culled from the Kuona Trust March newsletter
For one month between February & March, I had the opportunity of spending time with renowned curator Bisi Silva at the Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA) Lagos on a knowledge and skills sharing programme.
The aim was to support the professional development of organizations in the triangle network. This is an opportunity for coordinators to work alongside their peers sharing experiences, knowledge and skills for the benefit of their organizations, local artists and the community. The residencies are a hands-on project with the visiting coordinators becoming involved in the life of the host organization and contributing to the host’s project with their skills and expertise. The host is also expected to offer support to the visiting coordinator through their particular knowledge and skills so that both sides can learn from each other.
CCA, Lagos is an independent non-profit making visual art organization set up to provide a platform for the development, presentation, and discussion of contemporary visual art and culture by prioritizing new media and experimental visual art practice such as photography, animation, film and video, performance art, and installation art, which have been under-presented in contemporary Nigerian artistic practice.
I arrived on a hot (38°C) Wednesday mid-morning and after getting stuck in Lagos traffic; go slow for over an hour, I finally got to No. 9 McEwen Street, Sabo, Yaba where I was received by Bisi, CCA’s Director/Founder who gave me a tour of the space and introduced me to the rest of CCA staff.
My first week was a typical “Get into a new environment and find your way around week.”
I managed to get my bearings from Lawa Hotel to CCA and from Alagomeji to Victoria Island. Got to learn a little Pidgin and sample some Jollof rice, pepper soup & garri and after I understood the value of the Naira in relation to the Kenya Shilling, it was time to dive into the mechanisms of CCA with emphasis on the ongoing photography residency.
I was very interested in the general running of CCA with more bias on their exhibitions and the whole process from conceptualization, budgeting, writing texts, curatorials, realization and cataloguing/publishing.
Alongside this, I was also keen on helping with the running of the residency as a temporary artist liaison; being the link between CCA administration and the residency participants. This was tonnes of fun as I helped with documentation, collecting and editing materials for the residency blog (artspeakafrica.blogspot.org).
Working within CCA, I was able to understand their role in the art world, their ideals, how they work to achieve these and their relationship with artists and other art institutions.
The endless conversations I had with Bisi were priceless. Spending time with such a resourceful person was quite inspiring and will always have her to thank for making me re-define “the role of arts organizations within the continent in nurturing African artists so as to be competitive/relevant in the global art scene.”
Coming from a background of running workshops and residencies, it was interesting to note that our structures were similar but CCA emphasized more on process and concept. Unlike other residencies I’ve had the opportunity to be part of, this had an intellectual edge; we’d come in and just talk, do presentations, see other artists’ works and look at photographs critically and by the time the participants went out to take images, they really knew how to.
I also had a chance to sit through a lot of presentations done by visiting artists and curators/critics which were quite insightful but Senam Okuzdeto’s “Ghana Must Go: Personal Narratives, Identity & Identification” and Tam Fiofori’s “History, Culture & Photography in Nigeria” with emphasis on 19thC Nigerian photographer J.A Green were special.
Though CCA and Kuona Trust are both trusts founded on similar objectives, it was quite interesting to see and be part of how CCA approach their activities and how committed they are in trying to shift the dynamics of the Nigerian art scene which are quite similar to ours where the art schools having a huge disconnect with the art scene.
They go to great lengths in trying to modernize their art scene starting from very basic technical workshops where they teach artists how to, to more intellectual platforms on how to articulate yourself.
All in all, the Nigerian art scene is big! They have serious local patronage and artists who live ‘large.’ They host commercially successful art auctions and seriously conceptual art exhibitions. They almost always publish a catalogue for every exhibition and away from the usual politics; they are miles ahead of us.
It was also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit Nigeria; land of Nollywood and African football. On my return, I’ve changed my stereotype notion of 9jaans being dodgy and Nigeria being unsafe and unstable politically, regardless of their president disappearing while I was there.