I cannot help but discern a certain dunderheaded nationalism when some Nigerian, especially Lagos-based, artists comment on contemporary art. A few years ago, (following New Energies, a show organized byEl Anatsui at the Goethe Institute, Lagos) the big question, believe it or not, was whether installation and conceptual art were too alien, in other words too western to be condoned in Nigeria! If not that the "anti-installation" critics were also people one otherwise had reason to respect, I would not have given any much thought to that debate. But I did, in a lecture at Jazz Hole, in Ikoyi Lagos, in the summer of 2001 (published in The Guardian of
“WHENEVER the word 'biennale' is mentioned in a gathering of Nigerian artists, a hot debate ensues. Artists take positions behind factions that appear like old foes: ‘them’ against ‘us’.”
As in the past, the arguments made by Nigerian critics of biennials have often reflected a hermit or siege mentality, the illusion that Nigerian artists are the better if left alone, without any supposedly “foreign” contamination emblematized by “installation art” or “biennials.” There is sometime pathetic, incredibly reactionary about contemporary artists who refuse to speak or understand the language of contemporary art, yet paradoxically miffed by the fact that curators of international exhibitions ignore their sometimes pretty but usually unambitious paintings and sculptures. The Nigerian art market is no doubt a large and thriving one, with local patronage that has produced a significant number of artists that can be rightly counted among
Given the tone and tenor of the debates in Lagos, it should not surprise me that the longstanding, though somewhat insubstantial, campaign to initiate a Lagos biennial will either not succeed in my lifetime, or (God forbid!) if it does will be perhaps even a noisier version of Libreville's Bantu Biennial established years ago to promote the purportedly unique Bantu cultural identity of central African countries.