Thursday, 8 September 2011

Elusive National gallery

From the private sector, succour for elusive national gallery
By Tajudeen Sowole 
 Tuesday, 14 June 2011 00:00
One of the promoters, Yemisi Shyllon
 A REPOSITORY of a nation’s contemporary and modern arts, which, naturally, comes under the purview of a national gallery, is regarded as a window to the people’s history. Contents of such institution are works of art – produced through generations of artists over the decades or centuries – with vast social, cultural, economic and political history of the people. Currently, a two-floor setting known as National Gallery of Modern Art, which pretends to serve this purpose for Nigeria is located inside the Entrance-B of National Theatre, Iganmu Lagos.   Aside the gross misrepresentation of the vibrancy of Nigerian art, which this gallery exudes, the state of fragility under which the works are kept is a recurring concerns of artists and other stakeholders, over the past few years. Apparently, this unit of the National Gallery of Art (NGA) is not acceptable and not sustainable.
However, a group known as The Visual Arts Society Of Nigeria (VASON), in collaboration with artists, collectors and gallery owners, during a just held parley, came up with the projection to build a “Visual Arts Repository.” This institution, they stated, would aim at “establishing a Repository for the promotion, preservation and conservation of visual arts in Nigeria.”
For a country such as Nigeria whose ancient and modern arts have a reputable place in the world of art, lack of a national gallery is, indeed, an embarrassment. Over two decades after the effort, which started in the 1960s, to build a national gallery of art for Nigeria, the current government parastatal NGA was established in 1993 via Decree No 86. Its duty, basically, is to “serve as a repository for Nigeria’s creative spirits and to promote the appreciation” of the country’s art. And among its functions are “acquiring and collecting Nigerian works of art.”
About 19 years old, the NGA is yet to erect a single block to commence the building of a national gallery for Nigeria. In fact, its corporate headquarter in Abuja, a block of flats only serves administrative functions. Although the NGA maintains what it calls “out stations” in 22 states across the country, the lack of a central edifice such as a befitting national gallery in a city as crucial as Lagos or Abuja, says a lot about the poor implementation of government’s policy.
For VASON and its partners such as artists as well as others on this uphill journey, sacrifices must be made. This much, the Chairman, Board of Trustees VASON, Mr. Sammy Olagbaju echoed as he warned that the establishment of such a centre without inputs from all stakeholders was not realisable.
In 2007, during a stakeholders meeting in Lagos, the then Director-General of NGA, Chief Joe Musa hinted of plans to build a national gallery in Abuja. In fact, he showed participants a draft drawing of the proposed national gallery, which he said was waiting for the approval of the National Assembly. At the second stakeholders’ forum, also held in Lagos, Musa used the occasion to seek the assistance of the Lagos State Government to acquire a piece of land for a befitting gallery in the state. However, nothing was heard about this process until the announcement, late last year, about public hearing on a proposed bill for “an act to repeal and re-enact National Gallery of Art Act, Cap. N41 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria and other related matters.” And when the hearing held inside the 028 Conference Hall, House of Representatives (New Building), there was hope that a national gallery would be in place.
Although the seventh National Assembly may have to revisit the proposed bill, but the attitude of government towards the culture sector in the past 12 years, which showed glaring lack of major government’s input in infrastructures, increases anxiety that the building of a national gallery would remain elusive. Indeed, in a country that is struggling to provide energy such as power, domestic and industrial fuels, good roads, education and health care, a national gallery, though as important as it is, could remain a dream, except the private initiative intervention as envisioned by VASON is given adequate support by the nation’s corporate sectors. Attempt to privatize national monument such as the National Theatre complex, Iganmu, Lagos was one signal of the reality of government’s Public-Private Partnership (PPP). However, most artists failed to pick that message.
The private sector participation, apparently, was the base for the Visual Arts Repository initiative of VASON. Another trustee of VASON Prince (Engr.) Yemisi Shyllon noted that a large percentage of institutions of this nature around the world are private sector driven.
President of Guild of Professonal Fine Artists of Nigeria (GFA), Edosa Ogiugo stated that “the government has failed us; there is a huge disconnect with the artists. We hope that this initiative will make the people in government wake up,” and do the right thing.
The VASON intervention is crucial at this stage as younger generation of masters who are currently at the peak of their creativity, are rapidly releasing their works, in high volumes to private collections. The disadvantage of having such vast collections in private hands is at a great loss to the nation at large. For example, every year millions of visitors from across the world view most of the great pieces of the Renaissance masters in such places as the National Gallery, Trafalgar, London; art museum, Louvre, Paris in France; museum and art gallery, Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain; because these works, over the centuries have been under the public institutions.

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