With more than fifty artists exhibiting their works at the ongoing Calabar Christmas festival, Cross River is rightly regarded as artistic and cultural state in Nigeria.
Christmas festivities may be on in different parts of the world but Calabar remains the preferred destination. Why? There is no dull moment for the 32 days of the festival. Everyday is full of activities that engage fun lovers, arrest the attention of lovers of culture and keep music lovers on their toes. Now art exhibition has entered the programme to stimulate the interest of members of the public in the creative industry.
Ever since the Calabar International Festival (CALIFEST) became a dot on the map, it has never wanted for ideas on how to make it tick. Innovation has remained the driving force of this yuletide event. Thus, every year, new events are added to the bouquet of activities of the festival to make it more interesting. The latest is art exhibition by 50 members of the Art Galleries Association of Nigeria.
Man's search for naturalistic explanations for phenomena gave birth to science. His impressionistic representation of his environment and things on it brought forth art. Art work beyond its beauty shows the creative talent of the artist portraying him as a human camera. This talent was in vogue before the invention of still camera and remains relevant till date.
For the Calabar Festival, mounting art exhibition is one event that is pulling crowd. Revelers at the Calabar Christmas Village have a corner to feed their eyes. For the first time in the history of the festival, an art exhibition of different drawings and colours is dominating events at the village. One man is behind this innovation. He is Mr. Richmond Ogolo of The Art and Antique Barn, Lagos and Vice President, Art Galleries Association of Nigeria.
Ogolo, a lawyer by training and artist by vocation is a man of eclectic creativity. He is one man known for his depiction of everyday objects, such as collection of arts and painting. In the last 20 years, he has been into art, creating impression on canvas and earning a living from it. His works and their exhibitions in Lagos and beyond have made him become a household name in the Nigerian art industry.
In an interview with THISDAY in Calabar, ogolo said members of the association were mounting the exhibition in support of the Cross River State Government tourism drive. According to him, "Cross River is developing a tourism-based economy and art tourism is one of the things we are naturally qualified to develop. If we have exhibitions that are famous internationally, people will sell, be gainfully employed while hoteliers will record high patronage. So with little investment, you can make money as long as you are creative."
The exhibition which commenced on December 10, 2012, he explained, is a home coming exercise. This is because Calabar is the birth place of Nigerian arts.
"Cross River State in the past won back to back the national arts festival. It is inevitable that we revisit that past glory. When you develop fine arts, it awakens music, industrial arts etc. Also, Cross River has shown that it is one of the most advanced in strategic planning."
"The Calabar Festival is a magnifying art expression. We are coming into the festival because the Cross River State Government is 'notorious' for human conditions and finding ways to develop and explore the aspirations of its people and also it was inevitable that at some point it would look at art from that critical point of view if it is going to advance cultural and international engagements," he said.
Ogolo believes that there is nothing special about his presence in Calabar as everybody is a creative person. "What is happening at the festival is a manifestation of government's intention to advance education, culture and commerce. The state government is exploring all avenues to earn revenue and thus make its citizens happy through the provision of infrastructure and social amenities. Art too can generate money for the government if encouraged and developed."
On what will be exhibited, the vice president intoned: "for this maiden edition, we intend to highlight what Nigerian artists have done over the years in order to determine the point where we are creatively endowed. So emphasis is being placed on getting art works across the country so that local artists and enthusiasts can develop a sense of aspiration to create excellence".
"Works for the exhibition are also drawn from local collectors in order to highlight their existence. The idea behind this is to motivate other would be collectors. We are trying to stimulate creativity but appreciation from the immediate community is important. We have collected works from local artists and given them credit," he stated.
"What happens after 2012 exhibition? It's an annual exhibition but the focus is on local talents and structures for art entrepreneurship," he added. Commenting on the patronage rate of Nigerian art exhibitions, he explained that though the economic condition of the country must be taken into consideration, the patronage by Nigerians was quite robust. The international community too is beginning to take notice of the development in the creative industry generally. "This brings us to a level where we start developing concrete structures for valuation and appreciation," he added.
On how the international community rates the works of Nigerian artists at international exhibitions, Ogolo harped on the need for Nigerian artists to improve their academic integrity. He noted sadly that unlike in the industrialised world where there is huge investment in the art industry, Nigeria is yet to do so. He appealed to government, the organised private sector and lovers of arts to invest in the sector. Art, the vice president maintained, has multiple uses. "There is no design that is not a product of art work. Textile, mechanical, electrical works etc are all designed from arts. With time, art can make you become financially independent, take our youths away from social vices, engage them creatively because with one design you can become rich. Art can easily create self-employment." Has Ogolo abandoned law practice? No. Law to him is like a monologue of laws and conventions. "We rehearse laws for the organization of the society whereas art is a personal thing and deals more with personal expression and feeling," he said.
Members of his association staged exhibitions as the need arises. Any organisation that has a view point to express, the association does not hesitated to rise to the occasion.
Visitors to the art exhibition have continued to pour encomiums on the works on display.
A glance at the note book provided by the exhibitors for their opinion say it all.
To Mrs. Janet B Tom, the "art works are good" while the management of Mano Nursery/Primary School, Calabar simply described the exhibition as "very lovely. Bravo". Olawole Jafiju said the exercise was wonderful.
Evong Samuel in his comment observed that the art collections were "great talents, great works" while Dr. Eghali Egekor saw them as "talents at its best, wonderful". Bayo Oyewole described the works as "awesome" and Jason Lee as "great collection"
Miss Akpala Beatrice of Cross River Broadcasting Corporation [CRBC] saw the display as "great and outstanding works with Blessing Akpan blown away by what she saw. And to Mambi Madzivire the works are "wonderful collection, great to see such talents on display". Sophie Robinson- "fantastic exhibition" and Richard Birks "excellent works." Visitors to the exhibition included Nigerians and foreigners.