Nigerian Art Community, WYD?


Once upon a time Nigerian art got hit with hype. The Cinderella rags to riches hype established countries can only dream about. It had happened in the past with Agriculture, Oil, even Tech now art. Art was a thing and it was cool. The slew of galleries and readings and workshops and, to some extent…


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Once upon a time Nigerian art got hit with hype. The Cinderella rags to riches hype established countries can only dream about. It had happened in the past with Agriculture, Oil, even Tech now art. Art was a thing and it was cool. The slew of galleries and readings and workshops and, to some extent discourse, increased.

But being Nigerians, we took a good thing, blew it out of proportion, abandoned critical thinking and languished in our fantasies that we were going to be the prettiest girl at the ball forever. Even Cinderella doesn’t get that privilege. In, Into The Wood, prince charming clarifies, I’m charming, not faithful.

Last week, the Nigerian team returned from Venice, Italy the site of one of the world’s most famed and important art exhibits, The Venice Biennale. The event a biannual Olympic-esque display of art features on average 155 countries every two years. It also spawned the architectural Biennale that has established itself as the world’s premier architectural exhibit.

This year marked Nigeria’s official debut at the biennale. In previous years, Nigeria had participated in the architectural pavilion, a subset of the event. As the PR Venice team concisely over-flogged to us via social media, this is a big deal. History making antics the likes of which have never been accomplished till now. The fruit of years of work.

We are familiar with this narrative, that one that makes comparisons to the continent of Africa doing things synonymous to ascending, climbing, the one that featured the snatzy cover on The Economist. That PR maneuver that sadly is an overcompensation for the sorry state of the arts in Nigeria.

Nigeria is growing inarguably, but development is a far up the untarred road. The country’s debut in Venice in many ways exemplifies how far we have come and how much we are yet to accomplish. The aftermath of this event finally brings to light important and critical questions we must ask ourselves as lover and advocates for the art. We need to put more effort into growing and reduce the innate capacity we have to pointless promote underqualified work. If we are to go global and stay global, we need to reconsider many of our decisions.

Only in Nigeria will an art lover declare themselves curator after taking two courses abroad. Only in Nigeria will people with zero formal training and no inclination to seek educational improvement in other forms will present themselves as experts because they have the loudest voices.

The Nigerian Pavillion in Venice, was titled How About Now, described as shedding light on Nigeria in the 21st century by depicting the journey from past to future. It exhibited the works of three artists, a writer and painter, a contemporary dancer and a trained architect and sculptor.

The works are fine, decent largely, maybe even in the case of Ms Alatise an alumnus of a residency at the Smithsonian transcendent, but in the case of the biennale this is where the questions stopped. How About Now supposedly examines the effects of the transitory nature Nigeria has undergone yet a simple google search of the pavilion only brings up CNN and Artnet articles that give hard news-by the numbers-base descriptions of the pavilion. No analysis no reviews, no further discussions or think pieces, not from the Nigerian team nor outside participants.

Rather we have a social media celebration. The equivalent of a ball point pen jabbed again and again at the Nigerian consciousness to remind Nigerians that we are making history. A commendable effort but what are we making said history with? Where is the breakdown of context where are the essays taking apart reconstructing and furthering discourse on the team. Where are the reductive pop entertainment pieces, where are the damn listicles?


What garnered headlines were the completely unrelated accusations on appropriation from another more established artist, and the endless debate to determine who has rights to produce what? In the middle of it was the PR and communications team still bamboozling us with wild selfies and relentless washing reminding us yet again that we made history and giving us nothing past that.

In a brief conversation with a member of the Venice team, the person expressed one sentiment. “I think that they needed to attend the biennale, if for nothing else but to develop a sense of humility and understand that we as a country still remain very far from impeccable artistic development.” A few exceptional stories do not count or make a continent great.

Somebody kill the Africa rising narrative now. If we don’t, the least we can demand is for a reexamination of our priorities. If we put in as much work as the PR machine propagating our supposed ascendancy perhaps in a decade or two we can put money where our large mouths are.




  1. Adaku
    Nice perspective and a pungent reminder that we still have a lot of work to do. Sadly, the goal of social media is the aim for many, and is a seductive one at that.
  2. Funmi Ogunlusi
    I think this is a bit unfair, given that different elements of this issue have different roles to play. For instance, the conveners of the exhibition are likely to be on the PR side of things and, having worked in PR, would have been focused on staying on message, i.e. “making history”. The analysis/breakdown etc should be down to journalists and/or commentators, whom I would argue are largely absent because there is little or no demand for such. How many Nigerians want to sit and listen to (let alone read) a robust critique of modern art?

    I don’t think the team should be blamed for simply promoting the event since executing it and raising awareness of it is pretty much their remit. The wider issue of why the awareness was raised in such a superficial way – without deeper engagement – can’t be attributed to one party, since it is a reflection of our wider attitudes towards art and how seriously we take it.

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