Sunday, 15 December 2013

Knocks for govt parastatals over 'Problems of Art Development in Nigeria'

By Tajudeen Sowole
Despite the fact that the Nigerian visual arts’ current prospective state got little contribution from successive governments, professionals, who gathered at a forum tagged 3rd Peter Areh Lecture, insisted on the importance of government agencies’ support to get optimal value from the creative sector of the economy.  

Held at Freedom Park, Lagos Island, the lecture delivered by Prince Yemisi Shyllon, on the theme Problems of Art Development in Nigeria opened the gate for knocks on the government agencies charged with the responsibility of promoting Nigerian art.



The guest speaker، Omooba Yemisi Shyllon (right)، receiving Peter Areh Lecture Honour from ثي chairman of the event، Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi  

Co-ordinated by artist, Krydz Ikwuemesi, the lecture series started two years ago, in honour of late art promoter, Peter Areh who died in 2009. The maiden edition tagged On Art and Cultural Enterprise was held at the Aina Onabolu Building, National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos. Last year, the 2nd Peter Areh Lecture had the lead speaker: Dr Everlyn Nicomedu lectured on the theme From Local To Global Perspectives An Art History Africa Badly Needs, at Ofu Obi Africa Centre, Independence Layout, Enugu.

  With the support of the chairman of the event, Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi, OFR and the moderator, Prof Jerry Buhari, the third lecture had participants perched on government's “unimpressive” attitude towards development of art.


After a brief background on the journey of art in Nigeria, Shyllon cited examples of how government’s official ignorance and neglect have stunted the protection of Nigerian art. Under a sub-heading Government, Public Institutions and Art Development, Shyllon referenced a Time magazine report of June 18, 2001 with heading ‘Saving Africa’s Art’. He noted the magazine’s reports of a 1999 news that the Louvre Museum in Paris purchased a 2,000-year-old Nok terracotta sculpture from a Belgian dealer at about $400,000.00.


Shyllon added that President of France, Chirac was reported to have personally sought approval for the purchase of the Noks from Nigeria’s then military Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar. The request, he recalled, “was rebuffed” based on the advice of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM).


But that decision was over tuned later: “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:”


Shyllon argued that the situation as reported by Time magazine offered an insight into Nigerian government’s attitude towards the creative profession in the country. “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.

  
“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). 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."


Late Peter Areh

After the long applause that accompanied his over five thousand words presentation, the moderator, Buhari noted that “Shyllon is a dangerous traveler”, whose passion for culture and knowledge of the Nigerian art terrain are invaluable assets to the country.



From the audience came a wide disapproval of government agencies’ handling of art-related matters. But among the shades of input that seemed to dominate the discussion was the mixed-up of modern art with antiquities or ancient art when it comes to the issue of taking works out of the country. 


Quite a number of speakers faulted the current NCMM’s administrative system that demands payment of certain percentage of a work’s worth before such is exported out of the country. The artists and other professionals present at the event who expressed dissatisfaction argued that the laws restricting exportation of cultural objects from Nigeria do not include modern and contemporary art. They indicted the NCMM for “carrying out what should be the functions of the National Gallery of Art (NGA)."


  Indeed, gallery owners, artists and art dealers have complained, over the years, about the difficulties that foreigners encounter taking pieces of fine art bought in the country across the international airports. The immigration officers, they said, do not know the difference between modern and ancient art or artefacts.

  Defending the NCMM, the curator of the National Museum, Onikan, Lagos, Mrs Edith Ekunke  stated that the fee demanded by the NCMM is “an administrative charge” for intervention to enable the immigration officers who do not know the difference between artefacts and modern art, allow owners of work take them out of the country.


Shyllon also traced the issue of art development to the kind of value Nigeria’s system placed on education. He argued that the goal of education should encourage students in appreciation of history and heritage to prepare them for the preservation of the people’s culture. “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."



  On art and documentation, Shyllon explained how “historiography” and “art criticism” are as important as creating art.  But he added that Nigeria has not done badly in art criticism. “Nigeria remains relatively fortunate in its tradition of art criticism."

  In analyzing Shyllon’s presentation, the organizers, via Ikwuemesi’s submission said that the Nigerian society at large has a problematic character when it comes to the issue of developing art “Those that affect art development include low level art appreciation, the perception of art as luxury, and the neglect of the role of art in individual, social and economic development. Also to be counted is nescience occasioned by the jaundiced eye of the imported religions which casts aspects of our art in a bad light. All these have held art development captive in many ways in Nigeria."


 Areh founded Pendulum Art and Culture Centre under which he operated Pendulum Gallery, Lekki. Shortly before his death, he partnered with the U.K-based Bonhams in organizing the maiden edition of 'Africa Now' auction of modern and contemporary art of artists from the continent and the Diaspora

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