At the hip SAO and the Muse 3 show the favorite things to see were Rotimi Williams’ outsized bottles painted with pop art styled forms of females in various emotional states—according to the artist, the bottles were sourced from riverine areas in Calabar, and some of them are about 100 years old. As a testament to their popularity, he sold at least three of them a couple of hours into the first day of the show.
‘SAO and the Muse 3: Collaboration Era’, a contemporary art exhibition organized by SAO Café in partnership with Leadway Assurance Company Limited, showcased art by budding Nigerian artists to encourage these emerging talents and provide a platform for young art enthusiasts to engage with them. Over the years, Leadway Assurance has shown significant interest in Nigerian art and artists by supporting exhibitions, fairs and other art projects. Principally, it lays claim to being the first and foremost provider of bespoke art insurance cover in Nigeria.
It was all fun installations, graffiti and bright yellow spaces, and there was enough good art at SAO and The Muse 3 to recommend it: in addition to Rotimi Williams interesting bottles, there were beautiful oil paintings by Osa Seven—he also had several well-executed and striking mixed media paintings of the Festac 77 icon, though these seemed somewhat contrived; Adeyinka Akingbade’s monochromatic silhouette paintings; Williams Chechet’s northern Nigeria influenced pop art, and of note are two impressionist paintings by John Madu.
The most enduring impression from the show is the atmosphere of casual engagement with the arts through interaction with artists who were happy to talk about their art, and of youthful exuberance. Rotimi Williams, the bottle artist showed me the back of one of the gin bottles, which was embossed with W. Herwig, and explained that it is a relic of the slave trade era—one of the items bartered for slaves. I’m fascinated by the narratives surrounding the bottles and procuring them, and the expressive paintings on them, but a question nagged at the back of my mind: is this art or craft?