When Fresco first reached out to The 21 magazine about this exhibition, I was excited. I think Art of all mediums is beautiful and I think Africans as a whole need to appreciate it more. It’s a part of our history and will always be a part of our culture. Also, my interest was particularly piqued by the fact that our artist is a Nigerian woman. I knew immediately that I wanted to see the art and talk to the person who made it but simultaneously, I was intrigued by the gallerist; Ima Ekpoh, who curated the art and exhibition. So we arranged for me to attend a private walk-through.
When I got to the Exhibition, the first thing I saw, right at the entrance, somewhat shrouded by potted plants was the title printed on canvas; “A Plant You Cannot Kill“. I admired that for a while before walking towards the wide white door. Right from that entrance, it genuinely felt like I was walking straight into a fantasy world. I was completely enthralled.
Ima, Fresco’s gallerist met me at the door and welcomed me with a warm hug and kind smile but I could barely look away from what I had right in front of me. To my left was a wooden bar with the cutest bar stools. Right after that was a long wooden window desk set that starts right from the bar and goes all the way to where the wall ends. The window sills were lined by the most adorable mini-potted plants. They were completely chaotic in sizes, designs, plant types and growth levels. I felt that in many ways that setup truly represented life. You could start at the exact same time as another person but that doesn’t mean you’ll be at the exact same place throughout your lifetimes.
The entire space was riddled with an assortment of real plants and pots. Nestled perfectly in between them were Yadichima’s Lino-cut prints. These prints came in different shapes, sizes and colours and each one I felt, had its own meaning. I saw an African mother, a stylish woman, a rebellious child, a grandmother and many more. I had a glass of wine, took my shoes off, and tried to feel the ground and ‘earth’ and by extension the art. ‘What does this mean? Do I care? What is the connection between art and life? I found myself looking for and experiencing the answers to these questions.
I left the exhibition anticipating the conversation I was going to have with both Ima and Yadichinma.
Get To Know The Artist
Yadichinma Ukoha-Kalu, an avant-garde artist and graphic designer from Lagos, Nigeria, seamlessly fuses diverse artistic mediums to create thought-provoking expressions. She likes to say she’s an experimental artist because she has a knack for exploring different media. She’s very interested in exploring material as far as it can take her. Through the canvas of painting, photography, sculpture, film, and digital media, she channels a dynamic blend of artistic movements, drawing inspiration from the tapestry of everyday life. Her creations, both in tangible reality and the realm of imagination, serve as conduits for exploration. By examining lines and forms, Yadichinma navigates the contours of our world, embracing change as a muse.
In her creative process, Yadichinma seamlessly interweaves direct reflections of her experiences with more subtle impressions, resulting in a captivating body of work. Her artistic narrative centres on the transformative journey from simplicity to complexity and vice versa.
Across all mediums, she asks herself what she’s trying to say within the theme or subject matter she’s working with. For ‘A Plant You Cannot Kill‘, she asked herself questions like, ‘Do I really care about plants?” What do I really feel and if I don’t care how do I cultivate some care and some knowledge about this thing? She did a little bit of reading and at some point, she went to see a gardener. This was all to try to get a sense of what plants really mean to her.
In addition, she sent out a form to friends, asking them about their experience with plants and though she says it was never actually used for the art pieces, it allowed her to contextualize and connect a bit more to what plants in other people’s lives mean to them which makes me think her statement is incorrect. The form helped inform her which helped inspire the final pieces of this exhibition. I believe in this sense, it was used for the art pieces.
Get To Know The Gallerist/Founder
Ima Ekpo, a 28-year-old creative from Akwa Ibom and Imo state, boasts over 8 years of experience in marketing. With an innate passion for helping people and a deep appreciation for visual storytelling, she discovered her love for art and artistic expression through her travels. Currently residing and working in Lagos, Nigeria, Ima is fully immersed in the world of art as a gallerist.
As someone deeply committed to her work, Ima handles every aspect of the gallerist’s role, from curating art for exhibitions to carefully packaging purchased pieces and ensuring they arrive in pristine condition at collectors’ homes. Although she’s always felt a calling to create, she’s struggled to stick with any single medium long enough to excel. Fine art proved challenging, and she modestly claims to have been just “okay” at photography and other artistic pursuits. Nevertheless, over the years, Ima has dedicated herself to immersing in the world of art and cultivating her own unique taste. Through Fresco, her approach to art curation has become her form of creative expression, allowing her to share her perspective and contribute to meaningful artistic conversations. Ima finds great fulfilment in her work.
While Ima primarily identifies as Fresco’s gallerist, during our conversation, I came to learn that she is also the founder of Fresco, a venture she established in July 2022.
Fresco’s mission revolves around amplifying the voices of young, innovative, African artists through limited-edition prints, cleverly playing on the freshness implied by their name(Fresco means fresh in Italian). While their ultimate goal is to contribute to the revival of printmaking in Africa and Nigeria, Ima acknowledges that Fresco alone has not accomplished this feat. However, they are actively championing the movement. Ima believes that printmaking, a medium well-established and embraced in other parts of the world, should not be overlooked, and Nigerian artists should be encouraged to explore its various techniques.
Ima sees printmaking as a medium that fosters inclusivity and accessibility within the art world. It allows artists to engage in meaningful conversations and, from a collector’s perspective, prints typically come at more affordable price points compared to an artist’s original work. For instance, if an artist’s original piece is priced at 10k, their prints might be available for 2k. This affordability is one of the driving factors behind Ima’s commitment to championing and preserving printmaking.
Fresco serves as a platform for this purpose, collaborating with artists interested in printmaking and edition-making, while also focusing on educating and curating bodies of work that appeal to both novice and seasoned collectors. As a gallery, they continue to evolve, learning more about collectors’ preferences and artist motivations, and using this knowledge to shape their exhibitions, workshops, and tools to further their message.
A Match Made In Heaven
Speaking to both Yadi and Ima was quite the treat. They were very easy to talk to and always ready to share any and everything that had to do with their creative process. The little banter they had going was particularly amusing to listen to and engage with.
They met through mutual friends but Ima had already been aware of Yadichinma and her art. Though this is their first time working together when asked if they would again, it was like, ‘Is this really a question’? And they revealed that they were already working together, though failed to mention what exactly the work is. We’ll all just have to wait and see.
Ima describes working with Yadichinma as an aligned, complementary, collaborative, easy, and inspiring experience. She shares that every time Yadichinma showed Ima her progress, Ima felt inspired and after the exhibition launched, a workshop(Within the exhibition, they had a printing studio set up. People made their own lino-prints and also used already-made cutouts to create art pieces.) came out of it. Ima said, “It was like the gift that keeps on giving.”
Yadichinma says she really likes the word ‘aligned’ but she would describe working with Ima as easy. She adds, “It’s not always easy to collaborate on something that needs to be successful”. She says it was focused and open in terms of how ideas were flowing between them. Yadichinma says they really had an ongoing conversation throughout the crafting process. “How would this look? Will this be fine here”? Ima became her person to create with.
Ima shared that she felt the exhibition was a success when she saw how people responded to the Lino-cut prints and workshop. Yadichima agreed with the statement. The engagement put a smile on both their faces. Yadichinma particularly loved the engagement with other artists. In addition, watching people who weren’t creatively inclined get really excited about the prints they made during the workshop and their final pieces was particularly delightful. Yadichinma shares that you could see the joy on their faces as they lifted up the stamp to view their prints and she loves that she got to be a part of creating that joy.
Introduction to Lino-Cut Prints
A linocut is a type of relief print. Relief printing is when a piece of paper is “stamped” with ink from the top surface of the plate. Other types of relief prints are woodcuts and engraving. Essentially, a linocut is the same as a woodcut but the plate isn’t wood, it’s a piece of linoleum, and because of the softness of the plate, it is easier to carve. When you carve your lino you are cutting away the area that will be white and leaving the area that will be black (or coloured if you are printing in colour). Linocuts were originally made popular by Picasso, while before that they were simply regarded as a student’s medium to practice for woodcuts- Shana James; Printmaker, Artist, and Educator.
At its most basic, you carve a design into a linoleum block, roll block printing ink on it and print it on paper- Rich Fowler; Linocut printmaker.
Though Ima wouldn’t say she was particularly drawn to Lino-Cut Prints, it falls under the print umbrella which works because it’s also well within Fresco’s mission. When Fresco set out to curate this exhibition, they didn’t set out to do linocut prints but they set out to do prints. During Yadichinma’s creative process, she settled on Lino cut prints and Ima felt it was perfect because it gave the work a lot of weight and personality.
Yadichinma started her creative process for this exhibition by testing. She tried sketches, marker-tagged drawings, drawings in ink and more. She shares that there are different ways the work could have gone. She also did an illustration on her iPad. She did all of this to get a feel of what would be good to pass this message. After testing she got a sense of the material that felt best. In the end, she settled on Linocuts. She added that it wasn’t until after she cut out the vases that the plants would be in that she immediately knew that this was the medium to use.
The entire process felt very scary because she, in most ways, had a deadline and she says, “You have to test and give each test subject the exact amount of attention just so you know for sure that you’re using the right medium for the message”. Both Yadichinma and Ima share that it felt right when she ended up with Linocuts.
Yadichinma discovered Linocut printmaking last year during a workshop called “The Harmattan Workshop” in Dr. Bruce Onobrakpeya’s hometown in Delta State, Nigeria. Dr. Onobrakpeya is renowned as a print master, and Yadichinma learned the art form from the workshop coordinator, Juliet Ezenwa Maja Pearce, a respected female artist.
As a designer and illustrator, Yadichinma had always been drawn to print media, but she often struggled with the substandard printing equipment available in ‘this part of the world’. However, when she started carving and witnessed the linocut printing process, she realized that it offered a solution to her printing woes. “It’s like I get to make multiples of this thing, and I’m in complete control from start to finish,” she enthused. She loved carving the lino. She says it’s like sculpting an image. The fact that she could make multiples and control the art of the aesthetic itself was truly amazing to her. She explained, “Looking at it you’d know that a machine didn’t do that”. Yadichinma was delighted to incorporate linocut printmaking into her artistic practice, including her work for this exhibition.
The Space: Working with 16/16
Though Fresco doesn’t have a physical space yet, they have an ongoing partnership with a boutique hotel and private gathering space called 16/16. Ima believes this partnership is mutually beneficial on many levels.”When she started Fresco she really wanted it to be accessible and she wanted people to feel like they could enjoy art and be part of that conversation even if they don’t particularly understand or know art. She says 16/16 is very inviting and doesn’t take itself too seriously and she wanted a place like that for Fresco and its community.
As I already described, from the moment I saw the door that leads into 16/16, I found myself drawn to the hidden gem within the heart of Victoria Island, Lagos. This boutique hotel and exclusive gathering space, nestled discreetly in an unassuming structure, belongs to a warm and welcoming family. Their ethos revolves around a passion for design. They seamlessly blend humility with top-notch quality. With an unwavering dedication to simplicity and a commitment to utilizing local materials, they’ve crafted a sanctuary for both travellers and creative minds, providing respite from the energetic buzz of Lagos. During their impressive seven-year tenure as a hotel, gallery, and creative incubator, they’ve posed inquiries at the crossroads of hospitality, artistry, efficiency, and aesthetics. This journey has led them to introduce a pioneering concept that offers shelter while also broadening guests’ horizons to the myriad possibilities that their vibrant city has to offer.
16 by 16 was very welcoming. She was so welcoming, her manager was more than happy to show me three of their rooms. I was already enthralled by the space but the moment I saw and learned that 16/16 has artists design the rooms people get to book, I was blown away. It’s such a creative and beautiful idea. Anyone would be interested in spending a night there. They also have the cutest little library with amazing lighting that I was of course, immediately drawn to. I had already concluded my opinion on 16/16. However, I only got to see it at a glance so I decided to ask the woman who was already working with them. She was the only person who could give insight into how extraordinary the space truly was.
Ima shares that she ‘absolutely absolutely‘ loves working with Tushar; the owner and creative director of 16/16 and that love was cemented during the exhibition she had at their space earlier in March 2023. Ima is really focused on the art and she needed someone like that as well. Tushar and the entire 16/16 team were. She’ll definitely be working with them again.
In all, I had an amazing experience. I got to be a part of beautiful art, amazing artists and a pretty interesting space. It is something I hope I get to encounter across my lifetime.