By Tajudeen Sowole
What has been described as inter-cultural dialogue between nations was experienced in Lagos, few days ago when a world heritage site in China was re-enacted via art exhibition in Lagos. Captured by a Nigerian artist, Uzoma Samuel Anyanwu, the Chinese cultural sites of Emperor Qin Shi Huang's mausoleum and the Terracotta Army Museum exhibition of photography, collage painting and sculpture further confirmed the ongoing relationship between Nigeria and the East's leading power house.
Inside the showroom of a Chinese product, GAC Motors, Victoria Island, Lagos, the exhibition titled, Coming To China, included Anyanwu's travelogue, which captures Confucian culture in a mix of ancient and contemporary architectures as well as the Great Wall of China. Also on display were the artist's portraiture of the great Mao Zeadong and pictures of some Chinese artefacts.
Organised as a dedicated curatorial project under Prince Yemisi Shyllon Chair for Fine Art and Design, University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, the exhibition, basically, celebrates one of the crucial periods of China: era of Emperor Huang (259-2010 BC).
For Chinese world heritage sites, listed by UNESCO in 1987, copies of Qin terracotta sculptures and perhaps the photography works were on display in Africa for the first time, the organisers disclosed. But in a contemporary age that exposes cultures to the fragility of extinction, a major question might agitate the minds of keen observers: what exactly would Nigeria gain from promoting the heritage of another country? The donor of the professorial chair, Omooba Yemisi Shyllon, who spoke during the opening of the exhibition stated that there is a commonality between Nigeria and China from which each country has a lot to gain in cultural exchange. Noting that before western civilisation, the Chinese people had their own, Shyllon argued that "Chinese and Nigerians, particularly, people of southwest" of the host country "have a lot in common in heritage education to share." Commending GAC Motors for giving space to showcase the works, Shyllon hoped that "exhibition like this will get the two countries closer."
Expanding the gains of the exhibition, Prof Frank Ugiomoh, Chair Occupant at Omooba Yemisi Shyllon Chair for Fine Art and Design, University of Port Harcourt explained to guests, at the opening, the importance of Nigeria benefiting from the ongoing global cultural interactions. "The exhibition is aimed at getting into the inter cultural dialogue across the world." He described the exhibition as part of "cultural advancement." Specifically, Ugiomoh, a Prof Art History stressed that Nigeria has a lot to learn from China in the area of "documenting the past" to enhance future development of the country.
The presence of China in Nigeria goes beyond material or business gains, so suggest the exhibition as well as other activities of the Asians, particularly in the area of education. This much, Wang Yongjing, Director at Confucius Institute, University of Lagos (UNILAG), explained during her speech at the opening of Coming To China. "It's good to have the two culture interact," Yongjing stated.
Between 2014 and 2015, Anyanwu was in China, and curiously had a "mission to explore Chinese culture." Anyanwu disclosed that the exhibition was part of his dream realised, particularly in the area of managing cultural heritage. "Promoting Chinese art is satisfying a dream in learning from China, the process of heritage management."
From his 'Project Statement', published in the brochure of the exhibition, Ugiomoh further contextualised his argument about inter-cultural dialogue. "The experience of other cultures in their works of arts offer valuable insight into what can be learnt," Ugiomoh stated. He cited, for example, late Nigerian archaeologist, Ekpo Eyo's historic exhibition titled 2000 Years of Nigerian Art, held in London, U.K, and noted how the event showcased to the world, the country's ancient heritage. "The documentation, largely a collection of the arts of royal conventions places Nigeria among nations with world class heritage sites of UNESCO ranking."
On the objectives of Omooba Yemisi Shyllon Chair for Fine Art and Design, Ugiomoh added that one of such is "to foster enlightenment concerning art."
The Omooba Yemisi Shyllon Professorial Chair in Visual Arts dates back to 2012, when the donor made the endowment at the University of Port Harcourt. Shyllon has also founded global on-line journal of African Art- The OYASAF Journal of Art (TOJA).