Friday 24 February 2012

Collector’s Focus: Prince (Engr.) Yemisi Shyllon

This year, our Focus feature shifts from highlighting the practices of emerging
and established artists to giving prominence to the practices of the rising
number of collectors of Modern and Contemporary African art. In this edition,
Bisi Silva interviews the Nigerian collector Prince (Engr.) Yemisi Shyllon
about the history and highlights of his art collection.
1) Bisi Silva: You started collecting art as a student; what inspired your incredible passion for art?
Prince (Engr.) Yemisi Shyllon: As a student of engineering at the University of Ibadan in the seventies, I depended very much on reading in the library of the Yaba College of Technology, Lagos during my holidays. In those days, Yaba Tech was highly patronised by all students living around that vicinity. When I took my break from reading I would spend about thirty minutes walking around. During such walks, I would spend substantial time looking and marveling at the sculptural works of students on display at the demonstration area of Yaba Tech Art Faculty. This eventually gave way to my strong interest in collecting sculptures long before collecting paintings. At the universities of Ibadan and Ife where I had hostel accommodations, I kept my small
sized sculptural pieces in my rooms and kept the large ones in my uncle’s residence in Ibadan. In 1981, after my MBA at the University of Ife, I moved into my first three bedroom at Ketu on the outskirts of Lagos and assembled all my sculptural pieces  into my flat. I fondly remember that my landlord did not believe I had just graduated from school; he wondered how the art had been financed. I must mention that while I was studying for my MBA at Ife, I worked part time as a physics and mathematics teacher at the Anglican Grammar School, Ife. I used the money made from teaching to buy art and shares, two activities which had consumed my time and any excess funds I derived from my family, family members and scholarship funds. At that early stage I bought
works that caught my fancy from around me in Lagos, Ibadan, Enugu, Benin and Ife.
Some sculptures of OYASAF collection.
2) BS: What informs the choices that you make? How do you decide on what to buy? How would you rationalize your collection?
YS: My choices are influenced in varying degrees by the intuitive appeal of the work, the artist, the depth of artistic dexterity in the work, the age of the work, etc. I also consider the medium of the artwork and in the case of sculpture the anatomical form and balance of the work. The balance of colours in the artwork, the style of the artist, the creative appeal of the artist, my knowledge of the history and position of the artist, the size of the artwork, my expectations in the type of artwork (e.g. whether modern or traditional), and of course the appropriateness of the price. All of the above parameters influence my decision as to what to buy, very much beyond just what takes my fancy.
Consequently, the rationale behind my collection is two-fold. Before full consciousness of my role and responsibility, I collected primarily with the aforementioned criteria in mind. Above all I collected art with a view to satisfying my passion for artworks, to decorate my environment and to satisfy my immeasurable pleasure in owning art and always being surrounded by them—whether at home or in the office. However, I later grew conscious of the need for me to contribute to promoting Nigeria’s art and culture through my collection, in the absence of other infrastructure, for the benefit of preserving our art, history, way of life and heritage. At this later stage, my reasoning
expanded to include in-depth research on the history of Nigerian art. This enabled me to discover the void with regards to our art history, and in relation to the works in my collection. As a result of this, I began to work towards filling those gaps as much as possible. This is part of what led to the incorporation of the family run art foundation, (Omooba Yemisi Shyllon Art Foundation) OYASAF. My personal collection is now legally owned by OYASAF while I hold in trust, the equitable interest in the artworks, on behalf of my family art foundation. The over 6,000 artworks in the OYASAF collection is a strong statement about my passion for visual art and culture of Nigerian in all ramifications, ranging from modern and traditional Terracotta, life-size bronzes, metal, wood, plaster, stone and fiberglass sculptures, as well as modern and contemporary paintings from earliest pioneers of Modern Art in Nigeria such as AinaOnabolu, Okaybulu, Ugoji, Akinola Lashekan amongst others. The classical African works cover substantial geographical spread including Igbo Ukwu, Benin, Owo, Ife, to Eket, Ogoni,
Bazinge. From Ijebu, Egba, Yewa, Ekiti, Ilorin, Nok to the Jebba region.
3) BS: Cultural philanthropy is at its embryonic stage in Nigeria and throughout Africa. We do not yet have the equivalent of the Gettys or the Astors or the Rockefellers. Recently you set up OYASAF. Can you please tell us more about the genesis and necessity for this foundation?
YS: The incorporation and formation of the Omooba Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon Art Foundation was engendered primarily by the realization of the sheer size of the collection of artworks acquired over the past three decades. I felt it was important to formally set up a foundation to safeguard the collection for future generations.
Additionally through OYASAF’s collection, we have implemented a variety of educational programmes which include providing fellowships for scholars through OYASAF fellows which has attracted nine fellows since 2009. We also support visual art workshops for artists as well as for children. We have lent work to museums for exhibitions. Publications of OYASAF’s collection are a high priority in making information accessible to a wider audience. The premise for our activities is to contribute to the development of Nigerian art, to foster exchange between Nigerian artists and scholars/researchers, and above all to curb the flight of Nigerian art and artists from the country. And of course to present Nigeria’s visual
art to the world.

4) BS: In the absence of government interest in supporting the visual arts—the National Endowment Fund for the Arts has yet to be implemented and the lack of a adequate Museum of contemporary Art constitutes an enormous infrastructural deficit, which limits the level of artistic and curatorial professional development in the country. Taking this into consideration how do you see Nigerian artists competing globally without the requisite physical and intellectual nourishment and platforms?
YS: Well, I have been asked this question many times and my answer has always been
to the effect that Nigerians would usually do well with or without these supports, but such support would create a needed competitive edge. We didn’t have these supports yet we bred the first nobel prize winner in literature, the Professor Mabogunjes, Awojobis, the Fela Anikulapo-Kutis, the Yusuf Grillos, Bruce Onabrakpeyas, David Dales and many more excellent artists and academics. That is my position on this.
Inside OYASAF collection
5) BS: Which is your favorite work in your collection and why?
YS: This is a difficult question to answer given the sheer volume and diversity of my collection. I will therefore attempt to answer your question in relation to the different classifications of the collection. Now, with respect to painting, my favorite is the 16ft by 8ft beadwork by David Dale titled “As The Evening Falls” (1994) this made me brake the wall of my house just to bring it in for hanging. As for traditional art, it is a Gelede headdress with the super structure of an EPA mask in my collection. With neo-traditional art, it is the approximately 13ft x 3ft x 3ft sculptural piece by the late Lamidi Fakeye titled “IFA Story Of Creation” executed as a commission from 2004 to 2007. In the modern sculpture section, pride of place goes to the original mould in plaster from which all copies of Ben Enwonwu’s globally famous “Anyawu” – the risen sun—was produced. As for photography it is the image of a small time petrol dealer sleeping
with plastic jerrycans in his wheelbarrow,which is used to hawk his petrol to buyers.
This photograph taken in 2009 is by Ariyo Oguntimehin.
6) BS: What does your collection say about you?
YS: There are over six thousand artworks in the OYASAF collection, which I believe makes a bold statement about the obsession for Nigeria’s visual art. It includes work ranging from modern and traditional Terracotta, lifesize bronze, metal, wood, plaster, stone and fiberglass sculptures as well as modern and  contemporary paintings from Nigeria’s pioneer artists such as Aina Onabolu, Okaybulu, Ugoji, Akinola Lashekan amongst others. Traditional artworks are from all the geographical areas of Nigeria ranging from Igbo Ukwu, Benin, Owo, Ife, Eket, to the Ekiti, Ilorin, Nok, and Jebba.
7) BS: Are there any African artists whose work you don’t have, but feel would complement your collection? If so, who?
YS: The African artists whose works are not represented at OYASAF but who would complement our collection include : Yinka Shonibare MBE, Skunder Bhogosian
and the late Valente Malangatana.

Thursday 23 February 2012

The Ofala Festival of Onitsha (2011)

During the 2011 edition of the Ofala Festival of the city of ONITSHA, led by the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Alfred Nnaemeka Achebe, the Documentary Department of OYASAF captured the colours of the people’s rich culture.
Ceremonial paraphernalia on display during the Ofala Festival. PHOTO: ARIYO OGUNTIMEHIN
 The 2011 edition was sponsored by Globacom.
Ofala Festival is reputed to be the biggest traditional festival in the South East of Nigeria. Ofala is a cultural extravaganza marking the climax of New Yam celebration of Onitsha. The three-day event is usually celebrated annually in the second week of October.
Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Alfred Nnaemeka Achebe during the Ofala Festival. PHOTO: ARIYO OGUNTIMEHIN
 The opening ceremony was attended by Anambra State Governor, Peter Obi, traditional rulers of other towns in Anambra state, other states of the South East and other special guests.
The highlight of the day was the emergence of Igwe Achebe from five days of seclusion during which he offered prayers for the wellbeing of his people and had to personally attend to his domestic needs.
 The festival attracts people all around the world. The peak of the festival involves the Obi of Onitsha in a dancing parade accompanied by his chiefs.

Yemisi Shyllon, Africa’s Greatest Art Connoisseur

By NIgerianWorldForum
Dr Ohioma Ifounu Pogoson, Curator at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan describes him as: “perhaps Africa’s largest collector and patron of its (Africa’s) own arts.” I guess the word “perhaps” is the safe recourse of the intellectual against probable contradiction, but I’ll be quick to make Omooba Yemisi Shyllon out as indeed Africa’s greatest art collector and connoisseur (and I’ve seen some) – and in private conversation even Pogoson readily removes the “perhaps”.

The vastness, range, intrinsic and material value in the African (and arts from other lands) arts in Yemisi Shyllon’s collection are simply mind-boggling; it leaves one in a daze!

Conservatively Shyllon’s collection is put at well over six thousand pieces of works encompassing “all the five areas of Nigerian/African art, ranging from antiques, traditional and neo-traditional African art, contemporary paintings and sculptures” under an organisation called OYASAF (acronym for Omooba Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon Art Foundation).

Some of Prince Yemisi Shyllon's collection inside OYASAF Garden in Lagos

Bruce Onobrakpeya, one of Nigeria’s most renowned artists of the old school, in his book, “Contemporary Nigerian Art” describes Yemisi Shyllon as “an avid art collector who arguably has the largest private collections of contemporary artists’ works both Nigerian and non-Nigerian artists.”

He has them all: antiques as old as the 12th century, and the works of great traditional artists of old such as Olowe of Ise, Agbonbiofe, Arowogun, etc to modern day masters such as Aina Onabolu, Ben Enwonwu, Akinola Lasekan, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Lamidi Fakeye, Okpu Eze, Ugorgi, Kolade Osinowo, David Dale, Abayomi Barber, Jimoh Buraimoh, Kunle Filani, etc, to younger generation and contemporary artists such as Olu Amoda, Tunde Balogun, Moyo Ogundipe, Ben Osaghae, and scores of others too numerous to mention.

OYASAF’s (museum) place sits innocently in Mende area of Maryland, Ikeja, Lagos; its high fence walls, covered by plant creepers, envelope the acre or so land area. That I have gone past this area of Mende so often in the past without my attention being drawn to the place speaks a lot to its deceptive outward ordinariness. But once within, the marvel begins with the classic setting of its foreground parading scores of sculptures – bronze, terracotta, metal, fibreglass, stone – each competing for space and attention. Olu Amoda is dominant here, his best sculptural works of intricately interlocking metals and steel commanding attention here and there amidst huge stone and bronze works of some other artists, all strewn seemingly carelessly but with artistic intent.

As one wonders at one, another beckons – a bosomy damsel lying teasingly; a fisherman back from the river with his huge catch slung over his shoulder; even some community at work depicting artisans and villagers in their various activities. From balconies and rooftop the spectacle continues – some hunters peer down at you; a morose graduate in jobless lament; a sage in thoughtful pose – no space is left unfilled.

To crown it all, the ground is home to a number of exotic fauna – crown-cranes, peacocks, geese, giant tortoises, etc – which saunter and laze about as they please. This surely would qualify for the mythical Garden of Eden is a thought that crosses the mind.

Welcome to Yemisi Shyllon’s paradise of art.

I apologise if I’ve dwelt too much on the setting before even talking about the awe-inspiring works of art to which this place is sanctuary; it is a measure of one’s stupefaction with this treasure throve.

The main building itself is one huge edifice of several chambers (or rooms), filled by an incredible and suffocating array of works of art capable of doing one’s head in by their sheer number and awesomeness. There is nowhere to put a foot without having to negotiate around one piece here, another piece there.

Omooba (Prince) Yemisi Shyllon

Some chambers have the eeriness of the repository of some deities, awesome and assuring all at once; original antiques, masks and ancestral figures meant for pleasing the gods and spirits, dating as far back as the 12th or 13th century before the white man came, told us the objects were evil and plundered and carted away most of them (evil as they were said to be) to their own land to preserve in their museums and private collections.

The dispossession was complete, of language, culture, and religion – all that could define one’s being was eroded – and in place the invaders’ foreign ones were rammed into us. As if to drive the point home, in an adjoining chamber were collections of comparative religious art of the Chinese and some other Eastern cultures (peoples who still keep to their faith and cultural wholesomeness) with a bronze effigy of the round-bellied Buddha sitting majestically in their midst.

One of several species of birds, complementing the art collection in the Garden
There are no inscriptions, no descriptions; each visitor is free to draw whatever experience and conclusion he or she chooses.

Jostling for space in another part are massive wood sculptures, of old palace doors and house posts, dating back several centuries. With them the impressive intricate wood sculptures of Lamidi Fakeye and comparable artists command attention. It is said that OYASAF’s is the largest individual collection of Fakeye’s and Onobrakpeya’s works anywhere in the world!

Four hours later and we (my wife and I, with the self-effacing Mr Shyllon himself as guide) had barely covered a third of the building and of the collections. There were still several chambers to cover. The rains had been unkind on Lagos and pressure was on us to leave before traffic became impossible, as it was wont to of late.

We called it a day and were led out through the back way whereupon was a fish-shaped swimming pool, its blue water serene and enticing. We moved through another section, an adjoining apartment filled with innumerable paintings, framed works, carvings, and rolls and rolls of artworks for which there is no space. Every conceivable space in the entire property contains or displays artworks; and this includes the several restrooms (toilets), conference room, study, etc.

It is almost impossible to put monetary value to OYASAF’s collection.

From the blurb of the monograph on his collection titled Yoruba Traditional Art, edited by Dr. Ohioma Pogoson, Omooba Yemisi Shyllon’s obsession (and that’s what it is) with collecting visual arts began way back in his undergraduate days at the University of Ibadan some three decades ago and the collection has grown to this stupefying level through “interaction with artists, art vendors, collectors and art shops” all over the world. “One of the collectors had worked in close collaboration with foreign collectors who went around Nigeria before and during the Second World War as a cinematographer collecting works from shrines, local chiefs and established art families in Nigeria.”

A Life-size sculpture inside OYASAF Garden in Lagos
A man of many parts, “Shyllon is a chartered engineer, legal practitioner, business administrator, chartered marketer and chartered stockbroker with business interests covering all his academic and professional” disciplines.

Shyllon’s “museum” is a rich and important point of interest for visitors and academics and I would imagine that the fantastic governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola, would have it included as a “must-place” for his official visitors to Lagos.

As Pogoson says in the Foreword, “Truly the OYASAF collection…must be ranked in the league of the great private collections like those of the Phillips, the Clarks and the Corcorans. In the case of the Corcorans, a reputable School of Art has even emerged…I hope that, one good day soon, we may begin to speak in like manner of Omooba Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon…”

Monday 20 February 2012

‘How much is that artwork?’
By Ozolua Uhakheme 08/02/2012 00:00:00
When an artist ‘pours’ out his heart on canvass, what you find is an artwork that is as close to his heart as his new born baby. Can a collector really pay for that ‘soul’ of the artist? If not, what then is the real value of such an artwork? Can it be an alternative investment? These are some of the puzzles resolved by a team of financial experts, collectors and auctioneers in Lagos. Assistant Editor Arts Ozolua Uhakheme was there.
If I give my artwork to GTBank as collateral for a credit, assuming the bank accepts it, how will it value the artwork? How do you convince bankers that art is worth investing on and how do you value the artworks for insurance?" These were some of the questions raised by Nigeria’s former Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Arthur Mbanefo, the Odu of Onitsha, at a business seminar organised by the Ben Enwonwu Foundation in Lagos.
From left Peppiat, Mbanefo, Shyllon at the seminar in Lagos.

Ambassador Mbanefo, a renowned art collector, said he paid one pound for his first artwork- a used envelop on which the late Ben Enwonwu sketched some drawings. The artwork, he said, was, however, lost to the civil war in the late 60s.
He regretted that but for the civil war, the old envelop would have fetched him millions of naira today. "If that art piece is still with me today, it would have fetched me lots of money up to an annual salary of a senator in the National Assembly. But each artwork I acquire, I find it difficult in disposing because it is like a baby to me," he said.
Mbanefo, who was chairman of the seminar, said he started collecting artworks in 1962, because of two reasons. "I collect for sentiment, which is a way of supporting the artists. I also collect because of the aesthetic of the artworks," he said in a remark to set the tone for the discussions.
Participants were drawn from various sectors of the economy to jaw-jaw on the topic: Art as an alternative investment? Leading the speakers was the Director of Contemporary African Art, Bonhams Auction House, London, Mr Giles Peppiat; President, Omooba Yemisi Adedoyin Foundation (OYASAF) Prince Yemisi Shyllon; Chairman, Philips Consulting Group, Mr Foluso Philips, founder of Femi Akinsanya African Art Collection (FAAC), Mr Femi Aknisanya, and founding Executive Director, Communicating for Change, Mrs. Sandra Mbanefo-Obiago.
Peppiat, a chartered arts and antique surveyor, said art could be a good investment, adding that sound judgement
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The Nation - ‘How much is that artwork?’
and good fortune are both needed for this to be so. He, however, noted that only a small fraction of all the art ever produced around the world, sells at a value above its initial purchase price. The majority of this, he said, is bought solely for enjoyment and not for investment.
"I do believe that for the long term, art can be the best investment that a collector or individual can make. If astutely bought, correctly maintained and properly sold, the returns will easily outstrip any other asset class," he said.
Peppiat recalled how Pablo Picasso’s Nude, Green Leaves & Bust was bought by its owners, Mr and Mrs Sidney Brody of Los Angeles, US for $17,000 in 1950, and was later sold for $106 million in May 2010."I will leave you to do the mathematics to calculate how good an investment this was," he said.
In any investment, he noted, dividends are important, pointing out that, unfortunately, artworks do not pay investors any dividend except for their long term appreciation in value. "The most important fact is to remember that art is an investment that does not pay a dividend. The non-tangible dividend to the owner is the enjoyment and appreciation. Buying an asset in the hope that someone else will pay more for it in future is ‘speculation’. But speculation with considerable benefits," he said.
Audience during the seminar
 Peppiat explained that establishing insurance value is a difficult task, advising that it should be done by an independent party. On how art can transform into an alternative investment, he said art collectors must determine what to buy and sell and take curatorial decisions that would shore up the value of his collections, which could, ultimately, become an investment alternative in future.
"Buy what you know about and like. Knowledge of the artwork is very important. Collectors should attend auctions and talk to professionals to know more about pricing. There is, however, the international effect on art pricing. For instance, the five highest prices of Ben Enwonwu works were set in Bonhams sales. But any art market needs a domestic platform to thrive," he said.
The buying of artworks, he said should be an investment of passion, made with the heart not the head. He said it is for this reason that enormous prices are paid at auction. Collectors, he said, are thinking with their hearts and not solely in pecuniary terms.
The Bonham chief said collectors should buy what they could afford and not be fearful of asking questions about pricing. He noted that buying works with good provenance is as vital as the quality of the work. "Aim to acquire works with good provenance, preferably traceable back to the artist. It also helps if works have previously been in an eminent or famous collection," he said.
He added: "Selling is important in many ways as this will stimulate new collection and entry of new artworks into the market. The timing of selling is, however, important but difficult. Timing should be when sales are strong because taste changes."
He advised collectors to always loan their works for exhibition as well as research their artworks to record the valid details about the pieces. These, he said, would add value to the collection. Buying into fine art funds such as the British Rail Pension Fund, according to Peppiat, is one sure way of investing in art without buying artworks.
On his part, Akinsanya never saw art collection as a business but a hobby. He noted that for art to be an alternative investment, there must be lines of interested participants in the business of buying and selling. According to him, "we have to create a network on how works change hands. There are different tiers of collections. Artists should set their minds on globalisation when creating artworks because art is one way to cross borders. We need to have a staying power to remain productive. So, gallery owners should provide means to boost artists’ productivity."
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The Nation - ‘How much is that artwork?’
Philips called for the creation of a structured market that allows artists to focus on practice. He charged the artists to develop brand and add value to their works.
Shyllon, who noted that the British Pension Fund example would not work in Nigeria, said investment is not always about returns. He noted that other variables like risks should be considered when examining arts as an alternative investment. He said: "I did not start collecting arts from the point of view of investment. I am enjoying the arts. But what happens when collectors die? In Europe, private collectors donate their works to galleries and museums for keep before they pass on."
He said Nigeria does not have a befitting gallery that could house the private collections. Apart from that, he said preservation and conservation are vital to the sustenance of value of artworks.
Obiago challenged investors to look at the long term investment opportunities in the local creative industry as investing in arts makes sense.

Saturday 18 February 2012

Pushing steadily for Global appreciation, OYASAF's mission

 By Tajudeen Sowole
(First published in The Guardian, Lagos Nigeria
 Friday, 26 August 2011 00:00)

Angyeman (right) and Shyllon in Lagos PHOTO: ARIYO OGUNTIMEHIN

Supporting foreign art scholars’ research on Nigerian art – a private initiative of Omooba Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon Art Foundation (OYASAF) – is expanding the scope of interest in the country’s art as more foreigners embrace the project.
  THROUGH scholarship, OYASAF, in the last two years, has hosted eight scholars from the U.S., Europe and South Africa. With this project, Yemisi Shyllon, the engineer-founder is sowing the seeds of deep appreciation of Nigerian Art.
Shyllon, who is reputed to have largest private collections in the country, stressed that the project is a major creative force in the study, collection, preservation and exhibition of Nigerian art. The OYASAF Graduate Fellowship is awarded, yearly to two non-Nigerian applicants from the disciplines of Art History and Cultural Anthropology.
For each of the scholars, however, the areas of interest differ as these cut across native and contemporary contents as well as the value of Nigerian art as tools in globalization. For example, Erica Angyeman, the eighth of these visitors, who just had an interactive session with artists in Lagos researched on cosmopolitanism and the relevance of art, particularly within the global context.
When the first beneficiary, William Ian Bourland of the University of Chicago, U.S. came to Nigeria, Shyllon stated that the fellowship was intended to give the visitors opportunity to conduct research in Nigeria, especially around the OYASAF collection. Preference, he stressed “is given to young or mid-career scholars who have not recently had the opportunity to spend time in Nigeria.”
Angyeman, who, during her stay in Lagos few weeks ago was exposed to several works as well as artists’ essays, warned that art should not be restricted to the status of mouthpiece for the society. She urged artists to be futuristic by being visionary.
A student at Columbia University in New York, pursuing a graduate degree in Modern Art History, Critical and Curatorial Studies, she was the second beneficiary of the 2011 OYASAF fellowship scholar. She was exposed to the OYASAF vast collections and visited more than 20 Nigerian artists and collectors.  She noted that over the past three decades, contemporary African art has earned increasing attention beyond the continent.
In performance artist, Jelili Atiku’s 2009 work, Agbo Rago; Peju Alatise’s sculptural collage, One Side of the Story; Ogbemi Heymann’s Royal Suite; Bruce Onobrakpeya’s series entitled, Nomadic Masquerade; Olu Amoda’s sculpture, Wuraola, Angyeman saw the boldness of artists in using art to evoke strong dialogue.
Earlier, the seventh visitor, Kathleen Coates, a South African, after her research noted that the line between Nigerian art and others from Africa, particularly, South Africa, was becoming less visible. Coates conducts the Art Education Programme at the Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town.
In Lagos, Coates met several artists, either at studios or during exhibitions. She explained that meeting with Onobrakpeya at his studio / residence, she saw in the master printmaker, an artist who has evidence of resilient experimentation with materials and techniques. The print master, Coates stated, “summarised his source of inspiration as gleaning from the past whilst learning from young people in the present. He expressed amazement at how the ‘primitives’ were ahead of their time.”
In the work of another veteran and master, David Dale, whose studio is located in Ajuwon, a border town between Ogun and Lagos State, Coates saw an artist “creating a tropical oasis within the concrete jungle of his Lagosian suburb.”

Master print maker, Bruce Onobrakpeya (left), visiting South African art scholar, Kathleen Coates, founder of OYASAF Yemisi Shyllon in Lagos. PHOTO: ARIYO OGUNTIMEHIN
 Globalisation content part of the OYASAF Fellowship award was more pronounced in the research of Rachel Ama Assa Engmann who did a study on Nigerian Islamic talisman and writing systems with particular reference to Insibidi motif in art. Her exposure was expected to contribute to dissertation for a PhD programme in Stanford University U.S. on the topic, Nineteenth Century Islamic Talisman in Asante, Ghana.
Engmann said her PhD project places material practice at the center of historical and contemporary analysis of West African Islam, by way of archaeological ethnography and textual analysis. Islamic talisman, she explained, “is seen as part of a living tradition, which is a local social phenomenon where artifacts containing texts, and manuscripts circulated in the past and at present.”
For University of Vienna, Austria’s Andrea Bauer, art and the Yoruba traditional institution was her interest. During her research, last year, she visited Obas’ palaces and priests of indigenous Yoruba religions in Lagos and Oyo states.
Bauer, the second beneficiary of the scheme works in the Museum of Anthropology in Vienna and in a community based organization called “Edirisa” in Uganda.
First South African on the OYASAF initiative, Ms. Nomusa Makhubu explored the link between Nigerian art and popular culture.
The scholar who is an art teacher from the Department of Fine Art, Rhodes University, had argued that the methodology of what is currently referred to as The Arts makes commonality of these genres unavoidable.
William Ian Bourland of the University of Chicago; Janine Sytsma, University of Wisconsin and Carmen De Michele of Ludwigs-Maximilians University of Munich were the other beneficiaries of the OYASAF Research Fellowships awards.
One of these earlier scholars, Sytsma, seems to have proven, subconsciously, that, indeed, the OYASAF initiative is already yielding results. She returned to Nigeria after her first visit. In fact, she seemed to have been more involved in Nigerian art, beyond the OYASAF scope: she was the curator of Return of Our Mother, a joint art exhibition of Tola Wewe and Moyo Okediji organised by African Artists’ Foundation (AAF). Sytsma is currently in Nigeria, conducting research on the ongoing surge in the local art market.
She said her interest in Return of Our Mother has a link to Onaism, on which her doctoral research in Nigeria was based. “I’ve known Okediji since 2003, when I joined the faculty at the University of Colorado at Denver (where he was Associate Professor of African Art History), and I’ve been working closely with Wewe since meeting him in Nigeria in 2009.”
OYASAF is a non-profit organisation established in 2007 to promote the appreciation and study of Nigerian arts and artists, making the collection available to museums, educational institutions and scholars.  OYASAF’s goal is to be a hub of the Nigerian art world, a point of contact for scholars, critics, artists and art enthusiasts.

Thursday 16 February 2012


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In Benin, Igue Festival 2011 celebrates a resilient tradition (Via OYASAF Lens)

Benin Kingdom is one of the well known centers of civilisation in pre-colonialNigeria.The Oba (King) is the traditional head of the Benin kingdom.
 The Igue Festival is celebrated annually in December by the Oba of Benin and his subjects. It is a combination of nine principal ceremonies during which goats and other animals are sacrificed to the gods. The chiefs of the kingdom dress in their finest traditional attires, joining the Oba in songs and dances.
Paying Homage to the Oba of Benin during the 2011 Igue Festival
During this festival every year, the Oba celebrates Ugie Ewere, which is the anniversary of his blessed and prosperous marriage to Ewere. Here all the Ihogbe present symbolic Ewere leaves to the Oba.

The Bini have a long lineage of royal dynasty, and the Igue festival is also an occasion to celebrate Ugie-Evhoba among many others. The festival marks the anniversary of the death of all past Oba of the Bini Kingdom. For seven days, propitiations are made to the spirits of all past Oba. This is done to invoke their blessings for the reigning monarch, his family and subjects.

The Igue Festival is also a period for offering thanks to the gods for sparing the lives of the Bini people, and to request for more blessings. Such rituals include offering sacrifices in some shrines in the palace. During this period, chieftaincy title holders display their Eben emblem in the Ugie dance as they appear in their traditional attire, as bestowed by the Oba on individual chiefs during the conferment of their titles. The Chiefs pay homage to the Oba while the Oba seats majestically in the royal chamber (Ogiukpo
). Bini chiefs are seen during the festival, in their enviable traditional regalia, including the Iloi (Queens) in their Okuku (hairdo). It is a rare occasion of their public appearance, where the stalwarts (Ifietes) of the Oba are seen in active service. Traditional dancers such as Esakpaide, Ohogho and others, display the Eben of the chiefs while dancing and paying homage to the Oba in Ogiukpe at Ugha Oba or the chamber of the Oba.
Benin Chiefs Performing their traditional rites at the 2011 Igue Festival
The Chiefs bless the Oba in the presence of Chief Ihama and members of the various palace societies. At the end of all sacrifices, the chiefs also dance to the Oba and his family, with the Eben.

Every chief scheduled for Ugie dance leaves their home dancing, while being accompanied by their followers. They dress in the traditional regalia permitted by the Oba as granted to them on the day of conferment of their titles. No chief dresses in a manner or attire not bestowed by the Oba. As the chiefs move from their homes to the palace, they dance with two men each by their side among others holding their hands to and from the palace.

On the last day of the festival, that is, the seventh day, Chief Osuma of Benin collects the Ewere and then hands it over to the Ihogbe, who in turn hands Ebewere to the Oba in a dance procession and melodious traditional songs about Ewere.

Oguntimehin Ariyo
OYASAF Documentary Photographer               

Friday 10 February 2012

Colours of Osun-Osogbo Festival via OYASAF’s lens

 From the 2011 Osun Osogbo Festival, OYASAF’s team of photographers and writers document the yearly event in colours.
Arugba (middle), carrying the Osun-Osogbo Calabash covered. PHOTO: OYASAF
 The Osun-Osogbo festival is held in Osogbo, Osun State, in the southwest part of Nigeria. It is held to celebrate a river goddess, Osun. In writing any narrative on the Osun-Osogbo festival, three important personalities make the festival sacred: Ataoja, Yeye-Osun and the Arugba.

1, Ataoja.

 Ataoja is the Oba (King) of Osogbo. The importance of the King to the festival is historical. According to legend, Oba Larooye Gbadewolu Olatimehin of Iponle-Omu, led his people in search of water when there was a draught. During the search, they found river Osun, which served the people, hence their migration towards the source of the river.

  As time went on, the activities of people at the riverside began to affect the serenity of the river, and the goddess felt disturbed. She responded by making sounds whenever people come to the river. Oba Larooye then named the unseen goddess 'Osho-Igbo,' meaning the keeper of the forest. From the name Osho-Igbo, the name of the town-Osogbo was coined. 
Osun Osogbo worshipers performing one of the rituals of the festival, during the 2011 edition. PHOTO: OYASAF 

 2. Yeye Osun

  Yeye Osun is the custodian of the goddess, Osun. She conducts the rituals of the festival. 

 3. Arugba

The Osun Osogbo Festival runs for two weeks. On the last day of the festival, the nubile votary carries the calabash full of food such as moin-moin (baked bean), eko (baked millet and oil to the river, while the people of the town follow her and pray for their wishes for the year.

 Believers in the Osun – Osogbo deity hold on to the conviction that since they have been using the river Osun water, their women have been more fertile and that they get healed by the Osun – Osogbo goddess. They thus worship the goddess of the river Osun.
Osun-Osogbo purification ritual being performed at the Osun river during the 2011 edition. PHOTO: OYASAF
 The Arugba has to be a nubile votary. She volunteers to carry the calabash, and keeps her purity. The river goddess in turn grants her wisdom and power. The Arugba commands the respect for that role of the entire community. A family that produces the Arugba is well respected and seen as a favored family in Osogbo.

Friday 3 February 2012


One of the early beneficiaries of the OYASAF Fellowship Programme, Ms. Janine Systma of the University of Wisconsin, US. PHOTO: ARIYO OGUNTIMEHIN
The Omooba Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon Art Foundation (OYASAF), a non-profit organization in Nigeria established in the year 2007, welcomes applications for its 2012 Graduate Fellowship in Nigerian visual art and culture for non-Nigerian scholars.
  OYASAF is widely acknowledged as Nigeria's largest and most balanced private art collection and offers an opportunity to study and research into Nigerian visual art and culture.
   It holds over 6000 works of art of different categories of Nigerian and other visual art of the world in its collection with works in all the five areas of Nigerian art ranging from contemporary to modern paintings and sculptures, antiques, traditional and neo traditional African art.

  The art works in OYASAF include the works of earliest Nigerian contemporary artists from Aina Onabulu, Akinola Lashekan, Ugorgi, Ben Enwonwu, Okaybulu, Nike Davis-Okundaye,  to Charles Shainumi, Okpu Eze, Clary Nelson Cole, Kolade Osinowo, David Dale, Simon Okeke, Isiaka Osunde, Abayomi Barber, Moses Ajiboye, Olu Amoda, El Anatsui, Ben Osawe, Bruce Onabrakpeya, Lara Ige-Jacks, Susanne Wenger, Theresa Akinwale, Uzo Egonu, Jimoh Akolo, Lamidi Fakeye, Uche Okeke, Erhabor Emopkae, Kunle Filani, Tola Wewe, Adeola Balogun etc, etc, etc.
The Terms And Conditions Of The Oyasaf Fellowship Program Are:
(1) 25 days lodging in Lagos, in a room of a flat near the foundation.
(2) Stipend of N50, 000 (About USD 300).
(3) Open access to artworks and practicing artists.
(4) Airport Pick-up and drop off.
(5) Office Space with internet access and electrical power supply at all times.
(6) Library support for research.
(7) Transportation for research (as available).

(1).Candidates must be enrolled as graduate students in accredited Universities in Europe, Canada, USA, Latin America and Asia, Australia, North Africa and South Africa, pursuing studies in Nigerian art and culture.

(2).Grantees will be expected to make one presentation at an interactive session with scholars/artists during their stay with OYASAF.
Method of Application:
1-2 pages introducing each applicant, posted on the internet and addressed to OYASAF describing research interests and explaining how this fellowship will support the applicant's research. Each candidate must accompany their application with a letter of recommendation from a faculty member of their institution dispatched independently to OYASAF.

Applications must be received by close of business hours in Nigeria on the 28th of February 2012. The Board of Trustees will thereafter review the applications and announce the winners on the 26th of March 2012 on the OYASAF website.



(1).Mr. Ian Bourland of the University of Chicago (USA).

(2).Ms. Janine Systma of the University of Wisconsin (USA). She was also supported in her one year (1yr) fulbright scholarship program in Nigeria

 (3). Ms. Rachel Amaa-asaa  Engmann of Stanford University, (USA).

(4). Andrea Bauer of the University of Vienna (Austria).

(5). Nomusa Makhubu of Rhodes University (South Africa)

(6). Ms. Kathleen Coates of the Iziko Museum of Cape Town (South Africa).

(7). Ms. Erica Agyeman of the Columbia University, New York (USA)