2016 in review

The Year in Art for Nigeria and Africa 

Our author Bukola Oye looks back at the highlights from the past 12 months...

The Year in Art for Nigeria and Africa 

Palais de Justice, venue of Dak'Art 2016, Dakar. Photo by the author

By Bukola Oye


Africa has enjoyed another year of being the toast of the art world with more achievements following the high moments recorded in 2015. The ‘Focus African Perspective‘‚ at the Armory Show in New York in the first quarter of 2016 was one of the loudest applause the continent received. Simultaneously, different artists and art professionals, those from the continent and in the diaspora, made international spotlights for awards, impressive shows, high auction records, incredible collaborations, and other achievements. Africa was prominent at the important dinner tables of world art.

Notable attention was given to the increasingly important Dak’Art Biennale in Senegal. The 12th edition was held in May of this year and was curated by Simon Njami. El Anatsui, the Ghanaian artist living in Nsukka, Nigeria received an honorary Doctor of Arts Degree from Harvard University. Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Nigerian artist living in Los Angeles was awarded the 2016 Canson Prize for ‘Art on Paper’ and her work ‘Drown’ (2014) sold at $1,092,500 at Sotheby’s New York Contemporary Art sale in November, setting a new record for African contemporary art at auctions. Laolu Senbanjo, another Nigerian artist living in the U.S, had first of its kind collaborations with top sports brand Nike and American singer Beyonce. Berlin-based sound artist Emeka Ogboh received the 2016 Böttcherstraße Award by Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany for a project that highlighted the challenges of global migration. The Böttcherstraße Award is among the leading and highest awards in the field of contemporary art in Germany.

Curators from Cameroon and Nigeria, Koyo Kouoh and Olabisi Silva, are two players from the small pool of top professionals on the continent with increased visibility in 2016. Their curatorial practice and independently run schools, Asiko and Raw Academy, contribute to artistic development in Africa.

While Nigeria remains a big player alongside South Africa, Ghana enjoyed remarkable attention in 2016. Major events took place in East Africa as well with Kampala, Addis Abeba and Nairobi as the main hosts. In Ghana, the new art space Gallery 1957, Jeremiah Quarshie’s exhibition “Yellow is the Colour of Water” and Chale Wote Street Art Festival, were among the major events that attracted high profile professionals and patrons to Accra this year. Afrogallonism, a form of political art and activism created by Serge Attukwei Clottey became widely known. In photography, one of Ghana’s foremost photographers, James Barnor, had another moment in the spotlight. His analog photographs of London as a growing multicultural metropolis during the ‘swinging 60s’ and of Ghana in the 50s, presenting societies in transition, was shown at one of the top galleries in London.

The art world lost a beloved photographer from Africa in 2016. Famous and prolific photographer, Malick Sidibe, known as ‘The Modern Eye of Mali’, passed away in April. The number of tributes dedicated to him on local and international news media gave an insight to his impact. His contemporary, another great photographer from Mali, Seydou Keita, who passed away in 2001, enjoyed a large scale retrospective show at the Grand Palais of Galeries Nationales in Paris from March to July 2016. Other important figures in the African art world who died this year are Uche Okeke, a pioneer member of the Zaria Art Society (later known as the Zaria Art Rebels) in Nigeria and Ousmane Sow, a renowned sculptor from Senegal.

In Nigeria, Lagos continues to grow as a major art hub in Africa. It held the first West Africa international art fair in November. Art X Lagos recorded over 5,000 visitors including the presence of international art professionals from other parts of Africa, Europe, and the United States. The artistic director was Olabisi Silva and it was organized by TP Collective, whose director is a young woman named Tokini Peterside. It also featured some of the big names in contemporary art in Africa such as William Kentridge, Barthélémy Toguo, Sokari Douglas Camp, Ade Adekola, rubi onyiyechi amanze, George Osodi, Victor Ehikhamenor and Lakin Ogunbanwo.

There are more art spaces and galleries opening in Lagos every year and thus attracting more people to the art scene. A major exhibition held at an alternative art space in Lagos this year was the “Bruce Onobrakpeya and the Harmattan Workshop” show at the Lagos Court of Arbitration. It was a retrospective on the practice of Bruce Onobrakpeya as a legendary artist and his alternative training school for artists in his hometown Agbara Ottor in Delta State, which has been running for eighteen years. The show had the air of a permanent museum show and was on view for over three months.

The art scene is still very much concentrated ‘on the Island’  in Lagos but a multi-disciplinary platform, Vernacular Art Lab, presented a community arts festival “ICAF 2016” in a suburb of Lagos mainland, making a difference in the pool of events happening between September and December.

Another major event on Lagos mainland is the ongoing outdoor exhibition of the wind sculpture by British-born Nigerian artist, Yinka Shonibare MBE, at the Kanu Ndubuisi Park in Ikeja. Made from fiberglass and steel, the Wind Sculpture VI is a six-meter structure designed after the Dutch wax batik fabrics popularly known as Ankara. This has been the artist’s signature design for most of his sculptural installation including the wind sculpture series. The exhibition marks his first solo exhibition in Nigeria.

An overall observation on the local scene is that more young people are engaging art in Lagos and there is more access to information on what’s happening through the effort of platforms such as The Sole Adventurer and Omenka Online.


Based in Lagos, Bukola Oye is a freelance art journalist and founder of the Lagos art review platform The Sole Adventurer. She is a contributor on IAM Africa online in Amsterdam and Mania magazine in Lagos. Oye participated in the Culture Journalism Workshop organized by Contemporary And in Lagos.



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