19 events that shaped the arts, culture space in 2019

 

Creativity, as usual, blossomed in Nigeria’s culture sector in the outgoing year with players giving it their best efforts. Having learnt to survive with or without government support, stakeholders dug in to ensure that the sector thrived. There were the usual literary, music, visual arts and theatre productions. The major literary festivals including Lagos Book & Art Festival, Kaduna Book and Art Festival, Ake Arts and Book Festival and Lagos International Poetry Festival happened. It was the same with visual arts with Art-X, Enwonwu Lecture and auctions amongst others. Theatrical productions were abundant while some of the government-owned events, National Festival of Arts and International Arts and Craft Expo also happened. Felabration, AFRIMA, Livespot X, Lagos International Jazz Festival and others ensured music had quality representation. It wasn’t a bad showing and below are 19 of the standout events that shaped the culture space in 2019.

CBN, Bankers Committee Intervention on National Theatre

Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, disclosed on September 30 that the apex bank and the Bankers’ Committee would use N22 billion to revive the National Theatre.

Emefiele explained at the Creative Nigeria Summit in Lagos that the partners would release N22 billion to the creative industry and that the National Theatre is the pilot for the Creative Industries Park. Two other parks would be in Kano, Port Harcourt or Enugu. “We plan to develop a 40- acre Creative Industry Park around the National Theatre including giving the Theatre itself a tremendous facelift,” he had said.

Emefiele, Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, his deputy, Dr Obafemi Hamzat and Group Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Access Bank, Herbert Wigwe alongside others inspected the National Theatre, five days later.

Although there is opposition to the intervention from the Board of the National Theatre and a consortium that won the bid to redevelop it in 2015, Emefiele has assured that work would commence in January 2020.

Inauguration of Lagos Theatres

Before he left office in May, ex-Lagos State Governor, Akinwumi Ambode, inaugurated four out of the six community arts theatres his administration commenced building.

He had while campaigning in 2015 promised to create a new economy around Tourism, Hospitality, Entertainment and Sports. He had moved swiftly to fulfil this promise upon assumption of office by not only constructing the theatres but also commissioning several monumental arts across the metropolis. He similarly supported film and music. President Muhammadu Buhari inaugurated the Oregun Arts Theatre while Ambode inaugurated the others at Igando, Epe and Badagry. The theatres would make productions more accessible to the people once they become operational.

National Library launches app, simplifies collection of ISBN, ISSN

Book publishers, authors and others can now obtain International Standard Book Number and International Standard Serial Number from the National Library of Nigeria without stress following the launch of an app in May.

The app makes it easier for publishers, authors and other interested persons or organisations to apply for and obtain ISBN and ISSN for their publications within 24 hours, regardless of the time and their location, without necessarily having to visit any of the body’s offices physically.
The app is a significant relief for players in the publishing industry who find the process of obtaining ISBN/ISSN cumbersome, with people having to visit the National Library and wait for days.

Lion Heart’s Oscars Fiasco

The disqualification of ‘Lion Heart’, Nigeria’s first-ever Oscar submission for Best International Feature Film in November was an anti-climax.

The reconstituted Nigerian Oscars Selection Committee (NOSC), chaired by Chineze Anyaene, had gleefully announced the selection of the movie written and directed by Genevieve Nnaji following the vetting of entries from Nigerian filmmakers at home and in the Diaspora.

Anyaene said ‘Lionheart’ was picked for its considerable shots at the Oscars rules. “While we cannot say that what we have are the best that Nigeria is capable of producing, it is heart-lifting to know that, from the strength of the entries received this year, we are truly ready for the Oscars.”

But she and her committee members spoke too soon. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences disqualified ‘Lion Heart’. It disclosed in a mail that the movie did not have “a predominantly non-English dialogue track”, a crucial eligibility requirement. The 95-minute film is mainly in English, with an 11-minute section in the Igbo language. The fall out was ugly as Nigerians took the Selection Committee to task over its slapdash handling of the affair.

Return of Okukor/FG’s campaign on stolen artefacts

Efforts to recover Nigeria’s looted artefacts received a boost when Cambridge University’s Jesus College said it would repatriate a bronze cockerel to Nigeria.
The bronze, known as an ‘Okukor’, was looted in the 1897 Invasion of Benin and was bequeathed to Jesus College in 1930 by a former British Army officer.
In 2016 it was removed from display, and the Legacy of Slavery Working Party (LSWP) recommended it be returned.
Related to this was the announcement by the Federal Government that it was coming after foreign countries keeping stolen artefacts from Nigeria using all available legal and diplomatic means.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, revealed the government’s decision in Lagos at the launch of a campaign for the return of stolen Nigerian artefacts.
Mohammed explained that Nigeria was relying on UNESCO and ECOWAS Article 4 of the UNESCO 1970 Convention, to which most nations subscribe, to ensure all stolen items are returned to the country. These were heartwarming developments considering the high number of Nigeria’s looted artefacts.

 Zaria Art Society: Celebration of Legacies

The art exhibition by Arthouse Contemporary was a historic gathering in Lagos for the ‘Zaria Rebels’. The show at Kia Showroom, Victoria Island, Lagos from October 27 to November 15, happened 59 years after some of the artists had their first group art show in Lagos.
The artists were Yusuf Grillo, Demas Nwoko, Emmanuel Odita, Simon Okeke (1937-1969), Uche Okeke (1933-2016), Bruce Onobrakpeya and Oseloka Osadebe. They were all members of Zaria Art Society from Nigerian College of Art, Science and Technology (NCAST),

Some had previously exhibited in 1960 in a show facilitated by the then Art Council, under the chair, Babatunde Majekodunmi and secretary, Michael Crowther. The show was held at the Art Pavilion of Trade Fair, Victoria Island, Lagos, and organised to mark Nigeria’s Independence in October 1960. As final year students of NCAST then, the select young artists were asked to decorate the cover ways for the fair and were also allowed to exhibit their works with the founder of modern Nigerian art, Aina Onabolu and other modernists like Ben Enwonwu and Akinola Lasekan. Fittingly, the Ahmadu Bello University-based Prof. Jerry Buhari curated the Arthouse show.

Flopped 2019 ANA Convention 

For the first time in its 38-year history, the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) failed to hold its national election. Founders of the organisation including the late Professor Chinua Achebe must have turned in his grave at the shameful conduct of writers, supposed intellectuals in their desperation for power at the meeting held in Enugu. The bitterness that had been allowed to creep into national politics, sadly, seeped into the affairs of the umbrella body of writers such that it is presently ‘headless’. The Enugu Convention, touted as ‘Homecoming’ because the maiden edition of the annual meeting held in the state 38 years ago, was a fiasco. The writers, who sermonise about the activities of politicians, should hide their heads in shame for throwing dignity to the winds in their quest for power.

Golden Jubilee of Village Headmaster

It was supposed to happen in 2018, but efforts only coalesced in 2019 for the Golden Jubilee of the popular TV series. With ‘Sustaining our Heritage’ as its theme, the celebration featured appearances and talk shows on radio and TV, roundtable at Freedom Park, and a command performance.
Acclaimed as Nigeria’s first and longest-running TV drama series, ‘Village Headmaster’ started as a radio programme in Ibadan, Western Nigeria in 1958 with the late Chief Segun Olusola as creator and producer.
It debuted on TV in 1968 under the direction of Sanya Dosunmu, now the Olowu of Owu Kingdom, Ogun State. Dosunmu and other producers and scriptwriters including Dejumo Lewis, the inimitable Uncle Ted Mukoro, Demola James, Fela Davies, Nelson Olawaye and Alex Akinyele, turned it into a toast of Nigerians. But sadly, most of the original works have been reported lost over the years because of poor archiving practices. The anniversary was a worthy celebration that further allowed players in movie and TV productions take stock and chart a path forward.

Enlistment of more Nigerian sites on the World Heritage Sites list

On December 17, the Federal Government disclosed that it is planning to enlist more Nigerian sites on the World Heritage Sites list. The Osun Grove, inscribed in 2005, is one of Nigeria’s two world heritage sites with the other being the Sukur Cultural Landscape in Adamawa State.
The additional sites being considered for enlistment are the Ancient Kano City Walls, Brazilian Baracoon Museum/Point Of No Return in Badagry, and ‘Igbo Olodumare’ in Oke-Igbo, Ile Oluji Axis of Ondo State.
The other two were the Gashaka-Gumti National Park, Nigeria’s largest national park located in the eastern provinces of Taraba and Adamawa close to the border with Cameroon and the Ogbunike Caves in Anambra State.

Award of 9mobile Prize for Literature

After more than a year’s wait, Nigerian writer, Ayobami Adebayo, was finally unveiled as the winner of the 2018 9mobile Prize for Literature, the most prestigious literature prize for first-time fiction writers of African origin in August.
Adebayo won the Prize with her novel, ‘stay With Me’. She received £15,000 and a Montblanc Meisterstück pen among several other rewards.
However, it is not sure that the Prize would continue given the financial difficulties of the sponsors, 9mobile. The ‘revolt’ by the Prize’s Board of Patrons who resigned their appointments’ with immediate effect’ before the emergence of the winner further muddied the waters.
The patrons include Ama Ata Aidoo, Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, Margaret Busby, Sarah Ladipo Manyika, Zakes Mda and Dele Olojede.

It would be a shame if the Prize was rested because of its acceptance in Nigeria and Africa.

2nd Fagunwa Conference in Akure

Six years after its first international conference to mark the 50th anniversary of the passing of Yoruba author and educationist, Daniel Olorunfemi Fagunwa in Akure, Ondo State, the Fagunwa Study Group (FSG) returned to the city in 2019.
The group comprising scholars and intellectuals mainly of Yoruba origin honoured Professor Wole Soyinka, who clocked 85 in July, alongside Fagunwa with another conference themed ‘Wole Soyinka, D.O. Fagunwa and the Yoruba Artistic Heritage’ from August 7 to 11.
It was a roll call of eminent scholars at the celebration of the foremost figures in 20th-century Nigerian and African literature at the conference partly supported by the Ondo State Government. Professors Adeleke Adeeko and Moradewun Adejunmobi (keynote speakers), RopoSekoni, Olufemi Taiwo, Remi Raji-Oyelade, Wumi Raji, Tunde Babawale, Gbemisola Remi Adeoti, ChimaAnyadike and Dele Layiwola were at the nourishing intellectual feast. There were also Doctors Akin Adesokan, Ogaga Ifowodo, Bisi Adigun, Ainehi Edoro Glines and Tunji Azeez. The Executive Editor of TheNews/PM News, Kunle Ajibade and writer Molara Wood also attended. The conference opened with a screening of Tunde Kelani’s ‘Sidi Ilujinle’, an adaptation of Prof Soyinka’s ‘The Lion and the Jewel’.

Cardi B’s visit

The weekend of early December when singer and actress, Belcalis Almánzar, aka Cardi B, came to Lagos generated a lot of buzz for the host city and country globally. The artist recognised by Forbes as one of the most influential female rappers spent about three days in Lagos and gave ringing endorsements to the city by sharing photographs with her over 55 million Instagram fans. She further won hearts by wearing a green and white outfit, the Nigerian national colours at the concert where she performed.
With over 55 million Instagram followers whom she shared her time in Lagos with, Cardi B took the endorsement of host cities to a greater height. She has arguably attracted more attention to Lagos than any other personality or event in 2019.

Impart Artists Fair
The maiden Impart Artists Fair held in October at Alpha One, Eko Atlantic was a unique exhibition that featured 300 African artists and 1000 artworks. With ‘Art Meets Tech’ as its theme, it was refreshingly different from other shows as it used technology to showcase the incredible talents of African artists.
Organised by Lasmara Arts Consultancy, the fair featured contemporary works and immersive technology like virtual and augmented reality that enabled guests and enthusiasts to enjoy art more experientially. From soundless discussion panels to screening on virtual reality, technology was an integral part of the exhibition.

Season of Musicals

Since Uche Nwokedi and Bolanle Austen-Peters blazed the trail with ‘Kakadu’ and ‘Saro’ some years ago, the Yuletide and first week of the New Year have become Nigeria’s season of musicals.
It’s the same this year with no less than six running. They are ‘Moremi Reloaded’, ‘Ada’, ‘Mamma Mia’, ‘Fela’s Republic and Kalakuta Queens’, ‘Bintu’ and ‘OMG’ among others. Going from what’s happening this year, it appears the musical fad (and bandwagon effect) will still stay with us for a few more years.

Inauguration of EbonyLife Place

Media mogul, Mo Abudu, recorded another milestone on December 8 when she opened the doors to her EbonyLife Place at Victoria Island, Lagos. The edifice includes a luxury cinema and lifestyle resort, restaurants, VIP lounges and a boutique hotel. It was also the day she premiered her latest movie, ‘Your Excellency’. What makes Abudu’s achievement outstanding is that it’s a first by any female media entrepreneur. Though Bolanle Austen-Peters opened her TerraArena some years back, Abudu’s EbonyLife Place is grander and set to play essential roles in the culture/entertainment space. That’s apart from allowing the goal-getter consolidate her empire in a single building and inspire others.

Runsewe VS Bobrisky

You would typically expect the Chief Executive of a vital culture parastatal like the National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC) to focus on more edifying cultural matters. It is however not so with Otunba Segun Runsewe. His somewhat unhealthy interest in the cross-dresser, Bobrisky (Idris Okuneye) was a cause for concern and mirth. It detracted from the good works he did with NCAC’s flagship programmes, NAFEST and INAC in Benin City and the Federal Capital Territory respectively.

The NCAC Boss declared war on the cross-dresser, causing his birthday party to be disrupted by the police. He also described him as “a serious health hazard for Nigeria and Nigerians. The health hazard Bobrisky has is worse than Ebola Virus Disease,” in what was overkill. The belief is that he would achieve more if he focused on his job and leave the young ‘it’ alone.

NUTAF held outside the varsity 

For the first time in its 38-year history, the Nigerian Universities Theatre Arts Festival (NUTAF) held outside its traditional venue- a university. Theatre Arts students from 33 Nigerian universities converged on the National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos from October 20 to 26 for a special edition of NUTAF hosted by the National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP) in association with the Nigerian Universities Theatre Arts Students Association (NUTASA) and the Society of Nigerian Theatre Artists (SONTA). The National Theatre, MTNNG, Zmirage and Airriya also supported the festival which debuted in 1981.

Importantly, it exposed the students to a more professional environment of theatrical presentations, particularly the technical aspects. It also afforded the town and gown to meet to deepen the academic and practice mix further.

For Igbinovia, honour at last

Nigeria rarely appreciates her heroes, so the case of Pa Joseph Alufa Igbinovia, the carver of FESTAC ’77 mask, Queen Idia didn’t come as a surprise. He was unsung for 42 years until Thursday, December 11, when the National Gallery of Art (NGA) held a double celebration- exhibition and book presentation- in his honour.
Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed explained at the event that the government is beginning a process of change in the celebration of Nigerian heroes with the honour done Igbinovia. We hope the government lives up to its word.

High mortality

2019 was annus horribilis for the arts community as over a dozen creatives passed away. Leading lights in literature, music, visual and performance arts, transitioned into glory.

Founder of the Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA), Lagos, Bisi Silva; Professor Pius Adesanmi; the Curator and art critic, Okwui Enwezor, and the General Manager/Chief Executive Officer of the National Theatre, Dr (Mrs) Stella Moroundia Oyedepo, all departed. Others include veteran filmmaker, Eddie Ugbomah; editor, feminist and activist, Professor Molara Ogundipe; dramatist, director, singer and choreographer, Nicholas Babajide Ogungbade, and one of the leading contemporary artists, David Herbert Dale.

There was also leading art collector and owner of Nkem Gallery, Frank Okonta, ace broadcaster, Otunba Kunle Olasope; Kehinde Lijadu, the Louise Durham Mead Professor of English, African, and African Diaspora cultural studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, US, Tejumola Olaniyan; Chris Hanen and Samuel Alabi Oludayo Akinpelu, popularly known as Alabi Yellow.

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