“Come on, if you want to be immortal, change the world. Don’t talk about yourself. Do something for the better good!” says Chike Nwagbogu who, along with his brother Azu, is helping push the Lagos art scene to more ambitious levels.
Anyone interested in art and culture can breathe in some fresh air by being just off Awowolo Road on Ikoyi, in Lagos, Nigeria. Two brothers are running each a venue there where art and creativity are flourishing.
Chike Nwagbogu runs the Nimbus Art Centre and Bogobiri Hotel, together with a partner. Just 500 meters down the road you will find the headquarters and gallery of the African Artists’ Foundation (AAF), led by his brother Azu Nwagbogu.
“For me, it’s all about bringing people together,” says Chike. “It can make things bigger than you ever imagined.”
“Artists and creative types feel comfortable in these places, because it is unpretentious and real,” says Azu. “They are melting pots of creative ideas and we are constantly meeting key players in the art, film, photo, literary scene, etcetera…”
“These two places are where we all come together and chill out,” says Bantu, a musician. “It’s where I see new styles and flavors.”
Besides offering a gallery space and studio, AAF also hosts national and international artists and photographers in guest rooms, and organises the annual Lagos Photo Festival and the National Art Competition
“The world seems to be finally tuning into the Nigerian frequency. Femi and Seun Kuti, Chimamanda Adichie, Asa, Tola Wewe, Ben Enwonwu, D’Banji, Nollywood films, our fashion industry – everybody seems to love it. The Lagos art scene is enjoying something of a renaissance,” says Chike.
In the last few years, galleries are attracting increasing numbers of visitors and auctions are becoming more commercially successful. For instance, a bronze sculpture by Ben Enwonwu recently sold at an ArtHouse Contemporary auction for 28 million Naira (around 135,000 euros).
“Truly, this is a time to reflect and learn about our rich cultural and artistic heritage,” says Azu. “There is so much wealth out there and while I sincerely hope people collect art that they immediately like, I also hope collectors grow and also begin investing in art that they might not have appreciated the first time around.”
Chike believes Nigeria’s artistic boom is being inspired by suffering. “Popular culture is often born out of oppression and suffering. And Nigeria is oppressed. Look, puppets of the military are still running our country. Our president doesn’t have a clue what he is doing. It’s pathetic. I want to give a podium to the most angry, creative, fearless artist out there. We need change now, and art can do that.”
Art needs an end goal, according to Chike. “Art has to have a purpose. I know this is different from what many people in the West believe, where they often see art as autonomous and personal. But tell me, haven’t we done enough introspection? We’ve had people that cut off their ear; we have had this internal soul searching for years and years. What more do you want to say?”