Posted below, is a report from Mufu Onifade, on the proceedings of a recent seminar in Nigeria to examine the state of Nigerian arts. The post, written in quaint Nigerian English, examines the frustrations of Nigerian artists arising from constraints on their practice within the country. Many of the aritsts mentioned already have significant national careers but are largely unknown in the wider global arena.
Nigerian artists are angry
By Mufu Onifade
Guardian Newspapers Nigeria
January 14, 2008.
FOR the first time in a long time, Nigerian artists converged at the Universal Studios of Art, National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos to register their displeasure at the state of Art in Nigeria. Their anger was directed at all concerned quarters including the Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA), the National Gallery of Art, the Federal Government and the artists themselves. It was a unique intellectual gathering that provided an opportunity for artists to freely air their views. This was the 4th in the series of Universal Studios' annual seminar held on Tuesday, December 11, 2007 within the Studios' premises. Titled The Challenges of Art Practice in a Developing Economy, it was an open forum deliberately designed to wear a toga of informality as reflected in the welcome remarks by the Chairman of the Studios, Mr. Bunmi Babatunde, who was represented by Mr. Monday Akhidue, vice chairman.
The idea of an informal forum was to create a special pedestal for art practitioners to interact freely without any form of official impingement that usually trails formal gatherings. While this particular gathering conformed to a typical roundtable sitting arrangement, the high table itself allowed for effective control of proceedings. It was occupied by Monday Akhidue (Universal Studios), Philomena Ojugbana (Mydrim Gallery), Ademola Azeez (moderator) and Kehinde Adepegba (rapporteur). Others included Kenny Badaru (representing Society of Nigerian Artists), Alhaji I. B. Balogun (President, Visual Art Teachers Association of Nigeria), Samuel Mazoya (Artist/Head, Admin, Learn IT Academy and Training Centre, Lagos), Edosa Ogiugo (full time studio artist), Alex Nwokolo (Artist/Businessman), Dr. Ronke Adesanya (Artist/lecturer, Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan), Juliet Ezenwa (Artist), Sulayman Deji-Etiwe (Chairman, National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners, Lagos State Chapter) and Olu Ajayi (Chairman, Society of Nigerian Artists, Lagos State Chapter).
No doubt, the seminar, sponsored by Mydrim Gallery as a monologue to the annual art exhibition that was to open four days later, was well attended. The beauty of the gathering was found in the fact that artists really took advantage of the opportunity to address many matters affecting their career and profession. Many bottled-up grudges were divulged for the purpose of smoothening rough edges of the art profession. For example, Edosa Ogiugo opened up a can of worm rocking art training at the Yaba College of Technology. According to him, a few of his colleagues who were committed to full time practice (including Abiodun Olaku, himself and others) were engaged on part time basis by the College to lend their professionalism to the training of the College's higher students. In spite of the enormity of their contribution in this regard, they were maltreated, to the extent that no records were kept of their training activities; whereas the knowledge they imparted was able to produce many highly skilled artists that are today young masters in their own right. There were more of such expletives, many of them directed at the Society of Nigerian Artists, the government art agencies and parastatals as well as artists themselves, but the general consensus among all participants seemed to border more on perennial lackadaisical attitude of SNA and its inability to call the shot where necessary.
While the gathering missed the usual romanticized presence and eloquent postulation of Mr. Kolade Oshinowo, amiable national president of SNA, who would have seized the opportunity to absorb the way forward for the Society, Olu Ajayi, chairman, Lagos State chapter of the Society declared point-blank that the Society did not have the power to correct many of the artistic anomalies gracing the Nigerian environment. As expected, the crowd did not buy such a declaration, and this collective outrage was timely echoed by Dr. 'Sehinde Ademuleya (from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife) who did not mince his words in correcting the wrong sentiments expressed by Ajayi. However, in his characteristic I-have-other-appointments-to-catch manner, the Lagos helmsman did not wait to either get or respond to the feelers. He unceremoniously left his members in the midst of a misty artistic contemplation.
Indeed, the Nigerian artist is angry. Whether he is a full time practitioner like Abiodun Olaku, Edosa Ogiugo and Bisi Fakeye or combines his practice with some other official engagements like Samuel Mazoya and Ebong Ekwere; whether he has sought solace in politics like Bayo Odulana and Sabitu Hassan or he still combines art practice with teaching like 'Sehinde Ademuleya, Ademola Azeez and Ronke Adesanya, the truth is: the Nigerian artist is angry. He is angry at the operations of the Society of Nigerian Artists, which looks powerless in controlling the activities of its members. He is angry that SNA, like the National Gallery of Art, does not have a dignified database for Nigerian artists. He is angry that governments at all levels do not know the value of art or its significance to cultural, economic and technological advancement. He is angry with the founding fathers of SNA who have failed to make the Society as effective as the Nigerian Bar Association or Nigerian Medical Association.
The Nigerian artist is also angry with some of his own colleagues whose use of nomenclature subjects the profession to ridicule. As a matter of reference, Abiodun Olaku offered typical examples of two young artists who recently described their own works as world-class paintings. To further propel and buttress such arrogance and insensitivity, the two artists were exhibited by two government parastatals. While Sola Ayibiowu (who is still a student at the University of Lagos and is reputed for only being on the average) was exhibited by the National Gallery of Art in Lagos, Bunmi Oyesanya, a relatively young female artist who graduated from Auchi Polytechnic was exhibited by the National Museum, Onikan, Lagos. They both put up what they called world class paintings, but which in truth carry a serious question mark bordering on work quality. "This kind of approach," thundered Olaku, "to art by artists and government art agencies or parastatals can be checkmated by SNA."
The seminar successfully drew participants (mostly artists, art teachers, art historians) from Oyo, Ogun, Osun, Akwa Ibom, Kaduna, Edo and Benue States. In the end, they all agreed that SNA, as the only recognized artist body, has an enormous role to play in correcting many of afore-stated anomalies already perpetrated through sheer care-free, official bottleneck from governments and ignorance or individualistic tendencies, especially on the part of the Nigerian artist.