Wednesday 21 May 2014

Report of Melissa Treby, About the Visit of the Nigerian Field Society to Prince Shyllon’s Home on Sat 17th May, 2014

On Saturday 17th May 2014, twenty five members of the Nigerian Field Society traveled in a convoy from the quiet Saturday morning streets of Victoria Island to the hustle and bustle of Lagos mainland . Battling Lagos traffic and trying to keep ten vehicles together, was a challenge but the group was filled with anticipation at what we had, all been promised to be a sight like nothing we had ever seen before. How right that turned out to be.

We arrived at Prince Shyllon’s house and we were immediately welcomed into his extensive garden. Despite the oppressive heat we were each able to find a shady spot in which to take refuge whilst we waited for our host’s arrival. Then, a booming voice followed by a beaming smile emanated from the giant man who was so delighted to welcome twenty five strangers, and to invite them to spend a few hours in his world.
Prince Yemisi Shyllon, hosting Nigerian Field Society

After a thorough introduction and explanation of Prince Shyllon’s motivations and visions, as well as a comprehensive overview of the work of his foundation (The Omooba Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon Art Foundation: OYASAF), we were all aware that we had met a truly unique individual, one who had achieved much in his life, who wanted to achieve so much more and most importantly to share it with others.

Our tour started in the garden. Beautifully designed and maintained with thoughtful and interesting art pieces wherever one laid one’s eyes. Prince Shyllon explained many of the works and at other times remained silent to allow our questions to form, all of which were happily answered. The group gradually made its way around, enjoying the experience but secretly anticipating the main event; the house.
Prince Shyllon taking  members of Nigerian Field Society around the foundation's premises
From the moment the front door was opened, the jaws dropped, gasps were heard and the sensory overload began. An art gallery, a museum, a home, a treasure trove, a pirate’s den? How does one describe seven thousand pieces of art displayed in one (albeit very large) home? Simply, one cannot and thus all the participants were left to gaze, inquire, question and marvel at the sights they beheld. The rooms differed in size and layout, some were beautiful, some airless but all were curious and quite literally overflowing with the Prince’s passion.

Prince Shyllon was generous in the extreme with both his time and energy, allowing us to examine, ponder and experience his collection. Then, finally, when we had taken in all we could manage, we were treated to the hospitality of him and his wife with refreshments (small chop and ice cold drinks). This was truly a remarkable afternoon; the entire group saw something unique. Imagine if you can, but of course you can’t. Only by visiting will you understand this writer’s tale. Quite simply, it cannot be described.

 Melissa Treby

During the tour of the garden

Friday 9 May 2014

ART COLLECTION: A PERSONAL EXPERIENCE (Being the lecture delivered by Prince (Engr.) Yemisi Shyllon at the Miami University in Oxford Ohio, Ohio, USA, on the 18th of April, 2014)

It is my pleasure to share my experience with you as an art collector. I however crave your indulgence to first present a brief about myself once again. I am a chartered engineer, chartered stockbroker, marketer as well as legal practitioner and auctioneer. I initially, studied engineering from the University of Ibadan, followed by a master’s degree in Business Administration, and later a degree in law from the University of Lagos; all in Nigeria.  The MBA degree at the University of Ile-Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) equipped me with skills in marketing and finance amongst others.
 Main entrance to the University of Ibadan

Regarding my nativity, I hail from Abeokuta, Ogun State, Nigeria into a Yoruba royal family, which confers the status of a Prince of Egba       Land on me. However, I grew up in the City of Lagos the former political capital of Nigeria, which remains the commercial and economic capital of Nigeria. Without mincing words, Lagos is also the cultural capital of Nigeria. The city remains the centre of cultural productions of all types and almost completely defines the art worldliness of Nigeria.
An aerial view of Abeokuta

In 2005, I contested for the royal stool of Alake of Egbaland being a Prince of Abeokuta from the family lineage of Ogunfayo and Sogbulu of the “Laarun” ruling house of Abeokuta but lost to a better prepared contestant from my ruling house, who is currently the Alake of Egba land.
With regards to my interest in art, I will like to recall Margaret Trowell in her book Classical African Sculptures (1972), where it is stated that, “some of the greatest collections of art works, are mostly initiated through royal patronage”. Royal courts in Yoruba land and in many other cultures in Africa are exquisitely adorned with an infusion where sculptures are part and parcel of architectural mix. Such an environment defines my family setting. As a child of school age, I engaged in drawing with some veritable degree of love and passion. This accounts for why in my undergraduate days at the University of Ibadan, when the opportunity arose, I easily keyed up with art again. Fortunately, very close to the library of a school where I usually studied during holidays, was a demonstration art garden. I met some art students there, whose work I found of great artistic value. This situation connected me back to my childhood appreciation of art works. My history as a collector started precisely at this point. And this encounter is now close, to four decades.
It is important to note that while I thought that my initial course of study in engineering is distanced from the arts; I since found a great link between both disciplines. One significant discovery for me is that both disciplines are centered on proffering solutions to the core needs of humanity in concrete and tangible terms.
What does it mean to be an art collector? The art of collecting is marked by a certain prodigious disposition towards objects made by humans. This is a situation where the lure to possess what other humans have made because of their symbolic value, are irresistible in the first instance. This is a human attribute. But it is not everyone that is bitten by the compulsive bug to acquire the objects made by other humans. It is such that there are then various degrees to which as humans we respond to diverse urges to appreciate first, and then to acquire. From observation, the artist in general terms depend on the charity of the affluent. Hence, for any human to part with money to purchase the work of art, he or she must have had enough to feed with; but unfortunately the bulk of Nigerians are either of the middle class or are poor. While from a realistic point of view, this observation may be grudgingly true, it is not all affluent people that have the lure to collect works of art. Collecting of works of art therefore, remains a gift and an insight that a few possess. This is why in Nigeria, it is possible to count a handful of collectors when compared to its huge population. The thesis of a select few and seeming “zany” humans, evidently is not limited to Nigeria or Africa. A few not-so-wealthy people have some holdings of artworks but I hold the conviction that a phenomenal sense of abnormality, defines the art collector or a collector of any item. Collection therefore carries with it an obsession which is made manifest in the holding which an individual’s art collection defines.
Prince (Engr.) Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon D.Litt
The art of collection can be said to be a primitive engagement of humanity. But early collections known to history are associated with the institutions of royalty and ecclesiastical authorities. As I have related earlier, the royal patronages of the arts in my nativity is responsible for the artistic wealth of the Yoruba palaces. The representational needs for worship and veneration as well as teaching purposes of religion in general is also responsible for the accumulation of art works in religious institutions. These two cultural institutions led the way in contemporary sense to the art of collection. Indeed, the collections in the Vatican long before the building of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, engaged in the tradition of opening its collections to the public on Good Fridays only. As civilization progressed, the wealthy in society joined in the business of art collection. But an explosion occurred with the French Revolution. As it is known, the cultural explosion that occurred then, liberated the artist from the shackles of ecclesiastical and royal institutions. That revolution defined a new society and consciousness regarding the status of the artist and the work of art thus created.
It is precisely this redefined social consciousness that drives modern conceptions in the art of art collection. This is the context where I am located as a collector. The point at issue here is to lay just a little emphasis on the fact that a collector has an obsession that is quite extraordinary in his or her relationship to the work of art. The collector is one who moves beyond the mere act of appreciation of the work of art to owning it. The collector is easily moved to pay for the insight and skill of an artist. Thus, it is not all Princes who appreciate the work of art to invest some of their wealth on “objects” made by fellow human beings.
Permit me now to go into a discussion of my collection. In what appears a general introduction, I have provided a brief history of my pedigree. In looking at this sub-section I will have reason to now provide specific details. I will engage this aspect in the form of chronicling my engagement and the value of collecting. It is important to collect. What definitely is of value in collecting is not the act of collecting as such. Over the years now, I have come to discover that collecting imposes a great discipline that shapes cultural production. I will delve into such ground in the course of this paper.
In my undergraduate days at Ibadan, I found the Yaba College of Technology, Yaba, Lagos (I alluded to this institution ananymously previously), a fertile ground to rejuvenate my interest in the visual arts. This was because of the presence of an active demonstration arena that the department of art there then hosted and still hosts till this day. My visits there eventually kickstarted the story of my collection. This was in 1975. Examples of the works I purchased then are  two stylised figural wood sculptures of a woman and a drummer. 
Since then I have continued to collect works of art. And at  various stages in my career I found the need to explore my environment for the possibility of furthering the content of my holdings in art.
In this regard, while my undergraduate studies continued at Ibadan, I regularly visited Mokola Market in Ibadan, identifying with Ogiahon Ogiameh in Fadeyi – Ikorodu road, Lagos and purcahsing artworks from small time carvers and other art sources in Lagos and Ibadan.
A Part Of Bronze And Stone Sculptures In The OYASAF Garden
While working in Kano and Kaduna as an engineer with Tractor and Equipment, a division of United African Company of Nigeria  (UACN), servicing and selling Caterpillar brand of heavy equipment and travelling around northern Nigeria, I collected many works in the process. When I proceeded to the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University at Ile-Ife for my MBA degree, I began my second phase of collecting. I not only collected from local art sources in Ile-Ife and environ, I also started exploring for collections outside the Ile-Ife vicinity. I started at this time to relate with the Igun Street carvers in Benin City. It must be recalled that, during the era of imperial Benin Kingdom, the Igun carvers were known for providing bronze, ivory and wooden artworks that highly embelished the palace of the Oba of Benin and his nobles.
With the Ile-Ife experience, I graduated into the collection of the sculptural works of upcoming art masters. I had become the marketing director of Nigerite Nigeria Limited at 31 with much improved earnings and in the process, expanded into commissioning artists to produce glassfibre  lifesize  artworks. I later eventually expanded my source of funds for collecting art by establishing and operating my own law firm side by side as marketing director and legal adviser of the company. It was at this time that I met David Dale, a verterian printmaker and stained glass painter in Lagos, Nigeria, from whom I acquired some early modern art works, which he produced on the basis of  commissions. One of the values of meeting Dale was that he introduced me into collecting the works  of  many other modern artists. Through him and others, I got into collecting the works of many living and dead art masters especially during the era of one of Nigeria’s Military President, General Sani Abacha (1993-1998), who in 1995, ordered the execution of Kenule Saro-Wiwa the environmental activist and crusader from Nigeria’s Niger Delta region. This was a very trying period for Nigeria. The period was marked by the exodus from Nigeria of many expatriates. While leaving Nigeria many of these expartraites put out the entire collections of theirs from Nigeria and elsewhere for sale. This situation was auspicious for me as I took hold of the opportunity to buy their works, thus, increasing my collection by great leaps.
"In the Spirit" (Beads on board) By David Dale (1993)
I started my story of collection by observing that to be known as a collector requires some form of prodigious attitude towards collecting artworks. Like many human habits, it has impulsive and habitual dimensions. These dimensions led me to another stage in my art collection. I think the act of collecting comes to a height when a collector engages purchase with other co-collectors as well as expanding one’s repatoire and genre through deliberate searches to fill noticed gaps. One very conscious act is that I have engaged in collecting from master artists, gallery owners and auction houses to fill up gaps. You might ask gaps in what sense? In the process of my collecting , I have constructed a theoretical canon for Nigerian art history in my expediency  to fill some noticed Nigerian art history gaps in my collection. In this regard, I have used this to build on my collection of modern and contemporary artworks including photography. I remember the period in which I also got introduced to a second world war cinematographer and the Omooba Odimayo’s collection of traditional artworks and antiquities in my bid to fill noticed gaps in my collection. The cinematographer, late Mr. Ogunde Adesina, toured with traditional art sellers  in search of genuine historical pieces and artworks in Nigeria. Included in this search were visits to shrines and homes of newly converted christians to purchase artworks categorised as demonic objects. With this focus, I have not stopped collecting.
Inventory of my Collection
My collection, which is now domiciled under the Omooba Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon Art Foundation (OYASAF), presently holds more than 7,000 works of art and over 55,000 photographs of several Nigerian and Benin Republic cultural festivals in its digital archive. This number makes the collection the largest private collection of art in Nigeria. They are itemized thus.   

"Eko Re" (Acrylic on Canvas) By Dele Jegede (1991)
  The oldest modern Nigerian art in the Foundation is a 1932 charcoal drawing titled Awaiting Trial by Aina Onabolu who is acclaimed the father of modern Nigerian art.
  The oldest traditional artwork in Foundation’s collection is a Nok terracotta. It is a beautiful and classical example of the Nok sculpture tradition which genre is the oldest in sub-Saharan Africa. There are many other classical traditional artworks in OYASAF.
  Another major work in the traditional genre among numerous others, is a Yoruba Ceremonial Box from the Olowe of Ise school. Olowe’s pieces are some of the most priced traditional African artworks in the world today. Roslyn Walker described him as “the most important Yoruba artist of the 20th century.”
Village Market and Motor Park by Akinola Lasekan (1941)
  Some works by Aina Onabolu, Ugorji and Akinola Lasekan, Nigeria’s first newspaper cartoonist whose political cartoons featured regularly in the West African Pilot are Village Market and Motor Park, (1941); Cocoa Cropping; Masquerade at the Square.
  Some of Ben Enwonwu’s artworks in the Foundation include: The original plaster mould of his masterpiece Anyanwu, (1953) and Ogolo Dancer -in bronze, (1959).
  Many independence artists and the members of the Zaria Art Society popularly known as the “Zaria Rebels” like Uche Okeke, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Yusuf Grillo, Simon Okeke, and many others are well represented in the OYASAF collection.
  OYASAF prides itself in having the most comprehensive and diverse representation of different periods of Nigerian modernism. Some of the artists who are most represented in the OYASAF collection are David Dale, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Lara Ige-Jack, Adeola Balogun, Olu Amoda, Zacheus Oloruntoba and Lamidi Fakeye etc.

Repurposed Constructivism By Olu Amoda (2011)
  The Foundation has in its collection, a significant number of early works in clay and wood by El Anatsui, the most acclaimed African artist at the moment. Two of Anatsui’s works: Wisdom and Yaw Berko (Stand Up and Shout No) in OYASAF were loaned to the Museum for Africa
Art, New York, for the traveling exhibition El Anatsui: When I Last Wrote to You About Africa, 2010-2013.
"Mother and Child" (Soft stone In the OYASAF Garden) by Oladapo Afolayan (1999)

Collecting for me has been exciting. In this sense I have found myself playing the role of a financier of artists in Nigeria’s cultural space where there are many lacunae in the arena of cultural production. One of these roles is where the collector becomes a major financier of artists. When the artist in the past, was liberated from the clutches of ecclesiastical authorities and the nobilities of the West, a new set of social structures came up to fund art and artists’ initiatives. It is in this wise that, OYASAF is established to share the joy, beauty and benefit of Nigerian art and culture with the world; Showcase and develop Nigerian visual art; curb the flight of artistic talents away from my culturally rich country-Nigeria and to provide a source of pride to Nigeria and Nigerians.
      The vision of OYASAF is to be a leading resource foundation in the history, heritage and preservation of Nigerian art and photographs for reflecting the dignity and creativity of Nigerian culture to the world.
      The mission of OYASAF is to engage in visual art activities and services for the promotion and positioning of Nigerian art, for a pride of place within the continents of the world.
The above declarations are directed at driving the following objectives:
1.   Attraction and retention of research scholars, institutions and art curators for conducting studies around Nigeria’s visual art and culture.
2.    Exploration and generation of opportunities for collaborative exhibitions, workshops, seminars and talk shows in relation to the collection of our foundation.
3.      Re-circulating OYASAF art holdings through exhibitions of its collections.
4.      Generation of knowledge through research, publications, lectures and workshops.
The objectives above are justified by the following activities of OYASAF.
  Works in OYASAF’s collection have also been shown in exhibitions like “Ancient Tones and Columns,” an exhibition of traditional Nigerian art in the collections of Omooba Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon Art Foundation (OYASAF) and The Omooba Oladele Odimayo Art Foundation (TOOAF) that held at the National Museum, Lagos, in 2008.
  In 2009, the Foundation published a book on its holdings of Yoruba art entitled Yoruba Traditional Art: The Collection of Omooba Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon Art Foundation (OYASAF) edited by Ohioma Ifounu Pogoson.
  OYASAF recently started a publishing project based on conversations with the major living artists in its collection. Conversation with Lamidi Fakeye is the first in the “conversation series.” It was published in 2013 and has 48 of Fakeye’s wood carvings in the Foundation’s collection reproduced in full-color. The book was coauthored by Prince (Engr.) Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon and Dr. Ohioma Ifounu Pogoson.
  OYASAF Fellowship Awards was initiated in 2010 to bring to Nigeria art scholars, critics, graduate students and artists new knowledge from across the globe.
  Since 2010 to end 2013, thirteen  persons from the US, Austria, Switzerland, and South Africa have benefited from  the OYASAF award and they are Janine Systma, Ian Bourland, Rachel Engmann, Andrea Bauer, Nomusa Makhubu, Kathleen Coates, Erica Agyeman, Amanda Hellman, Erin Rice, Amber Croyle Ekong, Kimberli Gant, Jessica Williams, Victor Ekpuk.
  In 2012, a quarterly lecture series was started to give opportunity to the home-based Nigerian academics and scholars to talk on different issues in art education, art history, art practice and art business. Four persons have presented papers and they are Prof. Frank Ugiomoh “On African Art and Identity Blogging: A Historical Perspective”; Dr. Kunle Filani “Contemporary
Art in Nigeria: Contextual Navigation through the Web of History”; Prof. Jacob Jat Jari “The Price of Art and Its Implication on Art Practice in Nigeria and Dr. Ozioma Onuzulike “Art Auctions In Nigeria: Ladders of Progress or Shots In The Artists’ Feet?”.
  Recently, OYASAF in collaboration with the Grillo Pavilion in Lagos made a research grant available for scholars to research and resolve conflicting issues on “the formation, membership and program of the Zaria Art Society at the then College of Arts, Science and Technology (Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria).”
  In 2009, the Foundation donated a sculpture to the University of Ibadan, paid for the restoration of a 1952 landscape painting of the university by Ben Enwonwu and upgraded the university’s zoo, making it accessible to the disabled.
  From 2009 to 2010, OYASAF organized an annual national competition in photography.
  Also in 2010, the Foundation cosponsored the “Children’s Day Art Workshop” organized by Biodunomolayo Art Gallery, Lagos.
  After the 2010 edition of the annual national photography competition, it was replaced with a photographic documentation project that covers cultural events and festivals in Nigeria and
beyond. The Foundation has an in-house photographer Oguntimehin Ariyo, who carries out this photographic documentation project.
Display by masquerade (Benin Republic Voodoo Festival)  Photograph by Ariyo Oguntimehin
  Some of the events and places that have been documented are Igue festival of the Benin Kingdom, the Ofala festival of Onitsha, the Igbo Ukwu festival, Eyo festival of Lagos, the Calabar carnival, the Lisabi festival, the Sango festival of old Oyo empire, the Badagry cultural festival, National voodoo festival (Ouidah) of Benin republic, the Mambilla Plateau and the Ogoja in Nigeria.
  Since 2011, OYASAF has sponsored an annual visual arts workshop at the Department of Creative Arts, University of Lagos. The entrepreneurial workshop covers painting with pastel, watercolor, printmaking and ceramics. Kathleen Stafford, a printmaker and the wife of a former consul general of the American embassy in Nigeria, facilitated the printmaking session in 2011.
  In 2012, OYASAF founder endowed the first Nigerian Professorial Chair in Visual Art and Design with the faculty of art and design of the University of Port Harcourt.
   In 2013, OYASAF sponsored two drawing competitions among the secondary school students in Ile-Ife and Akwa Ibom in Nigeria. The Ile - Ife competition was organized in conjunction with the art students of the Department of Fine and Applied Arts, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife while the Akwa Ibom competition was organized with the Society of Arts in the eastern zone in Nigeria. 
  Over the years, the Foundation has given financial support and other kinds of assistance to artists, national and international art institutions/associations, art departments, universities, and commercial galleries.
  In 2013, the Foundation donated eighteen life-size sculptures to the Freedom Park, Lagos, the first of its kind from a private art institution in Nigeria.
A Part of the OYASAF Sculptured Garden

  The Foundation has received many awards and honors and the founder in 2013 was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.) by the University of Port Harcourt, in recognition of his contributions in the promotion of the Nigerian art and culture.
One of the major challenges facing OYASAF is preservation. We engage regularly in the restoration of OYASAF works. Our artworks have to be preserved against the seven risks of conservation. If it is painting, there are ways that you modulate the temperature so that the works do not decay. There are very few experts who currently know about these in Nigeria. With wooden artworks we buy chemicals to preserve the wood works, or we wrap the artwork in cellophane and put the work in deep freezers for about two weeks. With this process, all the termites and pests in the wood work would die. 
We have also in times past, engaged Nigerian contemporary artists to preserve some paintings in our collection. What they did was to apply lacquer on them. I admit that my judgment at that time depended much on my limited exposure which was based on the skill available to me within the Nigerian environment vis a vis the cost of the works. Moreover I have also undertaken to date scientifically some works in the collection to determine their ages. By this I have attempted to give them some authentication. The art of collecting imposes a great responsibility on the collector .The collector is forced to strive not to leave his works to fall into the state of disrepair for any reason. However, restoration engagements remain delicate. A notable example is the controversy over the many restoration initiatives on Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper; it is such that a recent 1999 restoration remains controversial after the x-ray excavation in the 1970s revealed the work in its original state.
An Array of Masquerades. Photograph by Ariyo Oguntimehin
When I began my admiration for the object of art with a view to owning some, it never occurred to me that my aspiration was an expensive venture. Art collection is steeped in charity in many dimensions. The first observation in this regard is that the collector is the financier of the artist guild. Beyond this reality, is the service to one’s nation, In preserving its history and heritage. Notice that at a point in my collection, I constructed a canon, through my collection, of the history of Nigerian art. And when I noticed some lacuna in the canon I responded to it by looking out for works I could purchase to fill the gaps observed. Depending on a collector’s objective, the agenda is always a buildup in content to articulate a particular history and process. It is noted that many private collections in different parts of the world have ended up as national collections even though artworks remain private properties in as much as they are in the custody of their makers. Collections expose them to others from where they connect with a family to tell a structured story of art. In an effort to articulate the art history of Nigeria I have begun the publication of a series that focus on my collections. This activity cues into the objective of OYASAF. In conclusion, I must state that the collection of artworks gives me great fulfillment although collecting has its many challenges. Negotiating through the challenges associated with collecting adds to one’s fulfillment.