere all to no avail, he took his request abroad. In far away Italy somebody offered to buy 4 photos of one of his serial performances for 10,000 dollars! And that was it, Atiku made it to Venice.

Nonetheless, it remains the part of government to enact enabling policies and laws that fashion the shape of things to come. And be it government, private or public/private sector initiatives, the president of the Society of Nigerian Artists emphasises that the basic focus especially by government should be on Museums, Art fairs, and Heritage sites, etc. Also, he adds that the place of collectives such as studios and galleries, etc. cannot be overemphasised – they must be given the needed encouragement by government and private sector stakeholders.

But there is confusion all about us; what shall we do with it – what with the infamous emigration quagmire that we have been enmeshed with in recent decades? Mr. Dayo Twanni, a facilitator says rather that the chaos we find ourselves in defines our common character. “In the midst of all the chaos we must begin to question every situation as well as see opportunities,” he says. If we are able to ask the right and genuine questions, we will certainly come across the right answers to our problems. It therefore behoves every creative mind to begin to tell their story, and tell it well too.

NB: This article first appeared in

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