Transcending Boundaries: A Spotlight on West African Art Masters
Described as the first pop-up gallery of its kind in London, Transcending Boundaries features the contemporary art of work of 21 leading Nigerian artists, including recognised masters, Edosa Ogiugo, Abiodun Olaku, Ben Osaghae and sculptors Bunmi Babatunde, Fidelis Odogwu and Reuben Ugbine. Artists whose work range in style – from Olaku’s stunningly lifelike oil paintings and Osaghae’s socio-political depictions of local Nigerian life and culture to Babatunde’s fascination for the human form in large- scale bronze and wood and Ugbine’s playful manipulations and three- dimensional pieces using tribal imagery – the exhibition is billed to bring new focus on the work of these art masters, who have has been widely exhibited across Africa but are relatively unknown outside of Africa. Anshu Bahanda is the visionary behind Aabru Art, the London based firm which focuses on sourcing, marketing and distributing West African contemporary art to international buyers, and is responsible for the exhibition. In our conversation, Bahanda tells me how West African art reminds her of the Indian artists and their work and the similarities between struggles and experiences.
Anshu: I used to buy Nigerian Art for myself. I had not intended to make this into a business – it’s something that developed on its own as people started asking me to source art for them. Now that Aabru Art has become a business, my team and I have worked out a strategy with a geographic approach to developing the business in West Africa, one country at a time.
Your background in the banking industry is certainly very interesting but in what ways has your passion for art raised your consciousness of art and artists from Africa and in particular, the ones whose work will be exhibited during this exhibition?
I was brought up in India, in a very artsy background so the art consciousness was always there. It just developed further as I developed as a person. The artists from Africa remind me of the artists in India 20 years ago – their struggles and experiences are very similar.
What about the artists as individuals and their work which compelled you to want to bring their work to a British/European audience, given that their work has not been widely seen outside Africa?
Since I buy art wherever I go, I could see that this was different and beautiful; and the fact that I was sourcing for friends and family all over the world even before this became a business, proves that this art appeals to people globally. I am selling not just to UK/Europe but to Asia and America as well.
Are you in any nervous about the artists whose work will be on display and is the decision to focus on one region something you believe will prove fruitful in the long term as you bring others artists to the public’s attention?
I will slowly go into the different countries. I want to firmly establish one market and then add the others. This is just as much a learning experience for me as it is for everyone else!
Are there plans for similar exhibitions in the near future based on the outcome of this exhibition?
Yes, we have a number of exhibition and events planned in the UK and abroad.
What’s the dialogue you hope this generates among art lovers like yourself?
I would love every art lover to own a piece of art created by one of my artists! On a more serious note – The name of our show and the name we will use for future shows ‘Transcending Boundaries’ is very interesting since art transcends geographic, political, economical, religious and even emotional boundaries and Africa is at a point where it is also transcending a lot of boundaries.
Top left image: Alex Nwokolo Social Networking
Transcending Boundaries opens to the public on 4 February at The Cork Street Gallery, 28 Cork Street, Mayfair, London.
For more information, visit: Aabru.Art