Saturday 30 November 2013

At Peter Areh lecture series, Yemisi Shyllon challenges govt on protection, promotion of art

Special thanks to:
Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi, Chris Krydz Ikwuemesi, Alhaji Abdulaziz Chivuzo Udeh, Chief Ugochukwu Okeke, Ifeanyi Egwim, Chibuzo   , Iyke Onenibe, Ejike Ekwenibe, Olisa Mokelu, Prof Jerry Buhari, Iyabo Aboaba

Problems of Art Development in Nigeria
Dr. Yemisi Shyllon

Art in Nigeria has come a long way. However we must unabashedly acknowledge that our modern and contemporary art has mostly been driven by the private sector. In so doing, the private sector is contributing to proving Lord Frederic John Lugard (1926) wrong when he stated among others that:
“In character and temperament, the typical African of this race-type is ........  His mind is far nearer to the animal world than that of the European or Asiatic, and exhibits something of the animals’ placidity and want of desire to rise beyond the state he has reached. Through the ages the African appears to have evolved no organized religious creed, and though some tribes appear to believe in a deity, the religious sense seldom rises above pantheistic animalism and seems more often to take the form of a vague dread of the supernatural”.11

Starting from the earliest times to the present, art and artists in Nigeria have moved from one level of experience to another. As Nigerian politics and economy develops, so has the art. Art does not exist in a vacuum. Since it is a product of people and society, it reflects the yearnings and aspirations of its age and clime. Such reflection can provide an index on which the development of art tradition can be based. If by development, we mean the progressive improvement or amelioration of a condition or situation, art development, then, would refer to the dynamics of the sociology of art and how it is evidenced positively or negatively on the art ecology. The development of a given art ecology naturally depends on a number of factors. These factors include the consecrative agencies such as galleries, museums, historiography, art criticism, and the socio-psychology of the environment. In discussing the problems of art development in Nigeria, one should therefore critically assess some of these factors, the role of government and our public institutions.

Government, Public Institutions and Art Development
The report on “Saving Africa’s Art” contained in the Time magazine of June 18, 2001 portrays the problem of art development in Nigeria and the possible role of government and public institutions. The magazine reports that in 1999, the Louvre Museum in Paris purchased from a Belgian dealer a collection of 2,000-year-old Nok terracotta sculptures for about $400,000.00. As Simon Robinson and Aisha Labi reported:

They are among the centrepieces of an exhibition that was inaugurated by President Jacques Chirac over a year ago, and the reverence with which they are displayed demonstrates the Western art establishment’s growing appreciation of African art. But the exhibition, which came about through Chirac’s own instruction that the Louvre devote gallery space to ethnic art, is clouded by allegations surrounding the Nok’s acquisition. Nok terra-cottas are on the International Council of Museums’ Red List of objects ‘banned from export, (that) may under no circumstances be put on sales’ and Nigerian law prohibits their export. President Chirac is reported to have personally sought approval for the purchase of the Noks from Nigeria’s then military ruler, General Abdulsalami Abubakar. The request was rebuffed on the advice of the N.C.M.M., which warned that the works had been ‘illegally exported from Nigeria and therefore remained the legal cultural property of Nigeria.

According to Time, with the return to civilian rule in May of 1999, the French government requested for approval again and Nigeria approved the transaction. Then in February 2000 during Nigerian President’s state visit to France, just two months before the Louvre display opened, the Nigerian Culture Minister and Branley Museum Director signed a formal agreement authorizing the inclusion and display of this collection of Nok sculptures. In the spirit of tokenism, as the Time report concludes:

The French agreed to provide Nigerian museums with technical support – including the exchange of publications, the organization of conferences and researcher exchanges – and in return the Noks were symbolically handed over by President (of Nigeria).

The above scenario gives us an insight into the Nigerian government’s attitude to art and creativity. The fact that the approval sought by Jacques Chirac was not given by the previous head of the administration of the Federal government of Nigeria does not exonerate that regime from the perennial anti-art attitude of successive governments in Nigeria. Nor does the latter President’s granting of the request make his regime the worst in that respect. The regime, as far as the patronage and promotion of Nigerian art is concerned, only exploited an old pattern. But the logical question that must follow is, if previous governments have brazenly neglected art and artists (of course, to the detriment of society), must others follow the example? Must government continue to nurture an exemplar of a bohemian society where art and artists are confined to the fringe? One is a-times very sad to observe the attitude of different government of Nigeria which tends to confirm the past prejudices expressed about our people in times past by some philosophers such as Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) who stated that:
‘’ The black people are unable to think in any reflexive manner. Their engagement in arts is, therefore, a thoughtless activity which is the ant-thesis of the intellect’’.11
The problem of art development in Nigeria derives from the ineptitude in the administration of art and indirectly from the ephemeral interest of government. Since the culture sector is poorly funded, it is easy to lay all the blame for the sorry state of affairs in the sector at the door of government. But a critical look at the issue will also question the effectiveness of those in art administration in terms of proffering and execution of ideas in a way that can engender creative and imaginative system of generation of funds. From the public museums and galleries down to art councils, there is need for improvement.  Most people do not even know where our public museums and galleries are, their importance and what they represent. With a system of education that does not effectively promote heritage studies, Nigerian museums, including the newly-built ones, remain dead ends. They smell of neglect and despair and give little or no courage to anyone to regard our past and heritage with much enthusiasm. As (Aisha Labi) a Nigerian artist put it:

The discussant at the 2013 Peter Areh Lecture, Prof Jerry Buhari (right), Guest Lecturer Prince Yemisi Shyllon (centre) and Chairman of the occasion, Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi.

The fact that the museums in these parts do not encourage much visitorship simultaneously underscores our society’s loss of its past and logically its loss of its future. For in reality, there is only the past and the future. The present is but a fleeting realm that can be claimed by no one. If the Nigerian society continues to regard art and culture as luxurious entertainment, we will remain an uprooted people, with neither memory nor desire. If the culture sector in Nigeria is poorly funded, the onus lies on those who accept to be appointed art-culture administrators to try to make the best of a bad situation, while also exploring various possible means to make our lethargic governments more responsive to the needs of art and its role as a socializing agent. 1

The point being made is that there is need to improve the art ambience with a view to attracting more visitors to our public museums and art galleries and empower them to constructively reach out to the people as mediators of our common heritage rather than arbiters of a dead and forgotten consciousness. I join other commentators in decrying the situation where some of the museum spaces in Nigeria are used for weddings and other non-culture events.2 Such “museum abuse” does not translate to visitor increase in the real sense. It only foregrounds our proclivity to the abnormal. It is doubtful if any museum in Nigeria records up to 300,000 visitors in a given year. Yet a museum should thrive on the number of annual visitors it receives.
This situation calls for serious concern, as it inscribes the museums as a waste pipe, especially in a country where the appreciation of art and heritage needs to be significantly improved. When well developed, positioned and harnessed the museum can be an agency for cultural democracy, social cohesion, and economic development as it is all over the developed world. This can also be achieved with art in Nigeria.
Art and artists in this country are not adequately enabled to fulfil their roles through the mediating institutions and agencies, (museums, galleries, art councils, the public, among others). For as has been argued, “art is art, not just for its own sake, but for the consecrative infusions it receives from the relevant institutions, the society and humanity.”3 We have not explored art enough to enable it to fully play its due role in the quest for development. We can trace the bulk of this problem to the system of education, the attitude of government and religious fundamentalism in Nigeria. It is to the issue of education that I turn in the next section.

Education and Art Development
First we need to find out what education means. Education has been defined by Jonathan Sacks [in his book, the Politics of Hope] “as the pursuit and attainment of experience, excellence and mental, moral, and physical development through informal, formal or organized processes or systems of instruction, association and learning.”4 Put differently, people get educated to enable them come to terms with the challenges of existence and to gain the ability to adapt creatively to the demands of society. Education is not magic but it helps to add meaning to existence. In this his book The Politics of Hope, Jonathan Sacks highlights the goals of education as a social commitment:

…A civilisation is like an ancient but still magnificent building. Different ages have added new wings here, an altered façade there, rooms have been redecorated, old furniture restored. Over the generations paintings have been acquired, some hanging, others – currently out of fashion – stored away. We inherited the house from our parents, and we want to leave it in good order to our children. We know that they will adopt it to their needs, indeed we want them to. Nor can we say in advance how they will do so or what the house will look like in the future. But as its temporary guardians, we know that we must teach our children its history, why it was built and how it was changed. We must do our best to ensure that, in time, they will come to love it as we do, so that when they come to change it, as they will, they will do so harmoniously, not destructively, according to their best understanding of what it represents to them and those who came before them. That is the goal of education as articulate autonomy.5

In other words, the goal of education should be to encourage recipients to appreciate their history and heritage as well as equip them mentally and otherwise for the preservation of that heritage. Peoples and cultures survive when they attach the highest importance to schools and teachers, and when they see the role of education to include the perpetuation of the language of their heritage. It is not certain whether one can say this about Nigeria’s education industry, especially since the 1980s. There may be more schools today, but whether that fact translates to quality education is another matter altogether. This situation, of course, derives from the simple logic of the mould analogy, as advanced by anthropologist Peter Ezeh.6 A bad mould cannot yield a good cast. If there has been general inversion married with a dogged pursuit of ignorance, education as a central factor in society cannot escape the resultant decadence.
The general decline in the quality of education in Nigeria is one of the greatest misfortunes of post-independence Nigeria. It can be attributed to many factors, including poor funding, poor quality teachers, bad attitude and lack of commitment of some teachers, non-improvement in the educational curriculum, misconceived educational policies and religious fundamentalism. These factors have contributed to the degeneracy in the educational system, a situation which has transformed education itself into “magic”, in the sense that it is geared only towards the attainment of personal needs, especially those bordering on bread and butter, as against the advancement of knowledge, the improvement of the human condition and the perpetuation of mankind.7 In Collinwood’s [1938:57-77] definition of the word, In relation to art, this situation has contributed to the emergence of highly subsistence and unprofessional artists. It has adversely affected the dissemination of art, which invariably includes art training and historiography. And in this regard, art history and art education appear to be worse-off. Although many art historians and art educators have graduated from art institutions in Nigeria over the years, their impact on the Nigerian art debate has been minimal and lack-lustre.
There are also curricula problems in the art departments of our universities and polytechnics. Between the universities and the polytechnics, the curricula oscillate between two extremes, producing highly academic artists in some cases and glorified artisans in others. Some artists cannot verbalise their activities. Others are lost in the morass of bamboozling theory. Most of them in the institutions are under pressure by an ill-advised government policy to acquire cosmetic PhDs before they can become professors. There is no doubt that we have lost some of the otherwise finest artists to this policy. The art industry suffers if a large number of artists have to spend several years focussing on bagging irrelevant degrees that have little or no bearing on the making of good art. It is even worse when the degrees cannot transform them into practising art historians. I am afraid that in the next few years – unless something urgent is done – the entire visual arts faculty in our universities and polytechnics will become reluctant art historians, yet teaching one aspect of studio or the other. The result, in terms of art practice and scholarship, will indeed be unthinkable. 
For education in Nigeria to effectively conduce to art development, it has to be positioned to recognise the peculiar needs of the industry so that it can contribute to the amelioration of those needs. Such education must be imbued with the capacity to enable social development in general and art development in particular. It must be a system of education that is able to broker understanding and dialogue between the artist and the society. In other words, I do not advocate a system which insulates the artists from the rest in the ecology of education. Yet this is actually what is in place, that is, an education system that does not allow much conversation between disciplines for the overall benefit of society. Since the Nigerian concept of development is largely predicated on science and politics, art seems to be downgraded in the nation’s educational system. From about the 1980s, it appears that art is no longer given its pride of place in Nigeria, as it is not adequately taught in many primary and post-primary schools. Although art is usually in the curriculum, art teachers are either too few or they are often diverted to teach other courses because our educational policy makers believe that art is not very relevant to human and social development. This has not only succeeded in destroying a vital aspect of education for our young people, but has also truncated the creative ability, vision and aspiration of generations of Nigerians who have passed through the Nigerian educational system in the past thirty years without art as an effective part of their curriculum. The creative instinct that art imbues at the formative stage of people goes a long way in fertilising their developmental potentials in any field of human endeavour they find themselves in later years.
In view of the above, how can we reposition art education in Nigeria to transcend its overbearing concern with art pedagogy and assume a more practical role in social development and economic reconstruction? Indeed, there is need to invigorate art education curriculum to produce scholars and art educators that can respond to the demands of their time and environment. Art education should be empowered to help in relocating art to the centre, away from the periphery, so that it can become a major instrument in our politics of development, and thus be able to propel its own (art’s) development for the benefit of the creative industry and our society. In doing this, we will be proving wrong, some philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes [1588- 1679] in his assertion that:

’Africa is a timeless place in which there are no art, letters or social organisation”.11

The Problem of Historiography
Historiography is as important as the creative process. Along with art criticism, it is a factor that links one art epoch to another through, the instrumentality of the narrative. In any environment where art is engaged as a real humanizing enterprise and as a driving force of culture and civilization, the importance of art history to the rooting and perpetuation of the resulting heritage cannot be denied. It has been described as one of the consecrative agencies in the art ecology.8 From colonial times until very recently, Western anthropologists and art historians bestrode Africa’s socio-cultural terrain, and told the story of the continent’s history, culture and development as if the story belonged to them. Even in the aftermath of colonialism and in the postcolonial mélange, the study of African art is still unfortunately led by Western scholars and West-based African scholars. Although many Africans have trained in various aspects of the humanities and social sciences, not very many have carried out globally insightful and meaningful research on aspects of African studies, including art, its sociology and history. In Nigeria some of the major exhibitions and publications on the evolution of art in the country have been undertaken by so-called “intimate outsiders.” Where this is not the case, we have seen a level of role-reversal with studio artists taking on added responsibilities as theorists, critics and historians. Although this not an absurdity, it raises some questions about the effectiveness of the art historian in Nigeria vis à vis the large number of people who now hold degrees in that discipline in the country.
From 1960 to the present, most of the major exhibitions of modern Nigerian art have been organized or curated by studio artists or galleries and a few Euro-American scholars. For example, the 1960 independence exhibition was organized by some of the Zaria Rebels, so also was the visual arts aspects of FESTAC’77.9 (Nwoko, 2005). In the 1980s and 1990s, most of  the major developments in the art scene were due to the exertions of studio artists. In the south of Nigeria, for instance, five art groups were founded in aid of art propagation; they include Aka circle of Exhibiting Artists, the Visual Orchestra, Omenka Group of Artists, Ona and the Pan-Africa Circle of Artists (PACA) whose membership spread is beyond Nigeria. All these were founded by studio artists and their activities were also sustained by studio artists. Even where the groups had art historians in their fold, as is the case of  Ona, Aka or PACA, planning and strategy still depended on the vision of visual artists.
Aka is a success in several respects, but its demise is sad. There are many other groups which have waxed and waned in the last two or three decades. The exploits of Otu Ewena, the Best of Ife, Aftershave Workshops, Harmattan and OYASAF Workshops, and other similar art groupings and activities have not rested squarely on the shoulders of critics and historians. Thus, the general picture that can be painted is not one of a situation in which the art historians have taken a lead. This is worrisome for an art ecology which counts many arts historians in its folds. But, must the art historian or critic initiate and lead art projects for him/her to be worth the name? Not exactly; but he must be abreast with happenings and nurture the ability to tell the (hi)story of art with all the vigour and commitment it deserves.  Achebe (1987:124) reaffirms the importance of the story as the survivor of action:

The sounding of the battle-drum is important, the waging of the war itself is important; and the telling of the story afterwards…The same reason I think that our people will give the name Nkolika to their daughters – Recalling-Is-Greatest. Why? Because it is only the story that can continue beyond the war and the warrior (sic). It is the story that outlives the sound of war-drums and the exploits of brave fighters. It is the story…that saves our progeny from blundering like blind beggars into the spikes of the cactus fence. The story is our escort; without it, we are blind…8

In other words, history and art perpetuate the memory of events and peoples and thus mediate the conversation between generations. The role of history and art, therefore, is to reconstruct the past and re-present it as data for appreciating the past, present and facing up to the future. Thus, an art historian need not necessarily be a hydra-headed animal. Where he/she is not able to raise proposals to initiate actions and activities in the art scene, he/she can watch from the centre or the sides and become an arbiter of taste, trends and paradigmatic shifts. By keeping a tab on the happenings in the art field, the art historian inscribes the art historical enterprise as the continuation of the creative process and reaffirms its role as one of the important factors in the consecration of art. This has not been the case with many of our art historians. Most are comfortable with teaching positions in tertiary institutions and would do little or nothing outside their routine. Others simply lack the will, imagination and intellectual stamina to initiate actions. The overall effect on the art scene is obvious. Without historians imbued with the gift of (hi)story-telling, the art tribe lacks the necessary escort and runs the risk of blindness, to borrow from our late great Achebe.

The Relevance of Art Criticism
Art criticism deals with the hermeneutics of art. It is not fault-finding. Rather, it the creative and insightful appreciation of a work of art for the purposes of analysis and interpretation. According to C. Krydz Ikwuemesi,  

Criticism could be broadly divided into five parts: constructive criticism, destructive criticism, detective criticism, sympathetic criticism, and totalitarian criticism. These are not water-tight compartments, nor do they encode hard and fast principles which the critic must adhere to. In practical terms, criticism is merely an open market to which everyone can bring his/her wares, but the wares and their prices ought to have a human face…10 art expo cat

In modern times, criticism has become as sophisticated and complicated as art itself. Although its continuance depends on the existence of art, it also relies on the availability of some extra-artistic determinants in its role as art’s purveyor. In this regard, newspapers, magazines and journals are very useful platforms for art criticism. In recent times, the internet has changed the face and heart of the modern world and the critic faces more challenges as he or she struggles for relevance in the hustle and bustle of the art world. And the challenges are daunting, given the socio-economic reality in these parts which have not allowed any real development to take place in most spheres of human endeavour, excepting, perhaps, the economics of politics. In other words, criticism of Nigerian art is either as developed or under-developed as the country itself. it is another consecrative agency in the art world and is a contributing factor to the situation of art in Nigeria today.
Criticism in turn depends on the prevailing realities for it to succeed. It does not exist in a vacuum. It relates with other consecrating agencies and institutions, such as museums, galleries, and cultural centres in the pursuit of its goals. Purveyors of discourse such as the print and electronic media, publishing houses with interest in art, and organised discursive forums (e.g. conferences and symposia) where art could be critically discussed should also be in place.  These are the factors on which trained and untrained critics in a given art landscape would depend to be able to animate the fields of practice and critical theory and thus lead the crucial debates that propel the history of art.   In Nigeria, all these factors abound in varying degrees, but they seem to be lacking in effectiveness.  Relative to some other African countries, the Nigerian art scene appears to be more vibrant, but is the vibrancy adequately sustained? Studio practice in Nigeria may be well developed, but we cannot say the same about art criticism and other aspects of theorisation as they are yet to be fully explored.
Again we can trace this situation to the art training curricula in most of our universities and polytechnics which tend to glorify studio art over theory. Most of these schools offer specialization option in art history in addition to the core studio areas in Fine and Applied Arts, but never art criticism, except perhaps as a minor theory course at the undergraduate level. 
However, Nigeria remains relatively fortunate in its tradition of art criticism. There are some good number of artists in the history of Nigerian art who have been able to combine practice with theorisation. Although the visual-verbal tradition goes back to Aina Onabolu, Akinola Lashekan and Ben Enwonwu, but it was with the emergence of the radicals of Zaria Art Society in the 1950s that the artist-critic-historian tradition began to emerge in bold relief. The phenomenon later crystallised with the activities and writings of Uche Okeke and other artists beginning from the 1970s. Thus, the artist-writer phenomenon is a common feature in the Nigerian art scene.10 Although the artist-critic pattern is one that Nigerian artists continue to exploit, only few artists actually make a success of such combination. But criticism of Nigerian art, at best, remains a drop in the ocean when compared with the number of activities in the field. What kind of condition do they operate in and what other complimentary factors, including art journals and newspapers, have aided their work?
As for journals, the greatest problem in the history of journal publishing in Nigeria is the issue of longevity. Most journals published in Nigeria have not lasted long enough to influence the art criticism tradition. Poor funding, lack of professionalism, and bureaucracy (in the case of public-institution-based journals) have been some of the greatest misfortunes of art journals in Nigeria. The situation has contributed to the usually short life span of most publications and the epileptic issuance of others. Moreover, the dissemination of art, including publishing of art literature, can be a very expensive and demanding enterprise. It is even more difficult in these parts, considering that there are usually little or no funds for such ventures. Thus some of our major journals may depend on Western handouts for their existence. Those published by government institutions often depend on epileptic government subventions and thus do not live up to professional expectations. Lack of funding also quickly kills private initiatives. Thus the publishing opportunity for Nigerian critics remains very narrow.
But newspapers and news magazines have always come to our rescue. Not only have they put their art pages at the disposal of professional art critics, they have also published materials and critiques on art written by their own reporters. These reporters are usually not trained in the technicalities of critical theory. Some of them are visual artists who happen to have the ability to write. In other cases, they are graduates of the English language, theatre, or mass communication. Experience all over the world shows that this class of critics, though not academic, should be taken seriously, as they are able to reach a wider range of audience due to the populist nature of their medium. However, media-based criticism can become a cash-and-carry affair, as opinion can be easily influenced or sponsored. This notwithstanding, the role played by media-based critics in the development of art in Nigeria since the birth of modernism in Nigeria cannot be overemphasised. We must acknowledge that from its very humble beginnings in the time of colonization, art journalism in Nigeria has come a long way. The importance of media-based critics in the art ecology cannot be over-emphasised. In a well developed setting, they are the live wire of the art circuit, as they mediate between the art community and the larger society. But in the main, what are usually reported in the media are art exhibitions and the like. It is not the fault of these media based critics that are greatly dependent on galleries in Nigeria and which galleries on the other hand, are battling to survive, mainly through the sale of art works. Even though this is the traditional role played by galleries all over the world, this role should not be pushed beyond reasonable bounds.  Galleries should rather also initiate and engage in projects which aid critical theory, the professionalization of art as well as its dissemination. This will certainly foster greater engagement of the galleries by journalists.  
Art and art criticism complement each other. Art without a responsive critical tradition is like a masquerade without followers. Nigerian art tradition is very rich and eclectic. The critical tradition has evolved, but it leaves much to be desired, not because there are not enough critics, but because the enabling factors and conditions have not been too favourable. The inability of practitioners in the art field to effectively network their activities and fully complement one another is a major problem that needs to be addressed.
Society as a Factor
The perception of art in Nigeria is very poor, in spite of the progress made in art appreciation in the last few years. We must acknowledge that there are many art institutions in Nigeria today and that more galleries and art centres are springing up. Also many more activities and festivals have become part of the art calendar in Nigeria. But to a great extent, art and society in Nigeria are still divorced from each other. If art and aesthetics have no place in the general scheme of things, their appreciation will remain the exclusive preserve of a few elite. This situation is in contradistinction to what obtained in pre-colonial times when art belonged to almost every western educated elite. Today art is more of a luxury and not necessarily the conscience of society. This is why everything in these parts is so sterile. The sterility of the concept of society and development in these parts is, in part, the child of the severance of art from society. One could see the effects in our highly dehumanized roads, in our austere homes, the highly-utilitarian public buildings, the recklessly defaced public monuments, and the macabre politics that is common in Nigeria. Not even science and technology are allowed to be complemented by art’s salve. Of course, the problem is not entirely a Nigerian one. But if there is any place where the separation of art from society has taken a great toll, that place is Nigeria. Yet, there is art in everything, including politics. When science and politics terrorise the human psyche with their products of destruction, art can come to the rescue. The Nigerian society, with its usual crop of bread-and-butter leaders, does not appreciate this fact and as a result, art in Nigeria is trapped in the darkling corridors of underdevelopment. Furthermore, with the prevalent triumph of materialism and the suffocating religious revivalism that have encircled Nigeria in recent years, much of the liberal spirit that art needs to propel itself is largely absent. In a subtle way, there is a connection between this problem and the problem of our education system.
Some people would readily point at hunger as the bane of our situation. Hunger may be part of it. But what of the ineptitude of the leadership of the culture sector? What of the anti-art attitude of government? For too long, government and society’s conception of art and culture is circumscribed by raffia-wearing dancers and pedestrian local crafts. There are very few credible sustainable art festival organized by government; no national art exhibit where the state of art in our country can be measured, enjoyed, visited, and celebrated. There are very few institutions or systems through which excellence in the arts can be duly rewarded. Public art institutions and organizations are caught in the web of bureaucracy. The Nigerian artist thus becomes an endangered species of sorts, with little or no encouragement from a society whose understanding of art remains strait-jacketed and interpreted from the myopic lens of imported religions. When the problem of nescience is added to the situation, we are faced with a state of anomie which impacts most negatively on art.  A good number of our artists have been lost to religious fanaticism and art as a whole is being impeded by much fanaticism in terms of the dwindling perspicacity of its vision and subject matters. As we know, overbearing religiousness presupposes orthodoxy, which is one of the greatest enemies of art. One is therefore pained to see how religion is being used to destroy the psyche of Nigerians to art. In this wise, I am left with no other option than to display here, some few slides of the interplays and cohabitation between religion and art from times long in some widely acknowledged religious spaces of the more developed world.


In the height of the afore displayed slides, I join others in condemning the unwarranted mutilation of the master piece mural by Demas Nwoko titled “The gift of talents (1962)” in Teddar hall, University of Ibadan by misinformed religious jingoists. Indeed this exhibition of religious overzealousness by fundamentalists is not an isolated case in Nigeria and therefore we must cry loud against those perpetuating their ignorance in this sense.

All told, the problem with art in Nigeria is not an isolated case. It has been the same in much of Africa. It is only a by-product of the prevailing social situation where in the African continent development is defined along the lines of politics and science…

Notes and References
1. Simon Robinson and Aisha Labi, “Saving Africa’s Art.”Time, June 18, 2001.
2. Ibid.
3. C.Krydz Ikwuemesi, “Soliloquies.” in C.Krydz Ikwuemesi (ed.),
Overcoming Maps 3 Report. (Enugu: Citadel Publishing, 2004) pp.23 -27
4. Jonathan Sacks, The Politics of Hope (London: Vintage,2000) p. 184.
5. For a discussion on the connotative essence of magic in relation to art, see R.G.
Collingwood, The principles of Art. (London: Oxford University Press), pp. 57-
6. Art does not exist in isolation but in relation to para-artistic forces, such as art
history, which contribute to its essence.
7. Demas Nwoko, Creativty and Self Reliance (Enugu: The Pan-African Circle of
Artists, 2005)
8 Chinua Achebe, Anthills of the Savannah (London: Heinemann, 1987), p.124.
9. See Okey Nwafor, “The Search for Visual-Verbal Metaphor,” in C. Krydz
10. Ikwuemesi (ed.) The Triumph of a Vision. (Lagos: Pendulum Art Gallery), pp.
11. Sophie, B. Oluwole (ed.), 2011. Katanfuru, who are (they/ we) Africans? Some memorable quotes.

Crossing Boundaries and Frontiers. Enugu: The Pan-African Circle of Artists.

Ezeh, Peter 2004. “Art, Africa Progress: An Anthropological Viewpoint.” C. Krydz Ikwuemesi (ed.) op cit, pp. 116 – 118

Ikwuemesi, C. Krydz 2004. “Soliloquies.” In C. Krydz Ikwuemesi (ed.), Overcoming Maps 3 Report. Enugu: Citadel Publishing, pp23 -27

….…………………, 2003. A Critical Travelogue. Enugu: Citadel Publishing in association with the Art Republic.

Kawaguchi, Yukiya and Yoshida, Kenji (eds.), 2005. Senri Ethnological Reports, no 54 (journal of the National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka)

Sacks, Jonathan 2000. The Politics of Hope, London: Vintage, pp.150 and 262.

Spiesse, Emmanuelle (ed.), 2001. Echoes, Cities and Artists in Nigeria. Ibadan: Museum of the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan.

In Oyo town, 'Sango festival' revives tradition, culture

By Oguntimehin Ariyo

The Alaafin of Oyo Oba Lamidi Adeyemi admiring an egungun (masquerade) during the festival. Photograph by Oguntimehin Ariyo

It was a frenzy moment of jubilation in Oyo town, Oyo State, southwest Nigeria as  the people moved in mammoth crowd to the palace of  the Alaafin of Oyo Oba Lamidi Adeyemi otherwise known as 'omo ekun' (the son of a tiger).
  The occasion was the 2013 Sango Festival, in honour of Sango, an ancient hero from whom the Oba of Oyo derives his name 'omo ekun'. The Oba is regarded as a representative of the spirit world; 'alase ekeji orisa' (the one with authority, second only to the creator).

To celebrate  the great festival, the sango devoteewere adorned in red alongside some Ifa priests who were in white regalia .The drummers, masquerades, traditional dancers were not left behind, all dancing to various musical  entertainments.

The Yoruba are a highly researched ethnic group in Africa, due to their rich cultural heritage, manifested in sociology and spirituality.

Arewa Omoba Folashade Adeyemi and Ayaba Alhaja [chief ] Ramat Adedayo Adeyemi gave an insight  into the history of Sango, by tracing the history of the Yoruba communities to Oduduwa in Ile-Ife. Oral history have it that after the death of Oduduwa, his seven grandchildren (Ogun Onire, Ogiso, Alaketu, Onisabe, Onipopo, Olowu and Oranyan), dispersed from Ile-Ife, finding different Yoruba kingdoms in the geographical area known today as Western Nigeria. The eldest grandchild was the mother of the Owus, the second was the mother of the Alaketu, progenitor of Ketu, the third became the king of Benin, the fourth Orangun, king of Ila, the fifth was the king of the Sabes, the sixth was the king of the Popos and the seventh was Oranyan.

Oranyan was the youngest prince, who inherited the land, being the first Alaafin, progenitor of the Oyos, who transferred the political power to Oyo Ile. Sango, the second son of Oranyan, became the strongest African king, with much power and influence. Sango strengthened to a point of historical dominance, building with glory, vitality and expansion the most formidable empire in Africa at the time , dominating all other Yoruba kingdoms including, Ife, Ekiti, Ijesa, Egba, Ijebu, Ondo, Sabe and Owu
His power stretched beyond Ilorin and Offa into Igbomina in the North; Egbado in the South-west; River Ogun in the South; Osun and Dahomey in the East. Under Sango’s influence, Oyo culture spread far and wide within the Oyo Empire and beyond.
Nowadays, this cultural influence can be found all over Yoruba land and beyond as by the contraction word, Kabiesi originates from the word, KABI KOSI, which was the form of greeting Sango those days, which is being used till today for all Yoruba traditional rulers.

Sango Obakoso plucking out his eye at sango festival 2013. Photograph by Oguntimehin Ariyo

There has been a spread of ancient art and craft, which was originated from Oyo such as the Dundun, Sekere, Aro, Bata, Adade, Ganku, Koso, Gangan, Gbedu and Igba Titi drumming, and the Etica, Esa, Lauku, Gbamo, Elesi,and Latikipa dancing. Today most of the principal traditional rulers of Yoruba trace their relationship to the Alaafin of Oyo, because most of the crowns in Yoruba land are a creation of Sango.
Oral history state that Sango was born by Torosi from Tapa Kwara State, but procreated by an old woman named Yemonja. At birth, he was named Tella including other names such as Ayi Legbe Orun etc

Sango married five women namely, Osun, who turned in to water in Osogbo; Oya, who turned to Igala in Ile ra; Oba, who disappeared in Odo Oba, Awa and Gambiolu. Sango was a strong warrior who is regarded to have become a symbol of power and truth, serving as the supreme judge in the Oyo Empire and being the final court.

His OSE, representing two axes, is a symbol of justice. Being the king of Justice and not understood by his people, he decided to hang himself in a tree called Igba, even though his friend Aladekun discouraged him from doing so. By this act Sango became OBA KOSO, which means the king did not hang on the tree.

He is reputed on the other hand to have disappeared into the earth leaving behind his crown and one Edun Ara (Oni epon lara) taken from his body, which was given to Aladekun to call on him anytime the town was in need.

Sango in action

Aladekun became the support of Oyo anytime the town was in need, being called Oni le ogba, which originated the contracted word Mogba. Nowadays, Mogba is still in Koso in Oyo town with the power left from Sango known as OLUOBAKOSO. Mogba Koso till today is the High Chief, who crowns all the Alaafins and the custodian of the Alaafin’s crown.

Some notable celebrate with the Alafin at the Sango festival 2013 were Onjo of Okeho Hrm. Oba [Alh.] Rafiu Osuolale Adeniran 11, Onitede of Tede Hrm.  Oba [Alh.] Rauf Adebimpe Oladoyin.,Onisemi of lsemi ile Hrm. Oba Kazeem Oyebooanle Mustapha, Chiefe  Gani  Adam , Avery Animon [Ifaseun Aworeni] an Ifa devotee  of Trinidad  and Tobago and other  notable  dignitaries  in  Nigeria  and diaspora .
The climax of the event was when Oba Lamidi Adeyemi”omo ekun,” alase ekeji orisa”,   danced in appreciation the various masquerades while moving to his palace.

Friday 29 November 2013

On the 25th of November 2013, Ekpuk was a special guest speaker at the annual SAPDP lecture series 2013 at Yaba College of Technology in Lagos, where he shared the experiences of his artistic endeavors, particularly focusing on drawing as his medium of choice and encouraged the art students to also explore the possibilities of drawing as medium of expression.
 Victor Ekpuk speaking at the annual SAPDP lecture series 2013 at Yaba College of Technology in Lagos

After this residency at OYASAF, Ekpuk is hoping to visit Nigeria more often for artistic collaborations and exhibitions.

In a special collaboration with OYASAF and Nigerian artist Olu Amoda, Ekpuk is able to utilize Amoda’s studio space to create works that are inspired by the experiences of his residency in Nigeria.

According to Ekpuk, “This 60 days is the longest I have spent in Nigeria since I left about 15 years ago. Having the opportunity to spend this much time in
Victor Ekpuk making a Lagos inspired drawing at Olu Amoda's studio
Nigeria has afforded me the time to be inspired again by the Nigeria environment, especially Lagos, I feel like I am now on creative high, great to be back home, where it all started”

In continuation of our residency program, OYASAF is pleased to host Victor Ekpuk for 60 days; he is the first visual artist in our residency program.

Victor Ekpuk is a Nigerian-born contemporary artist, based in Washington, DC, United States of America. His art began as an exploration of nsibidi “traditional” graphics and writing systems in Nigeria from which he has developed a style of mark making that is the interplay of art and writing.
Ekpuk’s work embraces a wider spectrum of meaning that is rooted in African and global contemporary art discourses.
Mr. Victor Ekpuk

Ekpuk has had numerous exhibitions and residencies in Africa, Europe, and the United States. His works are in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of African Art, the Newark Museum, and the World Bank, among others.

Monday 18 November 2013

In Akwa Ibom, OYASAF partners artists’ body for basics of art in secondary schools

First Prize, Edidiong Okon Effiong of Lutheran High School (left), receiving his prize from the founder of OYASAF, Prince Yemisi Shyllon
It’s the 1st Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA), Akwa Ibom State Chapter and OYASAF collaborative Annual Drawing Workshop/competition for Secondary Schools.

In her opening remark, during the event held at the Auditorium of the Cornelia Connelly College (CCC) Afaha Oku, Uyo, the Chairman of the state chapter, Mrs. Victoria Victor Utuk commended the founder of OYASAF Prince Yemisi Shyllon for his collaboration with the artists’ body.

The following schools emerged winners:  Secondary School Category -
First Prize, Edidiong Okon Effiong of Lutheran High School; Second Prize, ,Edet Edet Uweh, Infant Jesus High School; and Third Prize, Nsidibe Ofon Silas, Cornelia Connelly College, Uyo.

In the Junior Secondary School Category: Emmanuel Ikara Okon Infant Jesus High School - First Prize; Saviour Enobong Ekwere  Evangel Secondary School -Second Prize Etukudoh Uduak iboro Bright Star Secondary School - Third Prize.

The SNA, Akwa Ibom used used the forum to celebrate some public spirited Nigerians who made noticeable marks in the field of Arts and design as well as Architecture, Engineering and Medicine, stressing the functionalities of Art to other fields of endeavours.

Among those honoured were, Prince Shyllon, as Distinguished Grand Patron, described by the artists as the biggestt art collector in Africa and for supporting Art and Art Programmes; Dr. Friday Etuk, Prince Victor Utuk, Dr. Ndem U. Ndem, Obong-Ifiok (Dr) Anny Asikpo, Mr. Joseph John Obobikpe were inaugurated as Grand Patrons and Patrons respectively, Architect Eno Equere, Dr. (Mrs) Enobong Ikpeme, Barbara Obot and Mr. Charles S. Udoh were given Excellent Awards for their contributions to Art and Design and excellence in their career.
The Drawing competition in Session
In his remarks, on behalf of the Awardees Prince Shyllon thanked the SNA for organizing a programme aimed at reviving the culture of Drawing, resuscitation and revitalization of Art in the school system. He encouraged Artists, Art Teachers, Parents and the General Public to make their inputs, aimed at encouraging art in the society.

The SNA/OYASAF Annual Drawing Workshop/Competition was conceived by the current Executive of Society of Nigerian Artists, Akwa Ibom State Chapter led by Mrs. Victoria Victor Utuk as a move to resuscitate Fine Arts which was at the verge of extinction in the school system. The SNA vehemently called on the government of Akwa Ibom State, to take proactive measures to restore and encourage Fine Art, through Employment of Fine Art Teachers, Desk Officers in the Ministries of Education, Culture and Tourism, appointment of Visual Artists as board members into council for Arts and Culture provision of Art Studios and other facilities to post- primary and primary schools in the State and for a collaborative initiatives between the SNA and the State Government.