Out in Abuja: Art gallery-hopping

Metalwork by Fidelis Odogwu at IICD.

Getting inspired by Art in Abuja.

So after weeks of clubbing – okay, not really weeks – I decided to change tack and try something more subdued and intellectually stimulating. Not like having bass beats hit your eardrums with the force of a wrecking ball against a rock is not as stimulating; you know, to each his own. But this column is actually about discovering us all what Abuja has to offer by way of culture, entertainment, and other touristy stuff. And there should be more social places to visit in a city than just clubs, no?

Therefore, I decided to check out some art galleries in Abuja. I had already visited one: Thought Pyramid, on Aminu Kano Crescent, opposite Dabras Hotel. I went there for the Life In My City exhibition. I didn’t get to see what the gallery itself had to offer but maybe, some other day. However, at the exhibition, I met Chief Emeka Eze, the CEO of Dinaka Art Gallery and Dinaka Museum of Contemporary Arts who gave me his complimentary card. So on Wednesday, when I decided to go gallery hopping, I headed there.

Funny stuff: when I told my boss that I was going to visit art galleries, he asked, “There are galleries in Abuja?”
Yes, there are. Abuja actually has a vibrant art scene; by this I mean Arts and Culture. And it is more accessible to a larger part of the public than say in Lagos, where such pastimes are often deemed for and geared towards a certain class.

Dinaka is located at 4 Koutiala Street, off Ademola Adetokunbo Crescent, Wuse 2, a duplex. All the rooms in that building are filled with artworks; from the reception to the CEO’s office. But they are not selected into the rooms according to any school or genre.

At the reception, the artworks ranged from carvings to paintings. All the walls were covered and there were shelves for smaller paintings. I especially loved the carved lounge chairs; reminded me of the ones my grandfather used to have in front of his house except that these were more of art pieces than furniture.

However, there was a particular room – and I think this room hold the beginnings of the still growing museum – where the art pieces, mostly paintings, were strictly not for sale. Most of the artworks there are part of Mr. Eze’s personal collection. There were works by masters such as Ben Enwonwu and Bruce Onabrakpaye. There were also two ancient gramophones in that room. One was eighty years old and the other, fifty years. When my friend, who accompanied me, saw them, she entered into an orgasmic state of excitement. There was also a very old radio that one would probably break their back trying to lift and it actually worked though we didn’t get to hear it play.
Other artistes displayed at the gallery included Abraham Uyobvisere and Tayo Amori, amongst others.

One of my favourite paintings was one of a lady tying a red gele. The colour of the scarf was so vivid that your eyes are almost immediately drawn to the painting. However, the one that really drew me in was a town scene – I am not an art critic or true aficionado so I don’t know the parlance, so please bear with me. It was by Abraham Uyobvisere and no matter how many times I went around the gallery, I still found myself returning to it. It hangs in the reception. It was my friend who actually keyed me into what it reminded me of – a slum in Lagos; Makoko to be precise.

Most of the artworks at the gallery are for sale.

If the artworks were impressive, the curator himself was inspiring. Mr. Eze described himself as an art collector with no background in Fine Arts. He just loves art and loves to own them and take care of them and share them with others. We actually had a nice conversation. He started the gallery and museum in 2013 to fill a gap that is lacking in the art scene especially here in Abuja. He lamented the fact that Abuja, Nigeria’s capital did not have a museum which is why creating Dinaka Museum of Contemporary Art was really important to him. Hopefully, one day students, art lovers, curious folks would troop en masse to Dinaka and be inspired and gain some knowledge, he said. He also pointed out how sad it was that rather than focus on the humanities and arts, fields that help to build us up as complete social beings, Nigerians focus instead on politics and just making money.
I concur. How sad indeed.

From Dinaka, I headed to the International Institute for Creative Development on Oguda Street in Maitama. It was started in February by Ndubisi Ahanonu aka Ndu White. Unlike, Mr. Eze, Mr. Ahanonu is actually an artist, with a background in Fine Arts from the University of Nsukka.

If at Dinaka I felt like I was in a museum and was in awe and revered the art pieces there, at IICD, I felt like I was in a gallery. Most of the paintings here were more showy and in my unlearned opinion, more commercial. Also, personally I prefer pictures that tell it as it is; no abstract art for me. If you want to paint a spoon, paint a spoon; don’t mess with my brain, Mr. Picasso.

But I was not less impressed by the talent on display at IICD. There were works by Ndu White himself, Victor Ehikhamenor, and others.

I was especially blown away by a metal work by Fidelis Odogwu. It hung right over the door into the gallery at the Institute. Like Mr. Ahanonu put it, the way Odogwu handles metal is as if he’s playing with tissue paper. I do not know how to describe the piece to give one a virtual image that would do justice to the real thing. I mean the level of creativity of such a masterpiece should leave one blessing God for giving man the power to be a co-creator. I was “impressed to shut up” – like we say in my place.

There were wooden carvings from the curator’s travels to some Francophone country. At the alcove, there were some other intricate metal-works of cars with movable pieces – you could take the cars apart and put them together. There was also a frame filled with pieces of frames; very artistic. Yes, the Institute does framing for paintings, etc.
According to Mr. Ahanonu, the Institute is an artist space, although the public is invited to come and appreciate the talents. Artists are often invited there to take part in workshops and inspire and be inspired. So if you are a budding artist looking for mentors and like minds, the Institute is a place to visit. Of course, I asked Mr. Ahanonu about the financial benefits of being artist. He bluntly said, if he were to mentor an upcoming artist, he would ask them to get a job while they pursued Art. Else, one would be left very frustrated indeed.

And to think that most people don’t buy art because they think it’s too expensive hence a waste of money.

Well, if you are very “rich” like me and love art, you don’t have to own it in your house, a visit to a gallery should serve you well enough. Seriously, standing in front of a painting and trying to decipher every single aspect of it and the message within would leave you feeling closer to God than if you, you know, just walked into a club and allowed yourself be hypnotised by the throbbing beats from the over-loud speakers.

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