Mrs. Patty Chidiac-Mastrogiannis is the director/founder of Alexis Galleries Limited. She has carved a niche in the art industry. Every year, she organizes an all-women art expo, Destiny, with the aim of sustaining female artists, celebrating the International Women’s Day (IWD) and supporting the campaign against sexual predation, as part of her civic responsibility.
This year’s IWD was not an exception as nine Nigerian female artists across different media of visual expression joined the rest of the world in celebrating 2021 IWD by exhibiting different bodies of works at the gallery.
In this interview with Daily Sun in her Lagos office, Chidiac-Mastrogiannis talked about the expo, her passion for the business of art, artists and why banks should start looking into supporting art growth in Nigeria.
Could you take us through your recent all-female exhibition, as part of activities to mark this year’s International Women’s Day?
It is a women’s show made up of nine of them. We feel it is the right thing to do to have all the women exhibit their works, essentially, to celebrate women. It is titled Destiny and this is the second edition. The first edition took place in 2019. We couldn’t stage it last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
When you set out with the idea, what did you have in mind specifically?
I had nothing, to say the least. I only wanted to show the best of what women can offer and to sustain their art. We assembled them, and I believe it was a successful one; matching the beads and the paintings. When you see women, you see butterflies and flowers, which are always associated with women. It was a very good modelling show and it was what I was gunning for. I got it in partnership with a not-for-profit organisation that chooses to challenge sexual predation. Our partnership is to donate part of the exhibition’s proceeds to their cause. We desire that some of the female artists become giants in the league of acclaimed visual artists one day.
With this year’s IWD’s theme, ‘Choose to Challenge’, how have you reflected it in Destiny 2?
Destiny 2 is like what we do in our series Fate, which is in its eighth edition this year. And it is strictly for women. So, there is nothing complicated about it. It is an exhibition to celebrate women in art, which we intend to continue, hoping more women will join. I think it is time for women to climb up the ladder like men have.
We know that about 90 per cent of the art industry is made of men. So, it is time for women to shine. We have very good women artists but the ones that come out are very few. Now, the idea will enhance the women and grow their art.
How do you think we have been able to close the gap in art, culture and tourism for economic growth?
I would give you my own insight of art. Art is an international language. It is like football. For instance, if there is a fire in a building, what would be the first thing they would save, Mona Lisa? They would first of all remove the painting. So, art is something that would last always and forever because it is a language spoken by all and one of the most valuable in the world and also in life. You could imagine the depth and magnitude of beautiful artworks. But in economic terms, the industry is suffering because art is a luxury item. It is not an item you buy like you buy bread, food or clothes. The cause could be many factors and happenings in our lives at the moment, perhaps in the country or COVID-19 pandemic.
The industry is suffering and the story is the same everywhere in the world. We have the big boys who spend on art but we don’t have to depend on them always, we also need to depend on new collectors and those who walk in and want to buy a piece of painting to beautify their houses. Art business at the moment is slow and it is not just in Nigeria but all over the world. It is now one year the whole world was at standstill because of the coronavirus pandemic and it was terrible for many businesses. Though, with respect to tourism, it emerged as one of the significant sources of resilience in militating against the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy last year.
What are your thoughts about the new normal, the virtual environment, which the pandemic created?
I don’t think that Zoom, the new media or virtual environment have an impact as when people were walking into an exhibition ground to view and collect works on display. I would tell you one thing for sure, it is that the art depletes on a picture more than it does in real life.
Looking at an artwork in a picture is different from having it on the wall. The experience and feel is not the same thing. So, I don’t think that the virtual environment created by COVID-19 impacted positively on the art world.
What growth policies do you have in place for the art business in post-COVID-19 resurgence?
We are looking towards moving our art outside the country. Not the structure but our exhibitions. We are discussing with two other artists I would not want to mention. We are about to embark on it, to try out our art ourselves.
Africa leads the world in terms of the number of women business owners. It was reported that women account for more than 58 per cent of the continent’s self-employed, even though they are at micro level. What do you think are the inhibitors to the potential of women entrepreneurs in Africa?
I think African women, I will speak for myself, are very tenacious and stubborn in holding their own. We don’t give up easily. We have the stamina and creativity. I don’t know if it is the fact that we were born and bred in Africa that gives us that, but from our character into being some of the toughest women, especially when it comes to work, most successful people in Nigeria, whether in the art world or other businesses, are very strong women who are tenacious and die-hard. Working hard is our motto. Whether tired or sick, we work every day. I think it is the fate of African women, whether in management, the marketwomen carrying baskets of tomatoes on their head, backing a child or cooking in the house and doing her business, how many men could do that?
Your passion for collecting art has taken you round the world. How much of art appreciation have we recorded in recent years?
I think we are now number one in the world with China. There is so much talent in Nigeria. I think we would soon be number one, and we would not be in competition with China anymore. Considering the population figure between Nigeria and China, we are ahead of China by far. But in terms of ratio, we are definitely number one.
As a collector and curator, what insurance policies have you in place to ensure that, in the event of a fire outbreak, artists’ works are not imperiled?
I have a very heavy insurance underwriter for my collections. God forbid, if anything happens today, I have to look at the artists in the face and pay them their money. Not long ago, during the COVID-19 period, we had a flood from the ceiling and six paintings were damaged. I came, paid the artists their money. So, as far as insurance policy for our art is concerned, we are heavily insured.
What do you think about art as collateral for raising funds from banks?
I think the banks should promote the arts. I know for one that Guarantee Trust Bank (GTBank) used to be number one promoter for Terrakulture but I don’t know what they are doing now. Banks should look at investing in the arts. They have to because we are very big in the industry. Art is one of the very languages of people in Nigeria so they should fund the industry, especially with people who give back to society. The social responsibility is there so they should assist the industry because it is suffering, same with artists. In other countries, they help through some sort of support. In Nigeria, we are doing it on our own. We rely on sponsors. Thank God for our sponsors for making it possible for us to have all the exhibitions we are having, otherwise, we couldn’t cope and half of the things we couldn’t do. It is a vicious circle; therefore, the banks have to support the art industry by starting to look into art growth.
What are the expectations for art in 2021?
I think the expectations are dim. We are still going through the COVID-19 era. I don’t think we have recovered from it. This is another year we have to suffer for and hold our own, it is another year we would have to wave off and, with God, we can.
By the time they finish vaccinating everybody, those who don’t want to be vaccinated are free. At the end of the day, how long is the pandemic going to be, especially in Nigeria, where half of the people are scared to be vaccinated because the vaccine needs at least 10 years to come out but it did in six months? They still don’t know whether it will go in second or third wave. So, I don’t think this year is going to be a fruitful one either.