It’s wrapped season meaning everything you went through in 2023 is being weighed and calculated and the final numbers are crunched up and you are served the highlights in a colourful carousel detailing exactly what went on all year. That’s what this article is but for the Lagos art events that got everyone’s attention, had the most interesting art, made the most noise online and offline and proved to be integral to the city’s art ecosystem.
The year has been a busy one for Lagos and Nigeria. The country had a Presidential election while Lagos held an eventful governorship election with all that comes with it. Elsewhere Nigerians are experiencing a recession as the Nigerian Naira has been described as being on a journey to whatever economic rock bottom looks like. How have artists within Nigeria responded to this? At the 2023 education of Art X, West Africa’s premiere art fair, artists Papa Omotayo and Max Kalaiwo tackled the reality of Nigerians exiting the country in large numbers as living conditions turn hellish. For their Art X Special Project ‘The Hands That Remain’, the duo turned the lens inwards by spotlighting those who remain in Nigeria while elsewhere Anthony Azekwoh brought back modern history with this exhibition ‘There Is A Country’ that explored the ENDSARS movement and other parts of recent Nigerian history. Here are the art exhibitions, festivals and booths at Art X Lagos that I found to be the highlight of the art scene this year.
The Hands That Remain
The word on everyone in Nigeria’s lips is ‘japa’ a Yoruba word that now colloquially means to leave Nigeria permanently to seek green pastures as Nigeria’s economy and social instability reach new heights. While ‘japaing’ has been examined by many writers and artists – myself included – artists Papa Omotayo and Max Kalaiwo put a truly unique spin by turning the focus on itself and rather than focus on the people leaving, they focus on the ones that stayed or even more peculiar, choosing to stay. One of the special projects commissioned and promoted by Art X Lagos which ran from October 31 – November 3 2024, The Hands That Remain takes advantage of nostalgia to deliver a punch that transports you and keeps you. The set is an idyllic Nigerian middle-class sitting room from the 80s – I know it is the 80s because there is an issue of the now defunct newspaper Lagos Weekend newspaper dated February 18th. 1983 on the table. As a Nigerian, you may not have lived in a sitting room like this one, but you likely saw it on TV or pictured it when reading one of the many classic Nigerian books that described a sitting room like this. Across the wall were papers that viewers had been asked to fill in their answers to questions like ‘Do you have family left in Nigeria? Do you wish to live in Nigeria forever? Do you believe Nigeria will be great again?’.
In October, Wura-Natasha Ogunji hosted Lala ha, at Tiwani Contemporary in Lagos. The exhibition expired Ogunji’s experiences moving and navigating in a highly transactional and transformative city like Lagos. The exhibition was also marked with a body performance by Wura-Natasha in a thrilling exploration of what the body can do. I could go into further details or you can read all about it here.
It is almost reductive to say that Dennis Osadebe is amazing. An artist armed with wit and an unorthodox approach to storytelling, Osadebe is a master at what he does. This mastery was on full display at his booth at Art X Lagos where he showcased Passing/Building/Victory, a first-of-its-kind collaboration with the artist and NBA Nigeria detailing community and teamwork. On the walls tagged ‘Building’, Osadebe features life-size NBA characters as tall as one expects a basketball player to be wearing the masks that are trademark to Osadebe’s art and invites viewers to scribble on the characters – taking community participation and turning it into a literal immersive experience, it is a brilliant touch. By the last day of ArtX 2023 where the booth was showcased, the walls had the classics ‘Ayomide was Here” ‘Never Forget To Be A Good Person’ and ‘Shut Up’ written all over them. That’s a community for you.
Bodies! Bodies! Bodies!
This exhibition which opened in February 2023 and ran till the end of March featured the works of Musa Ganiyy, Daniel Obasi, Ayanfe Olarinde, Yemi Osokoya, Jimi Agboola, Adaeze Okaro, Laja, Ojo Ayotunde and Dennis Onofua. All artists with solid and centred perspectives offered their rich exploration by supplying answers or new questions to classic questions like what a body means, how it moves and the spaces it occupies; from the physical to the psychological.
A debut presentation at Art X Lagos with a solo artist is daring. That makes it all the more impressive that not only does O’Da Art pull it off but their booth featuring the works of Uthman Wahaab is one of the more arresting showings at the fair. Wahaab has over the years established himself as an artist as playful as he is critical and the work he shows at Art X has this in full display. The series is dedicated to showing women especially plus-size women navigating mundane life with a casual confidence that is truly revolutionary and still hardly seen. It follows a fictional plus-size woman living life unburdened by beauty conventions and body standards whether at the beach, at family functions or just in her, I assume, living room.
Because this must be
Not an exhibition, not a festival but a third interesting thing, Kadara Enyeasi’s collection of ongoing works titled because this must be had quiet confidence to it when I visited in October during the week Art X took place where, Speaking to the artist for this story helped uncover a strong POV from an artist as perpetually evolving as his work.
After winning the 2022 Art X Prize last year, all eyes were on what Dafe Oboro would be bringing to the 2023 Art X showings. It is fair to say that he met, exceeded and raised those expectations. The last booth I went to, a choice I am most grateful for, was the perfect closer to an already great Lagos Art Week. Vibrant, bold, and hopeful are the best ways to describe the bright self-portraiture, sound collage, film and theatrical metaphor. The exhibition is titled ‘Odafe’ and sees Oboro use self-portraiture and metaphor to explore a reconnection with ancestral and latent memories from his childhood.
It’s A wRaP
Featuring the work of Marcellina Akpojotor, Tonia Nneji, Chidinma Nnoli, Jessica Soares, Sabrina Coleman-Pinheiro, Iyunola SanyaOlu, Neec Nonso, David Otaru, Ayobami Ogungbe and Ameh Egwuh – easily some of the artists whose work and practice has definite Nigeria art scene this last year. This exhibition which is still ongoing [the exhibition opened on December 5th and will go on till the 31st of December 2023] in many ways essential viewing for anyone looking to explore work that spins on its head the idea of what the work of a Nigerian artist should be or look like in all the best ways.
There Is A Country
Towards the end of the 2010s, Anthony Azekwoh emerged as one of the most influential digital artists in Nigeria with his artworks The Red Man and Yasuke gained worldwide virality and his NFT sales also established him as one of the defining artists of the community, These days, Azekwoh is expanding his practice which now includes sculpture and his pouring back into the community and eco-system by investing in Yenwa Gallery. His exhibition ‘There Is A Country’ took on recent Nigerian history by taking a stab at recent Nigerian political and social happenings and the various ways social imbalance shows up in Nigerian reality.
Samuel Nnorom has had quite the career. He has been a part of numerous workshops and residencies in England, South Africa and Nigeria, he is a three-time Life in My City Art Festival awardee and was the first-prize recipient of the iCreate Africa prize in 2019. In December 2022, he was named the overall winner of the annual international art initiative Art for Change Prize, his work being selected from over 2500 entries across 130 countries and for the first time he is exhibiting solo with Emotional Catch opening at Tiwani Contemporary on Saturday, 25th November. The exhibition features a series of variable-scaled sculptures that are visual metaphors exploring and speaking texturally to many social conditions that topically shape our lived experiences.
Independence To Festac
Nigerian printmaker, painter and sculptor Bruce Onobrakpeya’s career started in the 1950s around when he got his formal art education from the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, now the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. Not long after, the legendary artist established himself as an essential part of Nigerian and African art history and ecosystem. His Independence to Festac exhibition by Hourglass which took place from 29th October till 10th November showcased of rare Bruce Onobrakpeya deep etchings between 1960 to 1977.
Ayobami Ogungbe’s visual practice merges photography and traditional weaving techniques resulting in. For his debut solo exhibition which took place at Rele Gallery on the 2nd of July and ran on the 12th of August, 2023 he tackles the memories he has of the places he once lived in which he aptly titled Home. Ogungbe describes himself as ‘having been away for a while, except for the occasional visits’ which makes his revisitation perhaps more portent and moving as he explores how the person he is today has been shaped by where the spaces he grew up in resulting in vivid depictions of boyhood and the places that shaped in it made of photograph and pieces of fabric.
Words by Desmond Vincent