Sunday, 26 July 2015

How Akinola dumped 'art of survival' abroad for creative freedom at home


By Tajudeen Sowole
Visibility and perception are too main factors that shape the shades and lights of Lagos's highly competitive art landscape. For some artists, pushing their works through the windows of exhibitions and art gallery connections, is not exactly enough; regular visits to  art events and creating personal visibility to germinate strong relationship with art collectors, connoisseurs and aficionados is as crucial as the creative part of creating the work.
 
Ebenezer Akinola
However there are quite a few artists based outside Lagos, whose physical presence in the city are as irregular as the the total lunar eclipse, yet these artists' works are not less visible or appreciated as their counterparts who live and work in the city. Among such artists is portraitist, Ebenezer Akinola b.1968 whose kind of portrait painting carries a distinct texture not exactly common in this part of the world.

 Based in Ibadan, Oyo State, Akinola's work is easily recognised more than his face. In fact, I recall having come across his works for more than two years before I finally met the face behind the canvas. For artists like Akinola, perhaps being a little bit elusive is an advantage in avoiding distraction from studio commitment. In fact, hoping to track him in Lagos during one of his sneaking in and out of the city has been impossible. To resolve an a lingering chat appointment, he humbly offers to “come to Lagos." Coming all the way from Ibadan, just for a chat? E-chat was eventually agreed. 

For artists who are based outside a hub-city like Lagos, e-windows such as the social media should be an ideal opportunity. And when it comes to marketing, one would expect that the social media outlets provide a relief for the likes of Akinola. In fact, many activities are the trend by artists via social media, particularly on facebook, where artists post their new works. For some artists, this is an alternative to physical art exhibition space. Is the social media being misused or overrated by artists? What are the advantages and disadvantages of posting works of art on social media? Akinola takes a practical perspective into the trend. "It is a social media and not a 'business media," he says emphatically, noting that the unspecified functions of the medium makes it such that it is opened to all comers. The window is a double-edged sword that could, at the end of the day serve a purpose, he argues. "The social media is well used, misused and overrated. The circle of friends you belong to is important. It serves as a form of exhibition but presently it has not taken the place of the physical exhibition. This may be possible in the future, who knows." 

 A flip side to it, he warns, encourages plagiarism. "People also get a little personal with you. One major problem is that young people copy your works, so such danger may discourage me  from posting new works on facebook."  Beyond mere interaction among colleague artists, sometimes one wonders how far the posting of works on social media go. If the purpose is market strategy, Akinola is not impressed. In fact, he argues that it is not the right window. "Most people who see your works are the wrong people; not the type that appreciate art. The facebook especially is not the media for 'serious' art, presently." 
  
As the social media presents its challenges, so is the widening gab between moderni and contemporary art. In fact, there is so much energy around art such that traditional renditions of painting on canvas - as resilient as it has been over the centuries - is beginning to shed its weight. How long can painting on canvas and traditional sculpture withstand the future in contemporary African art space? "I am open minded when it comes to art. There is plenty of room." Cautious in his prediction, Akinola suggests an  "evolution" that "may be absolute, perhaps within its kind or it may not fully come.". He also agrees that traditional rendition in creating art has never been challenged as the current state reflects. "This era looks to me like a melting point of different kinds of art." Artists, he warns, should be honest to their natural callings.  "History is still being made so the artist should remain true to his art and be open minded."

 Being flexible is perhaps one of the virtues he picked as a Diaspora artist, shortly before he returned to Nigeria in over ten years ago. Recalling his experience, Akinola says his first encounter was realising the different space of art environment he found himself. For instance, he discloses how the 'public art' phrase confronted him, perhaps for the first time. "People generally appreciate the art and the artist even when they don't have the money to pay for it. I saw how the museum was very useful in the development of art. People would line up and pay to enter the museum even when it was snowing." 



The high level of public art appreciation also translates into the attention that individual artists are given, thus making art as a profession and a career worth living on, Akinola explains. However, the prize to pay for what he describes as "art of survival" was not encouraging in creative context. "For survival, most times I had to do what the people wanted. I was tutored on what to do to get my works sold." Submission of his creative independence was, in his thought, not sustainable, so he had to come back to Nigeria. "Relatively my art was received and i didn't have much problem selling them. The only thing that discouraged me was doing the art of survival. I wasn't doing what I wanted to do. I figured out that if I was relevant at home doing what I wanted, it would be better for me." Comparatively, Nigerian artists, he argues, "are strong when you look at the African American artists."

 Last year, Akinola's art returned to the west, this time in the U.K, courtesy of his membership of Guild of Professional Fine Artists of Nigeria (GFA). It was a tour exhibition titled Transcending Boundaries, being promoted by a U.K-based outlet, Abru Art.
 Being among new members of GFA, the attraction to him is the quality of artists in the guild. "I saw people who were professionally minded. I saw people who want to make things happen. I've known these people over the years and have seen the passion and sacrifice they have put into art. Seriously, art is sacrifice."

 Clearly, the Nigerian art market is growing. But are artists adjusting or growing with the expansion? For example, Nigerian artists appear not ready for galleries to represent them as it is done in climes where art market has is properly developed. "The local art market is growing, but in its teething stage. Generally, the artists are taking advantage of this change." Gallery representation of artists in Nigeria appears like a good prospect that is slowed by galleries' inability to adequate finance.  "Whether fully or partial representation, it will need a lot of money and certain laws will have to be passed." He also note that the galleries are too few "to handle representation the way it should be properly done." 

Akinola Studied Fine Art And Graduated in 1989 at the University Of Benin with B.A in Painting Major.
 
Some Of His exhibitions are Transcending Boundaries, Abru Art  London, U.K, 2015; Metal Faces And Cocks, Signature Beyond. Lagos , Nigeria, 2014; Lasting Impressions (Solo) at Signature Beyond. Lagos Nigeria. 2010; Stepping Into Universality, Universal Studios Of Art Lagos, Nigeria, 2009; First Nigeria Giclee Exhibition, Hue Concept/Terra Kulture, Lagos Nigeria, 2008; National Black Art Fair, New York City, U.S. 2006; and Akinola Ebenezer And Buck Brown, Nicole Gallery, Chicago, U.S. 2004.

Tutor and the Tutored... Art skills in conceptual photography



By Tajudeen Sowole
When artist and lecturer, Nnaemka Egwuibe showed a photography exhibition titled The Tutor and the Tutored, with his former students at National Gallery of Art (NGA), Enugu, few weeks ago, the debate about the strength of art content in photography was expanded. Viewed via soft copies, shortly after the exhibition closed, works of Egwuibe and his co exhibited artists Chinenye Eze, Doris Ukatu, Ifedili Chibuike and Onyinye Ezennia rely on concept, style and technique in appropriating the richness of art in photography.
 
Otu Nde Olu Ugbo by Ifedili Chibuike.


With Photoshop effect, Egwuibe and Chibuike bring digital effect technique into creative photography, just as Ukatu, Ezenna and Eze add styles to conceptual imaging.
 
As much as it could be argued that digital photography has widened the scope of creativity, perhaps making conceptual imagery as easy as the touch of a button, the ability of a photographer to make a great art out of the technology makes the difference between snap shot and professional work. This much is seen in The Fire Beneath, a pull out or separation technique implored by Egwuibe, separating burning fire woods from the scenery. Similarly, Otu Nde Olu Ugbo by Chibuike exudes a collage-like texture, stressing the strength of Photoshop technique by separating the female blouses from the wrappers of aso-ebi group photograph. The technique of creating colour spot or space in a black and white image, as seen in the works of Egwuibe and Chibuike, is indeed becoming a growing trend in contemporary photography parlance. Perhaps, the local content application, based on environment of capture, would make the difference.    
  
For Ezennia's Occupation, a misty capture, in full colour, of a workman with highlights of red as burning spots, create an energy that generates heat of high intensity. 
  
Perhaps another way to fill atmospheric temperature lies in Depth of Nature, high sun coastal scenery, intensified by silhouette capture of a fisherman. However, in Ukatu's Untapped, the central attention shifts from the medium as a tool in special effects to the subject as performance, perhaps enhanced by props and costumes, strengthening the art contents of photography.
  
The gathering, according to Egwuibe, is about expanding "the on-going dialogues and debates surrounding photography from the points of view of ’art’, ’skill’, ’creativity’ and ’aesthetics." The exhibited artists, he argued, have taken a shot beyond the depth of traditional rendition of photography. "Our creative strategy has been to appropriate these effects associated with the “good old” traditional darkroom in our manipulation with a more sophisticated digital darkroom," Egwuibe explained.
  
A contributor to the appropriation of the exhibition, Ayo Adewunmi who is HOD at Department of Graphic Design, Institute of Management and Technology (IMT), Enugu argued in favour of a synergy between photographer's instinct and the sophistication of digital photography software. "Technique and equipment must combine with goals, vision, inspiration and concept to produce what we may call art photography."

 Egwuibe tracked the Tutored thus: "Chinenye was the 2012 star prize winner of the Life in My City Art Festival photography contest. She never runs out of ideas, especially with her experiments with ’reflection.’ 

"Ukatu has not allowed family responsibilities deter her from commitment to professional exploits. She has also participated in both the Photo Africa exhibition and Life in My City Art Festival for three consecutive times. She already has her works collected both in Nigeria and abroad.

 "For the past three years, Chibuike has participated in the Life in My City Art Festival exhibition, Photo Africa, and exhibitions organised by the NGA. As an art teacher under the Nigerian National Youth Service programme, Chibuike’s outstanding projects in his place of primary assignment won him the Best Youth Corp award for the 2014/2015 service year. 

 "Ezennia is  ever experimenting with new ideas, which apparently won her the Best in Originality award in the 2014 Life in My City Art Festival. She has also participated in Photo Africa and has had her works included in NGA exhibitions." 
   
The Tutor stressed what he described as exploits of his ex-students who have proven to be committed professionals. "They have all demonstrated boldness in the exploration of new ideas, tools and techniques."

Saturday, 25 July 2015

A 'complete' professional in dele jegede, according to Prof Ola Oloidi




 
DELE JEGEDE: THE CREATIVE VERSATILITY OF A COMPLETE ART PROFESSIONAL
A KEYNOTE ADDRESS Presented by Professor Ola Oloidi during the Conference Marking the 70th Birthday Celebration of Professor Dele Jegede in Lagos, July 24, 2015

Prof dele jegede

When I received the invitation to give a keynote address for this occasion, my physiognomy suddenly, though temporarily, became disorganized by, if not enfeebled with, a rather unsympathetic feeling of rejection, and not even indecision. Two factors were responsible for this: what I considered a comprehensive book on Dele Jegede has already been published internationally, and, again, I also have a chapter in the book, giving me the belief that it could be an academic foible and an opaque intellectuality to repeat what had already been known about Dele Jegede. However, in a rather extramundane manner, a meteoric thought came to suppress the illegitimacy and improbity of this already resident thought. According to the cliché, “devil is a liar”. Yes, because it is a notorious liar, I am now before you, believing that whatever might have been written on this precious son of Ekiti can only be the beginning of further work; hence the above title.

However, who is a complete professional? Before anatomizing the contextual adjuncts of this lecture title, it is good to atmospherically explain its symbolic thematic character, focusing on what I mean by “complete art professional”, or, generally, “complete professional”.1 For example, modern Nigerian artists, art administrators, art historians and art educationists abound in their “thousands”, and many of them are professionally capable, financially secure, nationally and internationally known and academically as well as intellectually sound. However, unfortunately, inspite of the professional triumphs of these professionals, and despite their high profile image, a significant large number is professionally disabled and, therefore, unqualified to be addressed as complete art professionals. This is because, these art professionals remain distant from being ordained as “complete”; for, they have not been able to organically or sincerely project the needed hybrid of professionality and morality, the sociological ingredients for being complete professionals.2
A complete artist or art historian is one who, by virtue of his high-class or even low-class professionality, more than ever before, implyingly and applyingly, becomes a crusader for art functionalism or unpretentious art humanism.3 He is full of environmental sensitivity, and has a fanatical desire to make others develop. He is one who has a clear mentoring and approachable attitude or image.4 Complete art professionals, in this case artists and art historians, are not saints or faultness, but their actions are hieratically endearing with translucent, humble and naturally distinguished and insulating morality.5 They are not complete art professionals, if their actions or human relations are fraught with arrogance or enfeebled with false sense of self-actualization and self-adulation.6
They are not complete artists and art historians, if their creative and intellectual output is insensitive to, or snub, individual, collective, national or people’s aspirations and problems. A complete art professional does not consciously project an image of economic, creative and intellectual superiority, even when it is evident that he is superior. He does not use his status to intimidate or harass but attract. A complete art professional can be a no-nonsense individual, but whose actions are not destructive but productively constructive and corrective. He is not a complete professional if he does not want those he is supposed to mentor to grow up to, or beyond, him. An art professional is professionally inadequate, if he habitually picks faults with and in others without mercy and good heart; forgetting that he is not an angel, and that what he sees as faults can be a virtue or perfection; having been misdirected by his own misjudgement. Ladies and gentlemen, having bored you with the above professional invocation, you will now know why the title has been appropriately chosen for this occasion.
Without trying to be patronizing or emotionally involved, but objectively art historical and socratic in my reaction, I will now occupy myself with those factors that have made Dele Jegede’s overall art professionality acquire a garment of completeness, as projected above, starting with his creative or visual arts professionality; that has made him a household name. In fact, a book, Art Parody and Politics: Dele Jegede’s Creative Activism, Nigeria and the Transnational Space, edited by Aderonke Adesola Adesanya and Toyin Falola, and published by Africa World Press, Trenton, New Jersey in 2014, has testimonized Dele Jegede’s entitlement to the theme of my lecture. This is because the book, with fifteen contributors, Aderonke Adesanya, Toyin Falola, Tolulope Filani, Krydz Ikwuemesi, Peju Layiwola, Okechukwu Nwafor, Sylvester Ogbechie, Onoyovo Ukpong, Yomi Ola, Tejumola Olaniyan, Olawole Famule, Segun Ajiboye as well as Akin Adesokan, C. U., Nzewi and Ola Oloidi, have presented painstakingly and vitaminously essays that very reasonably cover Dele Jegede’s professional versatility and moral as well as humanistic excellencies.
The book focuses on Jegede as a painter, cartoonist, art historian, educator and administrator. His intellectual, academic, creative and propagandist vibrations are also featured to enrich the biography of this art activist. This is saying that Jegede has made himself professionally active and effective in all the humanistically essential areas of visual arts. However, unfortunately, the contextual richness of the book has been made fugitive or imprisoned by its lack of wide circulation or total lack of circulation, particularly in Nigeria. Only an insignificant few have access to this ambitiously produced publication that now functions as a secret, rather than a public, document.

3
 
However, as a painter, Dele Jegede, who was the best student of painting, and, in fact, the best graduating student, with a First Class degree, at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, has designed a unique space for himself in African landscape for master painters. With numerous solo and group exhibitions, nationally and internationally, this master of enrapturing colouration, elegant draughtmanship, organic pictorial composition, telling and ecstatic spatial distribution, has a painting style that is uniquely his; having his own painting vocabulary. Dele Jegede’s paintings are generally visually exhilarating and full of enthusiasm. His paintings are not mere academic or formalistic efforts. They focus on life, or people, with all force of ideological insignia that shows him as a defender of the poor, the disadvantaged, the socially and psychologically troubled minds as well as several other social inequalities and discomfort; particularly in the urban settlements.
Jegede’s paintings, with indicting revelational images, are a lamentation over the country he so much loves but without really receiving compensatory or rewarding returns. As a defender of the masses, he uses his paintings to embrocate the aching part of the society. These paintings are, characteristically, a synod of pictorial bombardment, needed to help make government and other affected agencies focus on humanity and not on epicurean attractions. One of his solo exhibitions focusing on some social shortcomings is titled, Eko Re e (This is Lagos); a 1991 exhibition that exposed some social problems in Lagos.7
Without doubt, Dele Jegede was one of the most popular cartoonists of the 8th and 9th decades. Historically, he still remains one of the leading Nigerian cartoonists; considering his cartoon activities between 1972 and 1991, particularly. It was his cartoons that made him a household name in Nigeria, especially between 1975 and 1987, with the adventures of his “Kole the Menace” and “Kole’s World” in the Sunday Times of Nigeria. Jegede will also always be remembered for hundreds of his cartoons captioned “Pocket Cartoons”, “Dele’s Opinion”, “Weekend Cartoons”, “Dele Jegede”, all in the Sunday Times and Lagos Weekend, and “Funny Cords”, colour cartoons, in the Sunday Concord. These cartoons, some of which are satirical, merely humorous or comical seriously have socio-political implications.
Jegede was undoubtedly very popular among traders, drivers, politicians, religious organizations, government agencies, professional and academic institutions, among others, in Nigeria. Evidently, Dele Jegede, like other cartoonists of his period, used his cartoons as emotional ablution or relaxation for those who were dejected for various reasons. He also used these visual agents, very unflaggingly, to challenge the wickedness and inadequacies of the oppressors. Jegede’s cartoons are also unique in formalistic presentations. That is, they are full of linear brevity. Elegantly miniaturized with highly simplified and readable images, they are expressive with dramatic characterization. These cartoons are also plain with aesthetically mannered draughtsmanship. They are generally straightforward and logical in message, while, as regards wording, they can be loquacious when necessary and brief when required. What has also added beauty to Jegede’s cartoons are their integral well written calligraphic or architectural words. Jegede has evidently found his entry into the book of cartoon traditions in Nigeria.
As an art historian, Jegede is also a factor, particularly in modern Nigerian art. Having had M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Art History, and having professionalized in this discipline through teaching and research, and because he has also published profusely, in this regard, not just on the theory, critique and other digressive affiliates of art history, he has become one of Nigerian’s notable and functional art historians. Dele Jegede studied art history in an institution or environment that mostly celebrated the authopologization of art history; seeing African art history or history of African art only as the study of ethnographic materials or antiquities whose makers have long been buried by art historical anonymity; what I have always referred to as “art history without history”.
The experience also initially influenced my own art historical foundation before I disengaged myself from this form of what I also considered “art historical colonization”.8 Very interestingly, and with high academic certitude, Dele Jegede, from the beginning, was art historically decolonized. It may surprise one that even before his postgraduate study in art history, he had already preoccupied himself with art history with history with his article titled “Student Art” of 1974.9 One is also not surprised that his Ph.D. dissertation focuses on modern African art. Today, while he does not devalue the traditional art culture of his fathers, he is one of the pillars behind the promotion of modern art historical studies in Nigeria; through the teaching of, and numerous publications on, modern African art. He is an organic art historian.10
In addition to being an art historian, Jegede is also a born teacher and educator, having taught art and art history in tertiary institutions in Nigeria and the United States of America, where he presently teaches. He has produced many students at postgraduate levels and, therefore several art historians, particularly outside Africa. Jegede is also well acknowledged for his shrewd administrative competence. With combinations of diplomacy, love, highly qualified strategies, understanding, humility, kindness progressive human relation and impetuous sensitivity, among other leadership qualities of his, he has always succeeded in all his administrative positions, particularly as the Acting Director, Centre for Cultural Studies, University of Lagos and President, Society of Nigerian Artists.
Kolade Oshinowo, Chief Emmanuel Olisambu, former M.D. of 1st Bank, Bernard Aina, Ndidi Dike, Professor Duro Oni, Associate Professor Peju Layiwola, Dr. Bruce Onobrakpeya, Bisi Fakeye, as well as Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi, Sam Olagbaju, Bunmi Babatunde and Toyin Akinosho, among several others, are witnesses to the above narrated administrative acumen of Jegede. However, the professional versatility of this art professional is not yet exhausted here, because he is also a book illustrator, a curator and a calligrapher. Naturally, Jegede’s print media art activities exposed him to many authors who, and publishing houses that, heavily patronized him for book, journal and magazine illustrations.
His curatorial experiences within and outside Nigeria are also well known; while his explosive artistic and academic imaging has made him consultant, on several educational policies, under the military and the civilian administrations. He has also been consultant to some Nigerian universities, government cultural agencies and corporate organizations. These are in addition to his consultancy activities in some museums and galleries in the U.S.A. Jegede’s handwriting, a self-created calligraphy, is a piece of art on its own. It is unique, visually pleasurable, beautifully romanticized, dramatically characterized, simplified and graphically radical. Without doubt, the aesthetic uniqueness of Jegede’s formal handwriting, unless one is with himself, can carry away one and easily overpower or suppress the contextual message intended for its reader.
Ladies and gentlemen, there are more professional revelations on Jegede. Some of these have already been analytically echoed in my contribution to the book on Dele Jegede, already referred to.11 However, the nature of this lecture will only permit me to just graphically address a few so as to make people know his lasting and concrete contributions to modern Nigerian art and culture; particularly, as earlier stated, when the mentioned book appears to be educationally elitist with highly restricted possession. I will here stress Dele Jegede’s presidency of the Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA). His presidency of SNA, no doubt, brought out of him that strongly felt nationalistic instincts, and not orientation, which he had already displayed, and with all fearless and creative instrumentality in his paintings and cartoons.
He became the President of the SNA on November 30, 1989, after about a decade of unofficial and indeliberate vacation. The Lagos SNA must be acknowledged here for this SNA’s revival. Jegede knew what he had before him, and, instead of raising distractive questions about why the SNA had not operated for several years, began to programme what would revive and stabilize the image of SNA, both nationally and internationally. In his wisdom, he formulated, unofficially, during one of my discussions with him in 1989, the motto: “Consolidation and Expansion Through Dialogue”. And with this, he moved along with his executive that had the first meeting on November 30, 1989, and whose membership included late Lucas Bentu, Bernard Aina, Ndidi Dike, Bisi Fakaye, C. Akran of blessed memory, C. Aniakor, B. K. Olorukooba and Ola Oloidi; though two of these were inactive from the beginning.
As the SNA President, Jegede promptly “decreed” the objectives of his administration, all of which were tactically and vigorously pursued; with most of them achieved, despite certain hindrances. He designed and reworded new Application Forms for SNA membership; compiled the Membership Nominal Role; revised the SNA annual due from 50 kobo to one naira; created additional SNA state chapters; re-registered the SNA under the Perpetual Succession Act of 1989; rejecting the earlier Company Decree of 1968; amended the SNA Constitution; introduced SNA Newsletter; had regular SNA national conferences and exhibitions; pressed the government to seriously enforce Tax Rebates for those corporate and other organizations sponsoring SNA events (as contained in Section 10.3.1 of Nigeria’s Cultural Policy) and wrote, on behalf of SNA, now Professor, Abayomi Adetoro, SNA strong member, for his appointment as Education Attaché in London.
Jegede, Dr. Lucas Bentu and four members of his executive visited the Director, National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC) on February 23, 1990 with the following demands: Review of Cultural Policy, Re-opening of the closed National Gallery of Modern Art, provision of space within the National Theatre for SNA and financial assistance. When no concrete result was achieved beyond the advisory level, Jegede contacted the art sage and monument, Yusuf Grillo who, along with Bisi Fakeye, Bernard Aina and Olu Amoda “paid a courtesy call” on the Minister of Culture and Social Welfare, Ambassador Mamman Anka and also presented the above demands in addition to the review of the planned eviction of the National Studios (now Universal Studios of Art).
Jegede also pleaded for the revival of Nigeria Magazine publication. The Minister’s reactions were unbelievably positive, promising to look into their demands. At least, the National Gallery of Modern Art was eventually reopened, and moves were on ground to address other demands. Like Oliver Twist, Dele Jegede was not satisfied with the re-opening of the Gallery only. He made his executive press for a parastatal status for it. It was not easy, but determination, diplomacy, human relation, necessary contact and paid adverts, in two major Nigerian newspapers for the President of Nigeria, Ibrahim Babangida, finally got this parastatal status; to be one of the major achievements of SNA under Jegede. Jegede, however, did not stop there. To make art more professionally dignified and respected, he, along with late Shina Yussuf, B. Aina, Bruce Onobrakpeya and two Lagos SNA members, attended the Nigerian Copyright Council (now Commission) Workshop and made their presence very noticeable.
After pointing out the ambiguity in Section 1, Sub-section 3 of the Copyright Decree, as regards visual arts, the Chairman of this event agreed that the affected portion needed a re-vision. Jegede’s executive also appealed to the government about the display and execution of mediocre or unprofessional monuments on the streets of Nigeria; particularly those in the south. He seriously condemned the use of non-durable materials, like fibre glass, to execute historic monuments. Obafemi Awolowo’s monument on Obafemi Awolowo Way, Ikeja, Lagos, commissioned by the Ikeja Local Government, was cited as an annoying example. Jegede, before prematurely abdicating his presidency to return to the U.S.A., had already revived and beautifully structured the image of the Society of Nigerian Artists for adornment and more beauty.
 Unfortunately, however, several years after his administrative departure from SNA, some anti-art problems still trouble the state of visual arts in Nigeria; the latest and the most dangerously challenging is the proposed merging of the National Gallery of Art (NGA) with the National Museum and Monuments, meaning that the NGA’s parastatal status, which was fought for, with all diplomatic, intellectual, corporal, financial and emotional stress will be repealed and decapitated. Let me make it clear, with sincere heart, that the proposed merging of the NGA with another parastatal, as planned, is an unbelievably egregious decision; a dangerously sinuous one against the NGA and against creativity, culture, art appreciation, art development and, therefore, industrial and technological development. It is anti-government cultural aspirations.
The argument given to support this decision, as learnt, is, to me, unprogressive, facile and spurious. The intended merger, and therefore the emboweling of fine and applied arts image in Nigeria, is not only a deification of uncivilized decision, but also, and clearly, a caustic devaluation of, as well as ignorant attitude to, cultural insignia. What a meteoric speed to socio-artistic underdevelopment. It is troubling at this age, when civilized nations, in their cultural policies, are promoting, if not canonizing, artistic masterdom, some artistically uninformed and culturally remote individuals are working towards the contrary. It will be of great cultural value if people of culture and cultured people prevail on government against this decision.
And this brings this paper to the National Gallery of Art territory. Probably because of the aforesaid, the NGA is being suffocated by government through lack of funding; which is why no seriously appreciable events have taken place there over a period. The UZO journal is also silent. Both national and international events that made the Gallery worth its name have been put to sleep. One must not forget that the NGA is also a “Gallery without wells”. This is because it is still a tenant, without the structure of its own. Presently, Nigeria is losing, particularly in international cultural co-operation and exchange, and immediate attention should be given to this situation, as was the practice in the recent past. The Director of this cultural monument should not be crippled, by lack of finding. As of now, artists are complaining, students are worried and art scholars are confused. I am, however, optimistic that the situation will change to the contrary, so that the present Director General can continue the good work he started.
It is good to also let Dele Jegede know that the Nigeria Magazine, through which many academics or scholars, especially, launched their intellectual rockets, is still in limbo. The SNA should not relent in making this almost 90 year-old journal begin its academic and cultural traditions. Professor Dele Jegede, ladies and gentlemen, I will not terminate this lecture without addressing some challenging modern Nigerian art problems. This is giving continuity to your critical attitude as a historian, painter, cartoonist and critic. For example, I have been informed that in some universities, art history lecturers, who are not artists but art historians, and who do not teach studio courses at all, are being forced to include creative work, through art exhibitions or designs, among others, in their promotion requirements to Senior lecturership, Readership or Professorship positions. This is absolutely out of formal promotional order, and it is a gross academically uninstructed intimidation of one’s professional discipline.
I am here also challenging, if not condemning, the type of research methodology that art students, or the humanities, are wrongly inured to in some Nigerian tertiary art institutions. I am referring to the improper scientific, rather than the historical, research method that these art institutions force on their staff and students. This has led to serious contextual sensorship and limitations, lack of analytical and indepth study, among other research implications, that are advancing the cause of science and not art or the humanities. What I am saying here is that art subjects are now made to require the same research methodology used by the physical, applied and social sciences.
I can see that the National Universities Commission (NUC) induced this research misdirection by removing visual arts from their traditional art faculties and placed under science-inclined faculties. This is not all, however. I will not be bored or tired of criticizing mandatory Ph.D. degrees for promotion. In few years’ time, the Nigerian tertiary institutions will see the futility of this NUC-forced decision. It is worse with the visual arts, where studio artists, or art teachers, are now engaging themselves in Ph.D. degree programmes; research degrees. The situation would have been more understandable, if they are made to pursue, if necessary, professional doctorate (Doctor of Fine Arts with appropriate abbreviated symbols) to advance the status of Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A) degree. I am yet to comment on the deteriorating state of journalistic or newspaper art criticism today.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have deliberately presented the above observations to Dele Jegede, the SNA and the entire honourable art community so as to continue the struggle already incited or aided by Jegede, who, at 70 years, is still a crusader, a nationalist, an intellectual, a versatile artist, a humanist, a critic, a man of ideas, a man of honour, an achiever, a humourist, a good teacher, a good father, a lovely and faithful husband, a friend and A COMPLETE ART PROFESSIONAL.
I here wish him what I wished Bruce Onobrakpeya, when I gave the keynote addresses for his 60th and 70th birthdays. Happy Birthday, while we all await your 80th birthday, with God’s approval. Thank you all.


NOTES
1.    Yusuf Grillo, was the first to indirectly direct my attention to the importance of character in one’s career, in 1968, during, one of his lectures in Western art at Yaba College of Technology, Yaba, Lagos.
2.    Examples of this position abound around us.
3.    Uche Okeke is a good example.
4.    Yusuf Grillo is a typical example.
5.    Bruce Onobrakpeya is an example. There are also many others.
6.    Individual artists and art historians can locate these characters effortlessly.
7.    His art exhibitions generally, thematically focus on the sad experiences of Nigeria;  see Eko Re e (This is Lagos): An Exhibition of Recent Artworks (Lagos: Centre for Cultural Studies, 1991), for example.
8.    My 1974 M.A. Dissertation in Art History, in U.S.A., was purely ethnographic, because it was solely on African traditional art.
9.    Nigeria Magazine, No.113, September 1974, pp. 32-40.
10.Also see his early art historical contributions in Nigeria Magazine, No. 144, 1983, pp. 22-37; Nigeria Magazine, Vol. 53, No. 3, July-September, 1985, pp. 17-23.
11.Aderonke A-Adesanya and Toyin Falola, Art Parody and Politics: Dele Jegede’s Creative Activism, Nigeria and the Transnational Space (Trenton: Africa World Press, 2014).

Monday, 20 July 2015

In Lagos, globalism inspires a rescue-mission for Visual Arts Scholarship


By Tajudeen Sowole
Being the foundation and fountain of art practice in Nigeria, the formal training sector is not unaware - contrary to widely held view - that the mainstream art  outside the Ivory Tower demands far more than what it is getting from the academia. In fact, the art academia is conscious of the fast pace of contemporary practice of which the former is struggling to catch up with.
 
                         Participants at the University of Lagos (Unilag) wing of the conference.


Apart from the cheering news that the trainers of artists have realised the need to take their rightful place, they have gone further to seek solutions in keeping pace with the reality of global progression of art. During the opening of a three-days forum tagged First International Conference on The State of Visual Arts Scholarship in Nigeria in the Era of Globalism, held at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Victoria Island, Lagos, the artists discussed areas of crucial repositioning of their profession. The event also extended to Yaba College of Technology and University of Lagos, Akoka, Lagos with participants drawn from art schools of tertiary institutions across the country. 

In his opening remarks, the President of Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA) and Chairman of the event, Oliver Enwonwu stated that the professional body "is in the forefront of supporting event such as this." He noted the urgent importance of Nigerian art to key into the dynamics of the global village. "The world is getting smaller, so our art needs to be repositioned," Enwowu told the gathering of artists and art teachers present.

In his Keynote Address, the convener of the forum and lecturer at Delta State University (DELSU),  Prof Osa Egonwa, went though the trajectory of art academia in Nigeria and argued that being at its current peak of awarding Ph. D has brought challenges. His presentation titled Research And The Academic Visibility Of Artists In The Ivory Tower In Nigeria highlights quality and competence of art teachers, documentation and art marketing.

"The limitations range from improper definition of purpose, mission and vision, none or nebulous methods of instruction, mixed system of staff hire and  fire, wrong or no research methods,  infrastructural and curricular inadequacies to poor text book development.". He insisted that the challenges listed "lead to poor professional engagement of trained-artists." 

In what he described as Quality Assurance, (QA), Egonwa traced the genesis of the gathering to the process "formulated in pursuit of excellence in product and service delivery," for visual artists. He noted that the Senate of various universities that offer Arts "approves visual arts programmes independently." In strengthening standard however, Egonwa stated: "It is my view that a continuous Quality Assurance via human capital involved in the teaching, research and instruction promises to be more effectual."

He hoped that the conference would germinate the required strength to make the art academia more relevant in setting the pace for mainstream industry to follow. "My earnest expectation is that through this conference, the egg heads in art and design will take the desired steps and get their rightful place in the ivory tower. Presently, the academia appears to be years behind the industry, in matters of art especially in Nigeria."

As it has been established that the curricular contents of various tertiary institutions are short of the mileage expected to cover the academic journey of the visual arts, the units or departments, perhaps - as a result of the orders from regulatory body, National University Commission (NUC) or failure of internal articulation - just might look for additional windows through which to strengthen art practice outside the confinement of academic administration. Such outlet is documentation via writing of books by art historians. Quite a number of observers, including Egonwa and non-academic critics have noted that books on Nigerian art and artists, in recent years, have been written by writers who are not from the academia. And the question keeps coming: what do the art historians of  Nigerian art schools origin do after graduating? 

The lead paper at the conference, A Revisionist Overview Of The Historiography Of African Art History, Disciplinary Authenticity And Western Mindset by Prof Frank Ugiomoh of University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, took the issue a bit further by probing into the technicalities of writing art books on African subjects. In the introduction to his presentation, Ugiomoh noted that  historiography of art history expects writers to tap from a source that is "always historically determined and knows no closure."
 Evaluating the historiography of African art, Ugiomoh started by tracing the origin of the continent's art history - within the academic discipline - to what he noted as recently "as when Roy Sieber in 1957 wrote the first dissertation on the subject under the tutelage of Paul S. Wingert."  He argued that Sieber’s work marked the take off in "methodological profiling" of African art history as a discipline. Based on his choice of background in evaluating African art documentation, Ugiomoh insisted that the importance of tracing what he described as "landmarks" is crucial.
  His presentation reads in parts:  "With a focus like this we are better informed on the gains and what has been left out or what ought to be done as well as defining an agenda for the future of the discipline of African art history. Forlornly, scarce attention has been paid to art historiography as an aspect of African cultural studies.
  
"Historiography, in a poststructuralist sense, engages methodological concerns in the deconstruction of narrative texts. To probe the nature and structure of the narrative, as deconstruction allows, has great value in understanding the processes of historical engagements. Such commitment helps define the ideological grounds that propel narrative devices and options of historical explanation and the interest they serve. Underlying deconstruction by way of general understanding is that language, a non-transparent medium of communication has direct impact on the truth of narrative as an explanation of the past. Jacques Derrida in deconstruction (a theoretical instrument he initiated) is concerned with the nature of language as a transparent medium of communication or the “opacity of language” (Munslow ). For the above reason the text of history requires the kind of scrutiny of its literary plot and structure. Munslow references Hayden H. White who likens history writing to literary engagement this way;
  
"What is argued for is that the analysis of style, genre and narrative structure, more usually associated with fictional literature, be applied to the understanding of the historian’s sources and written interpretations. Although this approach emerges from structuralism’s early concern with the arbitrary nature of language, history produced within the deconstructive consciousness has a much wider range of concerns (62)."
  He concluded that art history would always be articulated in diverse tone to drive home what an art piece represents.
He cited the western art history as example. “The history of the development of western art history is of considerable ancestry. In the process of its development it has developed theoretical and methodological frames that address the need to locate the object of art in time. Their practical values have never been in doubt considering the interventions in self-critical exercise it engages.”

Ugiomoh is a professor of History of Art and Theory and occupant Yemisi Shyllon Chair of Fine Art and Design, University of Port hatcourt, Port Harcourt Nigeria. His studio interests are in stained glass painting, sculpture and printmaking. While his interest in theory encompass historiography of art history, theory and aesthetics, where he has published avidly.

 Communiqué:
 
Prof Frank Ugiomoh (left), President, Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA), Oliver Enwonwu; and Prof Osa Egonwa during the opening of the conference at NIIA, Lagos…recently.

 At the end of the stakeholders meeting to round off the 1st International Conference on the State of Visual Arts Scholarship in Nigeria in the Era of Globalism the meeting rose with the  following unanimous resolutions:

1.   The creative and cultural Arts programme for secondary schools can succeed only when art, music and drama teachers are on ground in schools to handle their subjects. The new programme should be implemented only after personnel have been prepared for it. For that reason, it should be put on hold forthwith.

2 Research in the visual arts should be designed according to the nature of the discipline.  The practice-led or practice-based methods are suitable for the character of knowledge production in the visual arts.  Arts curriculum should be more functional to prepare recipients for the world of work.

3 Art training institutions should hire staff on the basis of appropriate training/qualifications not on the basis of ethnic, social or political considerations. Any other criteria are likely to lead to compromising of standards.

4.  Art exhibitions properly documented are a measure of scholarly productivity. Therefore, they should be used for staff appraisal in tertiary institutions, colleges of education, polytechnic subject to the professional specifications of the Society of Nigerian Artists.

5.   The  National Universities Commission (NUC) should  note that there is distinction  between the literary Ph. D ( in Art History,  Religious Studies , Art Criticism, or Art Education ) and the Studio Art Ph.D - drawing  and painting,  sculpture, ceramics, textiles ,photography and new media ) and this should  be reflected  in studio art degree curriculum. The MFA and (Ph.D) studio should have an updated benchmark for the sake of Quality Assurance.

6.  All institutions offering visual arts should enforce Classroom –to- Industry Transition in their curricular specifications: ensure that faculty members teach what they are certified to teach.

7.  Credit in Fine Arts should no longer compulsorily be a prerequisite for enrolment into B.A, HND, NCE programs in art. Five (5) credit passes in Arts, Social science or Science combinations is adequate. Similarly, mathematics should not be made compulsory for Post Graduate admission requirements.

 

8. Federal and State Ministries of Tourism, Culture, and National Orientation and cognate parastatals should show genuine and as much interests in the advancement of visual arts scholarship as in art and culture festivals. The National Endowment for the Arts already set in motion years ago should be actualized

 

9. The Federal Ministry of Education should worry about the gap between what is learnt from the school system generally and the needs of the society. The dichotomy between Arts and Science at the secondary schools level should be relaxed to allow students maximize the benefits of both arts and 

10. Art practice is research and yields knowledge as much as literary research, as well as producing intellectual property which advance cultural heritage.

11. The appropriate parastatals of the ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation should be bold to monitor and ensure that private art galleries and museums deal fairly with artists.

12. The draft National Universities Commission benchmark for Visual Arts in the ARTS document needs serious overhaul as it is bound to lead to the production of artists who will not be self -reliant or artistically productive. The Environmental prescription should be applicable irrespective of the location of visual arts in terms of faculty of domiciliation.

13. Visual Arts is a profession. Irrespective of the delay in the formalization of her registration board because of obvious peculiarities, institutions, and firms who use the services of artists should bear this in mind. Art business should be rewarding to the artist. Therefore, intellectual property laws should be enforced to the benefit of the artist.

14. Artists should be engaged to provide leadership in establishments where the central concern is art: this is particularly important in the appointment of Ministers, Commissioners, Directors, Special Advisers and project monitors on artistic matters.

Convener
Professor Osa D. Egonwa Ph.D; fsna
Society of Non- Fiction Authors of Nigeria (SONFAN)

 International Coordinator:
John Ogene (Ph.D)
Associate Professor
University of Benin, Benin City