Art X Lagos: Contemporary African Art Exhibition

This weekend, 30 exhibitions by 65 artists and galleries from 10 African countries and the diaspora converged at The Civic Centre in Victoria Island, Lagos. From 4th to 6th November, the new contemporary art fair presented by Art X Lagos captivated African art collectors and connoisseurs as well as those with no inkling of art.

Visitors wishing to relive childhood memories or simply try their hands at art were treated to Karo Akpokiere’s seven-metre long colouring wall—a metonymic depiction of Lagos’s social class via references to the Island and the Mainland.

 Karo Akpokiere/ Protests in Lagos as Lagos Island Secedes from Lagos Mainland
Karo Akpokiere/ Protests in Lagos as Lagos Island Secedes from Lagos Mainland

While the fair’s theme Conversation Starters seemed broad if not redundant, since works of art naturally evoke conversation, it freed artists from having to choose a particular subject matter or form of art for their exhibition. Featured media included wood, Photoshop, metal, mosaics, water colour and concrete, with some artists like Obiora Anidi combining several forms to bring their ideas to life.

Anidi’s Shade’s of a Beauty… Work in Progress, a Janus-like bust composed of marble, concrete and metal, adopted the skin—a prominent identity marker—to continue an on-going conversation about beauty in a country where roughly 80 percent of women use bleaching creams. The lightened, variegated faces spoke to the deleterious effects of these creams on black skin.

Obiora Anidi/Shade’s of a Beauty… Work in Progress

His other work Anya Ike, Igbo for ‘axe’, composed entirely of marble, represented an oxymoron. Depending on the intentions of the wielder an axe could be used to build or to destroy, and it was that duality of purpose he explored to provoke questions about Nigeria’s leaders, the country’s current despondent state and what could become of it if its strengths were properly harnessed. 

Obiora Anidi/ Anya Ike

Contrast as a subject matter also featured in Ade Adekola’s art, which melded the past with the present, textures with patterns, hope with despair. His Yesterday, today: Bling your heritage, Pimp your Culture exhibit fused the past with the present in its rendering of the Ife Heads, one of Nigeria’s famous bronze sculptures, as gemstone mosaics bedazzled with diamond dust.

Ade Adekola/ Ife Heads

Adekola’s Flags and Conflicts; Insurgents and Belligerents piece considered the polarizing nature of the Nigeria-Biafra war, a war the Nigerian government has refused to fully address, by juxtaposing two dissimilar, concentric circles composed of the flags of countries that either supported Biafra or Nigeria. Under both images are the numbers 1,000,000 and 3,000,000, testaments to the number of lives lost per year and in total respectively. A studied look at the multi-layered circles revealed they’re not just snippets of a brutal war but mandalas, spiritual symbols representing the universe and the interplay of forces.

Ade Adekola/Flags and Conflicts; Insurgents and Belligerents
Ade Adekola/Flags and Conflicts; Insurgents and Belligerents
Another artist whose art played with contrast, albeit in a sarcastic manner, was Uche James Iroha. His stygian photographs told a tale of Nigeria’s depressing relationship with generators. In one, a man wearing a crown sits majestically on a throne of generators. 

In another titled Canon Ball: Anti Progress Machine, Nigeria’s arrested development was depicted with a leg shackled to a generator. Viewed together, Iroha’s photographs confronted viewers with the paradox of an oil-rich nation grappling with darkness and poverty.

All in all, the fair was visually rapturous and diverse if one ignored the uniformity of the crowd. But with visitors largely from the middle and upper class, Art X Lagos might want to start a conversation about attracting members of the lower class to their next exhibition.

Art X Lagos closes today. Tickets are free.

Lead photo: Courtesy of Stacy Reverro/Art X Lagos

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