Bracing for the MARVEL Moment

An upwardly mobile art gallery, with a long tradition for supporting emerging local artists, returns to its usual Abuja venue, the lobby of the Transcorp Hiton Hotel with an exhibition featuring 18 artists, Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports.

Exhibitions, as platforms, do indeed define an artist’s career. Ditto for the coterie of artists featuring at the Marvel Arts exhibition opening on Saturday, June 14, at the Transcorp Hilton in Abuja. Hence the exhibition’s title, The Defining Moment: Modern & Contemporary Art couldn’t have been more appropriate.

On until Monday, June 30, it displays 115 paintings by 18 of the local art scene’s promising artists. The paintings, which were culled from the Marvel Arts private collection, take the viewer on a visual excursion through the creative trail of these artists since 2002. Indeed, the art promoting outfit run by the Anambra state-born Chukwudi Onwudiwe preens itself on the fact that it has not only weaned most of these artists from their creative cradle, but has also supported their evolution in the talent-glutted visual arts scene through regular patronage.

“I have the responsibility of liaising and negotiating with artists” said Onwudiwe, who doubles as the outfit’s curator and director, in an interview at his residence in Omole Phase One, an Ikeja, Lagos fringe neighbourhood. He continued, “This is especially the case with emerging artists and because of my dedication and effectual approach, a few of them are receiving attention and acknowledgement. Also through innovative marketing and organising art fairs, salons and exhibitions, we have projected, championed and provided visibility and sales of their works”. First, expect paintings by the usual suspects: Fidel Oyiogu, Nelson Okoh, Awoyemi Ajibade, Damola Adepoju, Okey Ibeabuchi, Norbert Okpu, Joel Otudedor and Godwin Adesoye. They have become staples of the biannual Marvel Arts fairs at Abuja’s Transcorp Hilton Hotel lobby and will be at the forthcoming exhibition.

Onwudiwe also reeled out names like Tyna Adebowale, Aina Felix, Akhile Ehiforia, Soji Yoloye, Seye Morakinyo, Sylvester Aigbogun, Abayomi Sokenu, Lucky Isaiah and Akintoye Segun-Shiigo as artists whose works aficionados should expect to see at the two-week show. Granted none of these artists may yet be classified as ‘frontline’. Still, quite a number of them have sufficiently paid their dues and distinguished themselves in a scene swarming with new talents. Take Fidel Oyiogu, for instance. The artist, who honed his draughtsmanship skills as a cartoonist with The Champion Newspaper in the 1980s, has already featured in major group exhibitions outside Nigeria.

Only last year, between June and September to be precise, the Institute of Management and Technology (IMT), Enugu graduate toured Germany, Austria and The Netherlands with an exhibition of his recent works. Oyiogu’s obvious romance with Uli symbols are eloquent testimonies of his student years at Enugu.His unique rendition of feminine forms and intense use of colours endeared him to leading art collectors like Chief Rasheed Gbadmosi and Omooba Yemisi Shyllon. Then, consider Godwin Adesoye’s experimental but restrained approach to painting. The artist’s deft use of charcoal in his compositions is an ode to his draughtsmanship. The Ogun State-based artist has also recently shown his works to the public at Life House, Victoria Island, Lagos.

Equally visible in the exhibition circuit is the artist, Norbert Okpu. The Yaba College of Technology, Lagos graduate artist had wormed his way to the hearts of aficionados through his delightfully eclectic forms and has featured at various group exhibitions in Lagos since 2006. His works have also been shown relatively recently at the Omenka Gallery in Ikoyi, Lagos and at a gallery in New York, USA. Joel Otuedor, an artist with a predilection for nude paintings, was one of the dozen artists, who made up the Trybes Art Gallery’s 2011 group exhibition, titled ‘Art by Contemporary Masters’. The Auchi Polytechnic graduate has no doubt become one of the Marvel Arts favoured artists.

Ditto Okey Ibeabuchi, who prominently featured at the 2008 Henry Moweta Gallery’s group exhibition, Arts & Objects. A University of Nigeria, Nsukka graduate, Ibeabuchi had a brief stint as a graphic artist before taking a headlong plunge into full-time studio practice. His use of repurposed objects such as jutes, empty paint tube tops, cones, plastic bottle covers, discarded rubber slippers and decaying wood create a delightful 3D effect on his canvas. Add to this, his love for colours which harks back to his background as a graphic artist.

Then, there is Damola Adepoju, arguably one of Marvel Arts’ favoured ones. He belongs to De Factori Studio, an art collective, consisting mainly of starry-eyed members, who would paint as though they invented impressionism. He had his training at the Institute of Textile Technology, Art & Design in Lagos, where he graduated with a Higher National Diploma. Predictably, Tyna Adebowale, the only female artist in the lot, is drawn to issues bordering on gender. Among the two recent exhibitions she featured in were The Maker: New Contemporaries at the African Artists Foundations premises in Ikoyi, Lagos in 2013 and The Archive: Static, Embodied, Practiced, at the third International Art Programme in Accra, Ghana, where she concluded an MFA programme.

The coming exhibition fits into Marvel Arts’ long-term vision of promoting Nigerian and African art in both traditional and contemporary form. It is a credit to the gallery that this event has elicited the interest of the Nigerian-born international art collector, Sokpiri Graham-Douglas. This indicates a growing interest among private collectors to support the growth of the industry. “By providing assistance to professional and emerging artists in Africa and granting support to international exhibitions and community outreach programmes, Marvel Arts views the contribution to a strong cultural landscape in Africa as a transformative element in driving social change”, said Onwudiwe. As a company it aims to provide African artists with a UK base in which to display their creative endeavours, transferring the same initiative the business currently coordinates in Nigeria.

The University of Salford (UK) LLM holder in international business law and regulation has a five-year expansion plan for his company’s premises, which already operates from both Lagos and Abuja. As part of our strategic expansion policy, we would like to expand Marvel Arts by introducing a London based gallery in addition to that in Manchester. Marvel Arts has so far collaborated with local and international organisations to host exhibitions. Among these organisations is the International Cervical Cancer Screening Group of the UCL Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Institute for Women’s Health, with which it partnered to host an art auction to raise funds to support a cervical cancer screening programme in Nigeria. This was on March 22, 2007 at the Royal Society of Medicine, London.

The gallery also partnered with the Medical Association of Nigerian Specialists and General Practitioners in The British Isles to host an exhibition for MANSAG 2006 Autumn Conference in Sheffield, UK from October 27 to 29 in 2006. Its past bi-annual art fairs at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel lobby have been graced by such dignitaries as the Co-ordinating Minister for the economy, Prof. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and the Rwandan-born African Development Bank president, Donald Kaberuka, among others.

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