Despite the economic challenges across Africa, the 2023 edition of Art X Lagos — an international art fair that showcases innovative contemporary and modern art by African artists — recorded a huge success, Tokini Peterside-Schwebig, the founder of Art X Lagos, tells The Africa Report.
10 art galleries and more than 30 artists were listed to present their works to the public between 2-5 November in Lagos. Art X Cinema, with 15 filmmakers, also premiered.
“We were very pleased to see the results at this year’s fair, I will definitely say the results surpassed our expectations,” Peterside-Schwebig says. “And we were encouraged by what we saw from collectors and galleries overall.”
The harsh economic climate meant that two of the galleries were unable to make it to this year’s edition. However, the ones who did “sold very well,” Peterside-Schwebig says.
“In some cases, some galleries sold out.”
Eight years running
Debuting in 2016, Art X Lagos has since grown to become a global showpiece, bringing together about 100 leading international galleries and over 500 artists to showcase their works to local and foreign audiences.
This year’s edition — the eighth in the series — recorded more international visitors than ever before, Peterside-Schwebig says.
It has the potential to contribute to the stemming of the outward flow of our most capable minds,” she says
“It was a very welcome development because what it shows is that Art X Lagos, the platform and the brand that we have built, is capable of bringing foreign interests and foreign direct investments that comes with that interest into Nigeria at a time when our economy needs and can really benefit from that contribution.”
The planning for this year’s event had not been without pain. Though the attendance by foreign visitors was unprecedented, Nigeria’s visa application regime has remained a frustrating experience for foreign visitors.
The Naira devaluation, coupled with inflation reaching a two-decade high, made the organisation quite challenging, she says, noting that at the beginning of the year, they were planning the art fair for the end of the year.
“It meant that when it comes to our suppliers, prices were consistently changing and very graphically. We were having to contend with a lot of unforeseen cost elements and cost factors.”
The difficulties notwithstanding, Peterside-Schwebig has managed to keep Art X Lagos running for eight consecutive years. During the pandemic, the fair invited audiences to virtually interact with 200 works from leading galleries across Africa and the diaspora.
The private sector, with companies like Access Holdings, Afrexim Bank, and Stanbic IBTC — founded by her father, Atedo Peterside — have provided a backbone all those years.
Need a better visa process
However, support from the government has been non-existent.
Peterside-Schwebig says the government can support the fair by making the visa process easier and seamless for international guests who are attending Art X Lagos.
“Right now the current visa application regime is quite prohibitive to individuals or corporates who wish to come and see and experience Nigeria through our lens, which is a very positive impression that we create of Nigeria,” she says.
“That is one way in which if we had government help we could achieve a lot more.”
Another area government support is greatly needed is in making the import and export of art works less cumbersome for artists and less expensive for galleries, Peterside-Schwebig says. Creating an environment that supports artists and ensures they thrive will also go a long way.
As Nigeria’s economic situation continues to stagnate, a large population of mostly young people has looked to other countries for survival. Medical professionals and non-skilled workers have taken the exit route out of the country in search of greener pastures.
Visual artists are not left out. Several influential Nigerian-born artists, such as Victor Ehikhamenor and Laolu Senbanjo, are now based in the United Kingdom and United States, respectively.
Ejiro Fenegal, a Yaba College of Technology-trained sculptor, says she would also consider the abroad option if the Nigerian environment is not favourable.
I have a couple of friends outside and they are doing so well in their careers
“I have a couple of friends outside and they are doing so well in their careers,” Fenegal, 32, who showcased her works at the Art X Lagos, tells The Africa Report.
In 2001, Nigeria had a 3.6% share of African migrants to the OECD countries; the figure increased to 5.7% in 2016, the highest jump by any African country.
Peterside-Schwebig says such migration poses a worrying trend. “I think all major sectors across Nigeria are affected,” she says. Art X Lagos brings the world to Nigeria, instead of Nigerians always going out to seek opportunity.
“Which means that for those young people who, perhaps, don’t want to leave but who understandably want to have global careers from their home base, Art X Lagos is an opportunity that allows that to happen,” she says.
Prevent brain drain
“Ultimately it has the potential to contribute to the stemming of the outward flow of our most capable minds,” she says.
Art experts say there is still a lot of work to be done to boost the global appreciation of African arts. But in terms of its trajectory, Peterside-Schwebig insists it’s been an upward one.
“We can only hope that, and we can continue to push for this rise to continue. As far as we see it, there’s still quite some way to go in getting to a position where African arts stands shoulder to shoulder as a dominant segment of the global art world.”
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