BY TAJUDEEN SOWOLE
RECENTLY, art education took a new turn when Visual Arts Society of Nigeria (VASON) brought the past to the present.
Organised as part of the Lagos Art and Book Festival (LABAF) 2012, which held from November 16 to 18, at the Freedom Park, Lagos Island, the show titled, Artistic Schools In Nigerian Art-Traditional And Contemporary, took visitors through a literary excursus.
On display were works of unknown artists from the local and traditional genres in media such as wood and bronze, as well as the works of contemporary age of masters and young artists. Some of the artists whose works were on display included Bruce Onobrakpeya, Chuks Anyanwu, Kolade Oshinowo Solomon Wangboje, Raqib Bashorun Olotu Oyerinde, Kunle Adeyemi, Chike Onuorah and Norbert Okpu.
Others were Onadipe Olumide, Ojo Olaniyi, Moses Unokwah, Bunmi Lasaki, Oguntemehin Ariyo, Osho Kehinde and Toyin Alade. Quite a mix.
It was really good seeing these artists’ works displayed with traditional woodcarvings and bronzes from Benin and Ife. Exploring such themes as Yoruba Gelede mask, house posts and doors from Ekiti as well as Owo ceremonial chairs. And from the middle belt came Mumuye shoulder masks of Taraba and Bida stools.
However, the show also brought to the fore the works of some artists which bridged the gap between traditional and modern art. In this category comes Olowe of Ise (1875 - 1938), a carver whose work is a subject of vast intellectual research in universities across Nigeria, US and Europe.
While Olowe’s work is one of the most critically scrutinised for provenance, the show appears to have leaned on the credibility of some respected collectors such as Omoba Yemisi Shyllon and Olasehinde Odimayo.
Recall that in 2008 Shyllon and Odimayo jointly showcased their traditional collections, under the title Ancient Tones and Totems (Columns).
Though these two collectors are known as having vast works in the traditional genre, the coordinator of the show, Ekpo Udoma, on behalf of VASON, disclosed that there are other collectors who can boast of great traditional pieces. In fact, Udoma says the traditional pieces at the show were on loan from “Mr. Ade Onanuga and Mr. Emmanuel Osayi (aka Alhaji Galadima) consultant to Monsoon Gallery.”
Udoma explained that the show would continue as a series to highlight commonalities and differences between the old and the new.
Other purposes of the gathering include providing young people and students the opportunity to see traditional and contemporary Nigerian art in a single show. This, he argues encourages the appreciation of Nigerian art among school children and the general public.
Founded in 2006, VASON in August 2007 formally came to the public glare by sponsoring an exhibition of works by Larry Isimah at Nkem Gallery, UPDC Estate, Lekki, Lagos. Also in October 2007, it supported a young artist, Abiodun Kafaru a show titled My Environment.
Since February 2012, VASON relocated to Freedom Park and continued its goals of promoting the appreciation of visual arts, within and outside Nigeria and the African continent.
The group, Udoma explained, “is keen on promoting art education in schools as well as helping in the modernisation of the non-creative aspects of professional practice of the visual arts in Nigeria; encouraging the practice and documentation of important Nigerian visual artworks, promoting, encouraging and enhancing the valuation, preservation and authentication of visual artworks of the African heritage.”
And the ultimate goal, he said is to establish VASON Art Centre for the advancement of the visual arts in the country.