November 19, (THEWILL) – For the first time, Lagos Book and Arts Festival collaborated with Cartoonists Association of Nigeria in a never-before-seen exhibition at Freedom Park on Broad Street Lagos. THEWILL was there. Michael Jimoh reports…
If you needed proof that a picture tells a thousand words, the just-concluded Lagos Book and Arts Festival (LABAF) at Freedom Park would have been an ideal place to go. Mounted at Kongi’s Harvest Gallery on Tuesday November 14 were several dozen art works by Nigerian cartoonists covering a variety of subjects ranging from the February presidential poll to its aftermath, fuel subsidy removal down to the ongoing war between Israel and Gaza.
Ranged round the pristine walls of the hall from the ground floor and then upstairs, many of the cartoons tell stories viewers are quite familiar with: A mean-looking, uniformed imposing figure gun-butting a defenseless and crouching civilian wearing a cap with the colour of the Nigerian flag evokes memories of the October 2020 Endsars uprising; four supplicants – all of them male – kneeling before a door marked Chatham House and declaiming “We come seeking your validation” is clear enough; another sketch shows the sleeve of a jacket with the tricolors of a European country juggling a loosening string tied to Africa.
Still on the continent, one cartoon depicts a figure in an Oriental outfit throwing grains to a cockerel inching ever so dangerously close to an open iron cage. The raging war in the Middle East is not glossed over either. One cartoon references the epic confrontation between David and Goliath in the OT now rendered as a smaller but equally plucky Israel challenging an Almighty Hamas.
Viewers who have followed recent trends and happenings in the world come off with a feeling of history presented at a glance and from different perspectives. President of Cartoonists Association of Nigeria Dada Adekola of “Mr & Mrs” fame has some cartoons on display. He is Group Cartoon Editor of a newspaper readers browse his daily cartoons right on the cover.
Also known for his “Sarge” cartoon strips in weekend Vanguard, one of Adekola’s entry on show is of the major four presidential candidates preparing for the race to Aso Villa. Foreseeing the obstacles for all of them, the artist has the contestants in a sack with INEC chairman as the umpire a throwback to the sack race of yore.
Mustapha Bulama of Daily Trust also has a cartoon on the four presidential wannabes this time kneeling down before a door marked Chatham House for validation. Bulama’s is sarcastic in the sense that he is questioning the rationale behind Nigerian politicians looking for endorsement from the country’s former colonial master. The Secretary General of CARTAN is Victor Asowata of THEWILL. In vivid red and ominous black, Asowata’s contribution is of a complacent Nigerian being tortured by a uniformed man.
Chief Editorial Artist of Business Day Mike Asuquo, Albert Ohams and Erapi Gabriel of The Sun, Leke Moses and dozens of others participated in the first-ever collabo of its kind with LABAF aptly titled “Drawing Attention.”
It is CARTAN’s maiden edition of exhibition with LABAF, Adekola confirmed to THEWILL, adding that it was also the first time people are seeing that number of cartoons in one location. Shortly before speaking with this newspaper, Adekola in his capacity as president of CARTAN showed guests around the mounts, explaining to them circumstances behind limning some of them.
The very first on one row is of longtime art patron and Didi Museum owner Chief Newton Jibunoh who happened to be the chairman of the exhibition itself. The portrait shows a younger Jibunoh standing beside an orange coloured beetle car recalling his famous trip across the Sahara Desert years ago. Next to it is a portrait of one of the grandees of art, Kolade Osinowo palette and brush in hand standing before an easel. Osinowo himself is one of the prominent voices of the Zaria school and a major painter in the country.
Of the exhibition itself, Adekola says the previous executive officers of CARTAN had done some ground work before. “I decided to work on the contacts when I came in as president.” Thankfully, his Sec Gen Asowata made contact with Freedom Park through Sola Brown. From then on everything went swimmingly. It was as if the organisers of LABAF and CARTAN were tailor-made for each other.
“We thought of renting a hall at Freedom Park for the exhibition,” the creator of Mr & Mrs told the newspaper. “We were discouraged when we heard the price. It was not something we could afford because we had a lean purse.”
But then, understanding CARTAN’s financial situation, the CEO of Freedom Park Mrs Aboaba stepped in and “suggested we could do a collabo with LABAF. That was it. We did not pay any dime for the space we are using now for the exhibition. I can say we had fun.”
Those who had the most fun were the dozens of students who not only acted as willing learners to Adekola’s cicerone but also listened to a workshop on the importance of documenting and keeping record of works of art by the artists themselves.
Jahman Anikulapo, one of the founders of LABAF and CORA, the other being Toyin Akinosho, naturally introduced this session, giving an inkling of what it would be about – the need for artists to keep record of finished works to avoid problems with patrons, dealers, buyers, galleries and the like. On hand to give expert advice were Jibunoh himself as chairman, Osinowo as keynote speaker, with Duke Asidere, Kunle Adeyemi and Juliet Ezenwa-Pearce as panelists.
Given that some artists are not as meticulous in record keeping as accountants, the theme “Artists: Where Are Your Works?” also seemed apt enough. Jahman gave an instance of a Nigerian master painter whose art works were being auctioned in an American gallery without the knowledge of the artist in question. There are many instances of artists hard done by in contractual agreements. Some care little about Terms of Reference with patrons, dealers and collectors. The result, most times, is of uncaring and long-suffering painters left holding the short end of the stick. But with more care, all that would change for good for artists.
Though a patron and collector Jibunoh enthused on why artists should be the first protectors of their own creations. Jibunoh started collecting art works as a young man, he told his listeners. As a choir boy, he saw missionaries burn what was considered idolatrous pieces, hundreds of them. But by the time he got to London as a student, he saw some of the best artifacts the looters took to museums and galleries in the city. When he returned to Nigeria, he started collecting art works, meticulously detailing when collected, how much he paid and from who.
In his telling, that was the beginning of what would become Didi Museum in later years.
As moderator, painter and sculptor Mufu Onifade, had his tale of woe about not keeping record of artworks or even keeping track of them. Once, families of an artist asked him to curate an exhibition at two venues. Of course, you can’t curate a show without something to show. So, he demanded for some works to put on display. Alas, the family couldn’t get more than one work of art for the said exhibition. Confronted with that situation, Mufu asked guests at Kongi’s Harvest Gallery that afternoon rhetorically: How do you mount one work in an exhibition at two venues?
Osinowo, a master painter former Head of Department of Fine and Applied Art Yaba College of Technology Lagos, took up Onifade’s poser when he made his case for not only keeping record but also having clearly defined roles for artists in relation to patrons. “Do we have legislation on this?” Osinowo pointedly asked. “Or are we just producing so we can eat?”
The theme itself is “very germane,” Osinowo averred, insisting that “we are making progress.” He also described patrons as “very valuable, respected and acknowledged” because without them an artist amounts to not much. Osinowo however mentioned areas of conflict between patrons and artists as follows: Patrons refusing to pay for commissioned works; patrons violating copyright issues and even encouraging artists to plagiarise works by other artists.
Artists too are not without blame, Osinowo declared, citing instances of artists collecting money upfront and not delivering. “It is unacceptable because it burns bridges.”
There are also issues with artists pricing their works, urging them to document works with lawyers so they can “keep track in cases of dispute and provenance.” When artists document, Osinowo suggested, they are likely to know the movement of their works. If, for instance, an original buyer goes into distress, he may decide to sell the works to other buyers.
For Ezenwa-Pearce, keeping record of artworks shouldn’t be the concern of their creators. “I do not believe or agree that artists have to do the job of documentation,” she said, insisting that the artist “has no control over where and how his/ her works are going because the art that has come out is a message.”
Collectors are better suited for documentation, she said, and not the artists who after wrestling the beast down through his/ her depiction on canvas will have to begin the tedious process of documenting and keeping track of works that have left the studio.
It will be out of place to say that such disagreements have no place in art. For one, it is not a profession dictated by formulas. There are several different interpretations on and about art, bringing to mind Oscar Wilde’s famous quip that “when critics disagree the artist is in accord with himself.”
Such was the feeling at Kongi’s Harvest Gallery that afternoon when spontaneous and not obligatory applause broke from the guests when the speakers and panelists ended. For LABAF and CARTAN, it seemed to presage the beginning of collabo that is sure to carry on for some time to come.