Monday, 6 April 2009

Arinze… Destiny in his hands

Ato Arinze


ATO Arinze is one of the few committed artists to the vocation of ceramic production. In 2004, at the French Cultural Centre, Ikoyi, Arinze led his colleagues to launch the now popular Art Zero, a group that started with 15 artists, but currently boasts of over 120 members, not leaving out nearly every young artist in the art scene, particularly in Lagos.
Arinze, who recently concluded a tour of Sweden and Norway with Craft Potters Association of Nigeria (CPAN), says his experience in the Scandinavia has helped his dream of empowering the art profession through focused groupings. He notes that it is hard for any artist to survive in Sweden without belonging to a group of gallery operators.

IN November 2007, eight Scandinavian potters visited Nigeria in the first part of the cultural exchange. The visiting artists from Norway were Tulla Elieson, Sidsel Hanum Anne, Line Sund, and Gunilla Maria Akesson, while Asa Jacobson, Margon Lindberg, Elisabet Svensson and Inger Sodergren were from Sweden.
last August, six members of CPAN went on a tour of Sweden and Norway, as part of the cultural exchange between Nigeria and the Scandinavian countries.
With the theme, Clay Without Borders, some of the artists involved in the visit were Fatimah Bello, Nwokike Josephine and four male potters namely Ogbonna Dennis, Owolabi Olusanya, and Ayoola Ibukunoluwa. They went on the invitation of the Norwegian Association of Arts and Crafts.
Arinze must have found the experience very encouraging for his focus as a founding member of Art Zero. “Oh yes, we have always said that artists need to take their destiny in their hands; that is exactly what I saw during my Scandinavian tour. Artists there form co-operatives, which brings them closer to the larger society; members have direct access to collectors and buyers while eliminating the middlemen.”

TWO years before the birth of Art Zero, Arinze had shown much interest in up-coming artists when he launched his group exhibition tagged Art on the Mainland, which has since become a yearly event. The 2009 edition, which opens on May 9 and runs till 16, at the National Council for Art and Culture, National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos, has received several hundreds of entries, but just about 60 to 70 artists are to feature in the exhibition.
In furtherance of the drive to market participants’ products, three works from each of the exhibiting artists go into the show. “We are not just exhibiting for the sake of show, artists must sell their works. One to be exhibited at the Art on the Mainland show while the other two are for the sales exhibition at Studio 868 in Victoria Island.”
The umbrella body of art collectors and enthusiasts, Visual Art Society of Nigeria, (VASON) must have recognised Arinze’s grassroots role, hence the need to share his experience with others when he was made one of the guest speakers at VASON’s Artists’ Talk held recently.
“Whether it is the art zero initiative or the Scandinavian groups of co-operative, the whole idea helps in creating an enabling environment for members to function properly and giving them sense of belonging.”
Art Zero and Art on the Mainland clearly demonstrated the focus of Arinze; the need to bring out art from the grassroots level.

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