The hot March sun shines brightly as I walked briskly into the large courtyard of Eko Hotel & Suites on Thursday. Walking through the hallway that leads to the new expo centre at the hotel, a turn by the left hand side leads you into a breathtaking space. A space that is only befitting for art.
It is a beautiful open space managed by Art21 and located on the ground floor of the new Eko Hotel & Suites boutique hotel. The space is infectious and gives a good view of the works of neatly arranged on the walls; some others on the gallery floor. It perhaps offer the right atmosphere and setting for the very best of Nigerian contemporary art to be viewed and appreciated.
“There is a synergy between the work and the space,” says Amonda who has been a little laid back to have his work exhibited just anywhere and anyhow. “I have works that I have done since 2006 and I have not been able to find the right space for them. Some of my works have been shown to the wrong audience and put in the wrong space.” Amonda’s exhibition was used to open the gallery in 2013.
This singular move by Art21 and Eko Hotel & Suite is a step to change the way art is perceived and patronised in the country. Around the globe and Nigeria is not an exception, hoteliers are working with artists to create environments with a sense of style and authenticity. A move that designers have described as an explicit change to the boutique hotel formula. This new space is expected to bring the art community and people, generally, together from across the globe to participate in creative arts, design, and culture.
“Eko Hotel has been interested in the arts,” says Danny Kioupouroglou, the hotel’s general manager. “All our rooms have art works in them including the convention centre. We have supported the Lagos photo festival. I have been in Nigeria for eleven years and most of the artists we have showcased have become household names. The Nigerian art has to move because there is a kind of sophistication with the art. It must become eclectic and move away from the populist form.”
It was a chanced meeting with the one of the works of Amonda that brought Caline Chagoury, owner Art21 and the artist together. “Some time in 2009,” recalls Amonda, when I produced a piece in a remote part of America. I then sent the piece to Nigeria. I didnt know who bought it. It was in 2010 that someone told me someone wants to meet me.”
That someone turned out to be Chagoury, the lady who bought Amonda’s work titled: ‘Queen of the Night.’ This meeting between the artist and the lover of his work birthed the idea of the new space.
“We are trying to do something different,” explains Chagoury. “A year ago, I started looking for space that will inspire art. I stumbled on the space at the hotel. I love Olu Amonda’s works. I like how he thinks through and how he analyses his subject. He is interesting. I met him for a month when I first chose him.”
No doubt, the Art21 space will provide a platform for renowned Nigerian and African artists to showcase their talent on a platform which makes no apology for radical, bold and experimentation with the aim of commanding audience from far and wide.
“I am thrilled to be able to bring such a platform to a wonderful city that I have always treasured,” adds Chagoury, “and even more so to the incredibly talented people that are born in this great country. My art consulting firm focuses on creating artistic spaces, bringing artists together, being part of the movement to create a real art market on the continent, and giving the world a taste of the Lagos I know and love. I hope that a space like this will inspire many, bring people together, and show the world what we are capable of. I want the space to be open to people from all walks of life, I want children to come and learn about arts through educational programmes, and I hope to create a bridge between Lagos and the rest of the world.”
The first exhibition to be unveiled at the launch of Art21 – is the work of Olu Amonda, a designer & teacher at Yaba Tech. Olu‟s art exemplifies what can be made out of “supposedly trash” as he welds/assembles things such as discarded nails and old locks into intricate sculptures.
In his words, “Nails are used in my work as a metaphor. They have survived generations and remain one of the most ideal and enduring pieces of engineering. Small but lethal, a nail is able to defend itself, but yields to the will of the craftsman.”
Aside the works of Amonda, the gallery has played host to a programme of exhibitions – showcasing other artists such as Chicago based Nnenna Okore.