The maiden edition of the first of its kind art fair in Nigeria, the +234 Art fair, has seen 200 artists and over 600 different works and forms of art on display, at the Ecobank headquarters in Victoria Island, Lagos.

Soto Gallery, in partnership with Ecobank Nigeria and the African Finance Corporation, AFC, said the fair is aimed at showcasing and nurturing young talents as well as creating new vistas of opportunities for them.

Founder, Soto Gallery and founder of +234 Art Fair, Tola Akerele, said the opportunity to showcase more artists is always a welcome one and the partnership with Ecobank made this possible. Speaking on continuity for the artists, she said they are in talks with them on what more galleries can do. She added that residency programmes and grants are in the works. “Apart from just showcasing, this fair is an opportunity to help them know what else they can do locally, regionally and internationally. A lot of artists we have worked with in the past now have strong international careers and this gives us joy.”

Speaking at the opening ceremony in Lagos, Project Director, +234 Art Fair, Toyin Laoshe, said the artists were selected fairly from across Nigeria.  

“They were then pruned to about 200 artists from different sectors, fine art, sculpture, photography and digital art. We want to see these artists become the future guiding lights of the art world, locally and internationally. We thank our sponsors, who helped in bringing this together together and helped bring this vision to life.”

Lead curator, Arinola Olowoporoku, said the fair is for emerging ideas, about and for Nigerian artists and Nigerians; “even tenured artists trying out new ideas or narratives, everyone is welcome.”

Revealing that the fair has over 200 artists exhibiting and 600 works on display, she said it has been partitioned to cater for photography, fine art, sculptors and digital art. “There are multiple offerings for different demographics, including a children’s gallery, life painting, interactive works, live performances and authors.”

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She added that the reward for many artists is the fact that the fair is holding on a huge scale and exhibiting on such a platform can grow their career significantly. “As a collective, exhibiting here increases the economic value of their works and our market, as well as create visibility and awareness for the artists.”

On how the artists were selected, the lead curator said there was an open call and selections were made. “I worked with six curators and we picked them with our theme in mind. The fair’s founder, Tola Akerele, is a brilliant and fantastic woman and she keeps taking bold leaps. This has been a humbling and learning process for us and we are thankful to all our sponsors, especially Ecobank, who deemed the arts worthy of such a massive investment.”

On longevity for the artists, Olowoporoku said Soto Gallery has over time, consistently developed and supported artists and the fair provides a window into the big world.

Ephraim Damilola “ED” Adegoke, an exhibiting artist who said his art is figurative expressionism, said the art form allows him put together many forms of art and express himself in different ways. “I am happy with the turnout and how the works are arranged, people are positively and actively engaging with the artworks; it is clear the essence of the fair is being realised,” he said.

Ugo Ahiakwo, a sculptor exhibiting at the fair, described his art as post-minimal and said his inspiration comes from everyday living and seemingly mundane things.    

“Beyond making sales, it has been wonderful to connect with other sculptors. When people think of art in Nigeria, they only think of painting. Sculptors are often overlooked and this fair has provided the opportunity to meet more sculptors and expose our works to collectors,” he said.

Olowoporoku said beyond this fair, they intend to expose the artists to more exhibitions. “We are hoping to have more editions like this in the future as well as other new showcases to accommodate more emerging artists,” she said.

Akerele also added that with the fair, they are also trying to create an ecosystem where patrons can support an artist through the course of their career. “

The government can support us by creating more fairs across the country for artists all over the country. This is a much-needed platform for artists. There are so many artists that have no access to international markets and we want to create a sort of database of artists, whose work can stand in international galleries.”

She said they intend to do bigger things in the next few years and expose more of Nigeria’s art to the world.