Nigeria links China-Africa art, culture in collaborative effort

Chinese Resource Person in Nigeria, Williams Chow (left); artist, Lanre Olagoke receiving a portrait gift from Prof. Gu Liu of China Academy of Art during his recent visit to the Asian country

Beyond investing and partnering with Africa in infrastructural development, China keeps showing interest in the art and culture sector, so indicates an ongoing partnership. With a Hangzhou, China-based businessman, Zhang Zonghua, leading the project, which includes art, music, poetry and fashion, it is in partnership with U.K.-based Nigerian-British artist, Lanre Olagoke.

In May this year, Olagoke and Zonghua had meetings in Lagos that led to the just concluded first phase of the partnership in Hangzhou. Currently on his way back to Lagos, enroute London from Hangzhou, Olagoke, during an online chat, provided information and tracking of the partnership take off in China. According to Olagoke, Nigeria was being proposed as a liaison point for Africa in the project, hence his traveling to China.

Zonghua is founder of Blue Cube Cultural Creation Park and Art Academy in Hangzhou. He is the Vice President of Zheshang Research Association, China. Olagoke, a studio assistant to late Nigerian master, Ben Enwonwu (1917-1994), is the founder of Art-Alive Arts Trust (AAAT), a not-for-profit organisation that deploys art as youth empowerment in some countries across the world.

As art consultant to Hangzhou Blue Cube Cultural Creation Park, Olagoke explained details of the China-Africa partnership in art and culture, when he said, “It started here in Lagos with my meetings with Zonghua, an entrepreneur and lover of art.”

He stated that the first major work of the partnership would involve three countries, adding, “We are starting with U.K.-China-Nigeria Cultural Exchange 2018 – 2019, which is aimed at using three of the biggest countries in the continents to enhance business and leisure”. The take-off, he said, has started in Hangzhou, China, already, while the U.K and Nigeria events take off in the first quarter of next year.

While in Lagos, Zonghua noted that Nigeria, as a big country in Africa, would play significant role in the cultural exchange, particularly in art. In fact, he disclosed of his plans to have a section dedicated to African art at the Art Academy of Hangzhou. Collection of African art for the Academy, Olagoke said, “would be coordinated from Nigeria on behalf of the continent”.

About four months into the partnership, Olagoke described Zonghua, as a very successful and big-hearted entrepreneur, noting, “He has independent innovation and business talents such as being engaged in a chemical industry that has been imitated by others”.

He said his brief knowledge of Zonghua while in China showed how the partner’s “Zhejiang Blue Cube Cultural Creation Park is committed to international art exhibitions and exchanges with focus on introducing artists from all over the world to the Blue Cube for international cultural and artistic exchanges.”

The Blue Cube, Olagoke emphasised, “will accumulate rich art from Africa and other parts of the world as well”. In June, Olagoke was invited to China for the take off of the partnership. During a chat, he shared the activities of his June visit to China.

“In Hangzhou, I assisted the public welfare class of disabled persons who came into contact with western oil paintings for the first time,” and recalled how his interaction and work with each student created a small oil painting and collectively produced another painting titled Hands of the Future.

The event exposed his activities to other established artists in the host community, among such, he said, is a master, saying, “Professor Liu, a famous painter at the China Academy of Art, commended my work and presented a portrait to me”.Olagoke enthused that his activities in art and the partnership with Blue Cube will roll into a historic event this year: “The first international art festival of Blue Cube will be held in China; that’s historic for me”.

Reports on the China events monitored from Lagos revealed how Hangzhou Lemantu Disabled Assistance Cultural & Creative Park found Olagoke’s art as a huge resource. The artist said he explained each piece of his art’s vocabulary to the disabled inmates. An artist’s self-esteem, he noted, was part of the mentorship. “I let them know that you should be confident, because you are excellent and unique.”

The Lemantu home was founded by Wu Xiaoli, a woman whom Olagoke noted was willing to work with his AAAT charity group.According to him, “Wu Xiaoli is a very famous woman in China, who wants both her charity and mine (Art-Alive Arts Trust) to work together because we share the same vision with our partner. Both charities would be the main other reason for the event in the U.K. and raise fund to progress in the great work they have done and are doing across the globe. This helps to build the ties with China, Nigeria and U.K. together”.

BEING the art consultant to Zhejiang Blue Cube Cultural and Creative Park, Olagoke’s major visit to China, he said, “included presentation of my new oil paintings, and providing knowledge to the special needs of inmates at Lemantu who have mental retardation”.

From all indications, Nigeria as a launching spot for China’s interest in African art has connections to the recent rise in the visual arts of the continent. And also, Olagoke, who was a studio assistant to one of Africa’s most valuable artist, Enwonwu, adds to the strength of the ongoing China-Africa cultural partnership.

Olagoke’s base in the U.K. appears to play a role as well as Nigeria’s leading spot in Africa’s business environment. The artist noted that these factors culminate to enhance the China-U.K.-Nigeria cultural exchange event of 2018-2019. He also traced the event to the crucial spots of the three continents of Asia, Europe and Africa in the evolving new narratives across global development.

“China as one of the leading global economic powers,” Olagoke maintained, “U.K., with a strong reputation of world’s business travel destination, across strata of life, and Nigeria, a country with the largest concentration of business transactions in the black world, have the collective strength to propel a new vision in trans-continental business and leisure relationship.

“The content of the cultural exchange include art exhibitions of artists from the three countries, musical, poetry and fashion displays with tourism as main focus.”

On the U.K. wing of the event, he said, the country being in the centre of connection between Africa and China, will increasingly be a hub for businessmen and students from both Asia and Africa, adding, “The U.K.-China-Nigeria Cultural Exchange 2018 – 2019 will attract arts and culture enthusiasts as well as leisure travellers from across the world”. He hoped that apart from the volume and quality of traffic through physical presence of visitors and mass media that the event will generate within the U.K., expectations include what he described as “ripple effects that should be of benefits too to all the partners and corporate supporters’ visibility within and outside the U.K.”

Details show that the three-city events will feature Chinese master, Xiao Feng as the face of China, British-Nigerian artist, Olagoke as the U.K. face, as well as a number of other artists and culture professionals from Nigeria. Specifically, the art event in the U.K. will also include talk shows on cultural exchange and diversity to feature top Nigerian artists.

One of Nigeria’s top businessmen, Adewunmi Ogunsanya, has shown interest in supporting his country’s aspect of the event, Olagoke said. Ogunsanya, who is known more as the boss of DStv Nigeria, interestingly is a quiet art collector whose collection runs into several thousands.

Olagoke founded the Art-Alive Arts Trust (AAAT) in 1997, as a registered charity in the U.K. The profile of AAAT says it had helped thousands of children, adolescents and young adults find opportunities in realising their potential and a spot in society through the use of art.

Excerpts from AAAT: “Olagoke also works with Centre Point, a homeless and youth hostel, in which The Duke of Cambridge, Prince William and Princess Kate Middleton, are the patrons. Princess Ann also met Lanre during a major project with Her Majesty’s Prison Service in Wandsworth.

“Olagoke has been a great ambassador for Africa and Nigerian arts by promoting the works of upcoming artists in cultural exchange between Nigeria and the rest of the world.

“In 2014 Olagoke was approached over an employability programme by Middlesex University’s Welcome Foundation and Consultant, Jessica Meade, to help graduates gain practical skills in project development and corporate sales and sponsorship. He saw it as an ideal opportunity to build a project that will assist the graduates as well as giving youth a platform to be heard and as a result The Open Door Project.

“The Open Door Project is an exciting art initiative about young people having door to opportunities that will improve their outcomes in society. Throughout 2017 and 201, The Open Door will be engaging directly with thousands of young people aged from 16-26 and encouraging them to express their views about ‘what an Open Door means to them’ through all forms of creative art. The Open Door will also collaborate with family members, businesses, government, plus organisations and institutions/services, such as those responsible for youths homelessness, youths in care and those youth in prison.”

In this article:
Lanre OlagokeZhang Zonghua
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