By Osa Amadi, Arts Editor
Can the ballpoint pen and the ink that flows from it serve as brush and medium in art? Absolutely! The BIC Arts Master Africa Competition proves it.
The ambience was cosy as guests arrived and were ushered into an average-sized conference hall in Ikeja. It was obviously not an all-comers affair, but a special gathering of the masters. It was not a day for speech making.
The faces of the four young men who came for serious business were stiff, making the atmosphere thick and tense. To ease the tension, the host smiled, shook hands with them, and said jokingly: “Relax guys. It’s not an exam.”
It was an occasion for celebration of four Nigerian master artists who were among the top ten entries in the last BIC Arts Master Africa Competition – the first was held in South Africa in 2017. It was limited to South Africa but with the success recorded in South Africa, BIC decided to expand it to other Africa countries. So, all African artists were given the opportunity to enter for this continental competition.
Initially, according to Guillaume Groues, Area Development Manager, BIC West Africa, the plan was to recognize only the top three winners in that competition, but it was increased to ten, following the huge response across the continent. The competition, which aims to foster local creativity, called for African talents to create artworks using basically the BIC® Ball Pen as their medium.
Over 5,200 entries were submitted by 2,400 artists with each submitting two pieces of artworks for the prize of BIC Art Master Africa Champion. Interestingly, over half of the works came from Nigeria. The platform was also open for a month to the public to vote for their favourite artwork.
According to Guillaume Groues, the competition’s champions were selected by a panel of experts including Ghanaian artist and sculptor, Enam Bosokah; professor and designer, Hein Liebenberg; renowned artists and interior designer, Valerie Manouvrier; professional curator and art advisor, Herve Mikaeloff; and avid art enthusiast and collector and member of BIC’s founding family, Geoffroy Bich.”BIC Art Master was born from our connection with art and creativity with the objective to create a platform that recognises local talent around Africa,” said Grouse.
The first two winners were from, the Benin Republic and they received USD 1,000 dollars (N362,500) cash prize, a personalised digital gallery space, and a chance to be featured as part of BIC’s art collection, La BIC Collection. There were other ranges of prizes for other winners. One ‘Lucky Influencer’ winner, among those that posted about the competition on social platforms using the #BICArtMaster hashtag, was also selected and rewarded with a cash prize. Grouse explained that BIC’s connection with art is as old as the brand and it spans more than 60 years, as the brand has provided platforms for artists around the world to find great inspiration in creating portraits, designs, sculptures, and installations from the brand’s iconic products. He also explained that the brand regularly works with artists, designers, curators, and institutions around the world on creative projects and expositions. Grouse also mentioned that not too long ago, BIC hosted in Paris an unprecedented exhibition with 250 BIC collection works by internationally recognized and upcoming artists, which captured the art community and took its audience on an immersive display.
Guillaume Groues, also explain that BIC is not just about pens but there are other products like lighters, shaving sticks, pencils, markers, colouring products, etc. He revelled that BIC will be branching out of their partnership with CFAO following the acquisition of a company called Lucky stationery Nigeria Limited. “We will engage the market deeper with more product lines and distribution outlets as well as manufacturing centres, just like what they do in South Africa, Tunisia, Kenya and a few other places in Africa,” he said, explaining that the BIC in France will be the same manufactured in Lagos. But brands like BIC crystal is produced only in Nigeria.
He thanked all the Nigerian winners and encouraged them to take their art careers higher, promising that BIC will always be there for them
In his comment before receiving has prize from BIC, David Olatoye, who was picked as the lucky influencer revealed that he has close to 30,000 followers on Instagram and he sees art as an escape route from his very crowded world where he can live out his dream. He started professionally in 2011 although from childhood he has been a lover of art and a passionate artist. His preferred tool for work is BIC ball pen because “the brand brings out that shade in me. Most times I walk in the dark so BIC draws out that desired light and helps me to express what is within, in a fashion that is loud and bold.” He sees the Bic Art Masters as a laudable programme and he would want the young artist to consistently lookout for opportunities like this. “I have learnt a lot from embracing BIC. Now I can paint faster using 6-10 pens at a time. It gives me a lot of freedom as one can’t make a mistake and erase it. The traffic is straight so your creativity is greatly sharpened. It is the kind of capacity that has impacted massively in all my art endeavours”.
Olatoye took time out to showcase some of his artworks and displayed his dexterity in using nine pens to paint with one hand. In less than 4 minutes he painted a masterpiece of BIC luxury pen to the admiration of the audience and other artists.
For, Eze Tonugo Ebuka from Enugu who came 7th in the competition, this performance will help take his art career to the next level. His experience with BIC was purely accidental. “My pencil box was stolen and my inability to replace everything made me move to ball pen, and BIC was the dominant brand in Enugu. That accident made me discover that I was indeed a pen artist.”
That has been Ebuka’s strength since that time. He feels patience, staying power and possibly a good location are what the artist needs besides other factors to propel his growth as an artist: “If you stay in Bauchi where survival is the core issue for 99 per cent of the population, as an artist you can only survive in selling your works online. Even those who appreciate arts there will not have the capacity to negotiate profitably.”
Ebuka also showcased his famous “Ojulegba” artwork presentation that elevated him to the top ten teams of the BIC Art Masters Africa. He said the work took him almost 30 days to complete.
Oscar Ukonu, a Lagos based architect and artist who was 6th in the competition, feels his field of study, architecture and arts overlap to a great extent with art sharpening his architectural design remarkably. He declared his determination to pursue both powerfully because art is very lucrative.
“You can be here in Nigeria and link up with galleries all over the world and sell your artwork in Australia or Norway and make good money. So, you should not limit your aspirations at all,” he said. Oscar also displayed his hyper-realism piece, “blue boy” that gave him the sixth position in the competition.
From the 5th best entrant, Ikorodu-based Jamiu Hassan, who is the Highest Placed Nigerian, it was the parents that encouraged him to take part in the competition. He was also motivated to turn to BIC by the works of some of his Instagram mentors because he wanted to be like them. Since that time, he has never had any reason to regret the switch. Jamiu’s piece, “Ethiopian woman” that gave him the 5th position drew a lot of interests and cheers from the audience.
Various gifts like premium quality cellphones, BIC products, bags, etc., were presented to the winners from Nigeria at the media event.
Speaking after the presentation of gifts, Yemi Ojo, Business Development Manager- Nigeria, said the response from the 2019 competition revealed that it was not a mistake for the brand to expand the competition to continental Africa, saying that the 2020 edition will be quite massive and will form part of the plan to expand their CSR. He also said that the brand is partnering with Enactus – an NGO that trains young people – to use what is within their environment for survival and sustainability.
On the expansion of their market presence through the acquisition of Lucky Stationery Nigerian Limited, Ojo said the Nigerian market and indeed the entire West African market will experience the massive presence of diverse quality products: “It will be different from the time we had it only with CFAO. It will really be a win-win business for all as more job opportunities will be there, more capital flow and related businesses will also flourish,” he explained.
Also speaking at the event, Patrick Bello, BIC Trade Marketing Manager for Nigeria advised the winners to celebrate and showcase their performances and artworks and push to project themselves higher. He also advised them to form a community and mentor other up-coming artists so that Nigerian artists can do better in subsequent times.
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