One of the interesting things we found out while speaking to Aminat Agoro is that while Nigeria consumes what amounts to millions of dollars in ceramics, and has extensive clay deposits, all the ceramics we use in Nigeria is imported. All of it. This is one of the reasons why Peju Alatise, an award-winning contemporary artist created the Alter Native Artists Initiative (A.N.A.I), a non-profit foundation for the visual arts in Nigeria. Aminat Agoro is the arts programme manager at A.N.A.I. and we got her to answer a few questions about the project and what it means for young Nigerian artists before it launches on the 4th of November 2017.
One of the things she told us was that A.N.A.I. has a physical space, that will house a ceramics studio – the first of its kind in Nigeria, a purpose built residency – another first of this magnitude – that will facilitate training of Nigerian emerging and established artists. The project also plans to manage a cultural exchange programme where artists from Nigeria can meet, learn from and collaborate with international artists and vice versa.
In addition, it will build capacity of women in its immediate community – where it is located – through training in creative practices to create goods and reduce the barrier to entry into the craft market.
Here’s everything else we talked about:
One of the reasons the Alter Native Artists Initiative (A.N.A.I.) really intrigues here at The Native, is your pedigree as an artist and the pedigree of the artists that young creatives who choose to join the initiative will have access to. Was this a deliberate move on your part?
Yes. The very idea of what drives ANAI is to alter the current state of what is native to the Nigerian artist. This is where our name comes from, a play on the word alternative. What is native to the Nigerian artist currently is a standard that is in dire need of raising. Formal arts education in the country is decent. But it is not world class. ANAI seeks to fill existing gaps by bringing the very best of experts in the world across different mediums to train emerging artists and get them accustomed to global best practices.
A big argument used to discredit some young artists trying to make their own space in our often restrictive art community is that the digital mediums they choose to express themselves in are somehow ‘less’ . Is this a concern A.N.A.I is taking into consideration?
We do not think one medium is inferior to the other. We are rather more concerned about the mind of the artist exploring any given medium: what story are they trying to tell, how far outside the box will they push themselves; is their work relevant to, engaging of their immediate communities? These are the things thay matter.
The ceramics studio really intrigues us, especially because of Nigeria’s long history with ceramics and greats like Ladi Kwali. How will this work?
One of our principal objectives is to revive and develop the art of ceramics to a level compatible with international health and quality standards. To this end we have a purpose built ceramics studio that is equipped for professional ceramics practice, with equipment such as kilns, various throwing wheels, slab roller etc. We will also grant access to the ceramic studio to interested artists for hire.
There are a few residencies in Nigeria, but none that really prioritizes the work of emerging artists quite like A.N.A.I. It’s a huge statement. Why now?
Why not now? Clearly the need is there and it is urgent. This residency is the fruit of a years-long dream by founder, Peju Alatise who by virtue of her work has travelled the world and has seen what obtains in other climes. There’s a global mentoring and grooming chain for artists to experiment, grow and thrive and that’s how you keep an industry alive. This is missing in Nigeria. To answer your question simply, for anyone who cares about keeping the Nigerian art industry alive, this is necessary. It had to be done.
Are there any young artists on the A.N.A.I roster already, or artists that the collective is interested in bringing in?
Emerging artists will be taken on through applications through a specific residency for same. Our programme will focus on supporting emerging practice and will enable emerging and mid-career artists in Nigeria an opportunity to produce new work, on a major public platform. The residency takes the form of free studio provision and aim to relieve an artist from pressure for a period during which they can focus on their practice and progress within their chosen field.
Exhibitions, any planned now or in the near future?
We’ll be announcing our programme for 2018 in a few months. Till then…
Edwin eats his rice and cabbages. Tweet at him@edgothboy