2019 saw the grim reaper at work within the creative sector. Creatives of various stripes made the transition from this realm to the next. The Lagos Book and Arts Festival, LABAF, will celebrate and honour the lives and memories of some of these newly minted ancestors like Bisi Silva, Okwui Enwezor, Pius Adesanmi, Paul Emema, Eddie Ugbomah, Molara Ogundipe, Stella Oyedepo, Jide Ogungbade, Frank Okonta, and Idowu Nubi. It will take place on Wednesday November 6, 2019 at the Food Court of the Freedom Park.
It is fitting that the 20th edition of LABAF is dedicated to David Dale, the Scottish-Nigerian artist whose artistic journey began at St. Gregory’s where he was taught by Bruce Onobrakpeya.
David Dale was a pioneer in many respects and was famous for his stained glass technique. A 1971 graduate of the Ahmadu Bello University art school, he specialized in Graphics and Design. Post-graduation, Dale worked with his old teacher, Bruce Onobrakpeya before setting up his own studio practice, dabbling in advertising and teaching part time. His early works evinced influences of Onobrakpeya’s lino engraving and foiling but he later delved into printmaking and stained glass.
His works were visual explorations of the frenetic urban conurbation that is Lagos and have been described by PM News as characterized of sparse lines “eliminating superfluous adornment to create a visceral connection to his viewers.”
He died in August after a stroke that led to a long and debilitating battle for his life which saw him slipping in and out of coma.
Pius Adesanmi was a force of nature, a fecund mind with a prodigious intellect. He was a poet, academic, essayist and public intellectual of the highest caliber. But he was above all, as friends liked to call, him, an ogbonge man. That was what he called you before he burst into his trademark laughter.
Pius left this realm in March when the Ethiopian Airline Flight 302 he was flying in went down shortly after take off in Bishoftu, Ethiopia while enroute Nairobi. Faculty member at Carleton University, Ottawa, Pius began his academic journey in Nigeria with a Master’s degree from the university of Ibadan after graduating with a First class from the University of Ilorin. The story is told that he was so brilliant such that when he went back to Ilorin for his youth service, he was assigned final year projects to supervise.
Bisi Silva was both matriarch and champion of the arts. She bestraddled the contemporary art scene as founder of Center for Contemporary Art (CCA) the quietly impressive space she set up in Yaba. She courted and introduced us to new, avantgarde and wave making artists from Nigeria and beyond. She was style and ideology agnostic, what mattered was beauty and talent and skill. Enterprising and intellectually curious, her curatorial exertions were novel and envelope pushing. Her “Gallery of Small Things” was a case in point, an experience which she theorized thus – “The conceptual and curatorial premise behind the gallery is to create and encourage intimacy in an art world saturated with large works that require that we move back in order to experience them.”
She died in February after a battle with breast cancer and Hannah O’Leary, the head of modern and contemporary African art at Sotheby’s in London, had this to say in a New York Times tribute: “I wouldn’t call her an African curator, but an international curator. She promoted African artists to the world and brought the international art world to Africa, and did it tirelessly. She never did the obvious: Her knowledge and vision were unrivaled.”
Eddie Ugboma was a film maker’s film maker. Educated in London with a short career at the BBC, Ugboma had a small parts in Dr. No. Returning to Nigeria in 1975, he set up his film production company, Edifosa, and quickly made a name for himself as the uber filmmaker with such films as Rise and Fall of Oyenusi in 1979, The Boy is Good and Apalara. But he is best known for his movie Black President based on the life and death of General Murtala Mohammed.
He was without a doubt, Nigeria’s answer to America’s Oliver Stone in his predilection for mining history for his movies. Old school to the core, he shot many of his films on 16mm and is credited as the African to have shot the most films on celluloid – 13 in all.
Eddie Ugboma who was honoured with the Order of the Niger (OON), in recognition of his services to the arts was Nollywood before Nollywood was born a fact acknowledged in a tribute by Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture who wrote that “In his lifetime, Ugboma produced a number of avant-garde movies that blazed the trail and fired the imagination of those who would later become the top producers in today’s Nollywood. In a way, the success of the industry is a tribute to him and his co-pioneers.” Eddie Ugboma died in May.
Okwui Enwezor was the first African to direct Documenta and the only curator to direct both Documenta and the Venice Biennale. A political science graduate, Enwezor, through dedication and hardwork, became a leading figure in the global art scene. From writing art criticism borne out of his frustration with the provincialism of the New York art scene of the 80s, he founded the journal Nka and quickly became a theorist and promoter of African art and artists bringing to the attention of a global audience cutting edge contemporary works from Africa and the middle-east.
A tribute in The Guardian described him as a “peerless” and “charismatic” “Nigerian curator who helped place non-western art histories on an equal footing with the long-established narrative of European and North American art. Part of a generation of auteur curators who rose to prominence in the 1990s, he, more than any other, was one with a mission.”
Okwui Enwezor’s died in March.
Toni Kan is a Lagos based writer.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.