Mar 27, 2009


From the inaugural newsletter of the Arts & Business Foundation, Lagos:

A new organization has been formed to create synergy between the cultural sector and the business community. This platform is designed for the arts and business sectors to interact, thus bridging the huge gap existing between these two sectors supporting the arts by building advocacy and increasing financial support and expertise for artists. The ABF is a coordinated platform for a systematic structure to support the arts; for business to trust and support the arts; advancing and strengthening Nigeria’s cultural organization and artists.

The mission of the ABF is to actively promote arts and culture in Nigeria by supporting cultural institutions and arts practitioners through strategic interventions of financial assistance, capacity building and advocacy. ABF will also serve as a liaison between the arts and business community and for increased funding for specific cultural programs. The organizing body includes both a governing board and patron members. With partners such as the Ford Foundation, the Federal Ministry of Culture and National Orientation, the ABF has committed to focus its efforts on revitalizing the Lagos Museum. The ABF will create and manage the Museum Development Fund during its first three years to support the renovation and capital improvement of the National Museum, Lagos, and to build a new conservation center at the Lagos museum.

The Ford Foundation has been at the forefront of supporting arts in Nigeria, with the funding of numerous projects in the West African region. The Ford Foundation is not relenting in its support of the development of the Nigerian arts with special emphasis on the National Museum Lagos, even in the face of the global economic meltdown. In the words of the President who visited Nigeria to review the works of the Ford Foundation on the cultural sector over the past two years and on his tour of the Lagos Museum on Saturday February 28, 2009: “I am assuring you that the global financial crisis is not going to affect our support to this project”. His words depict a very passionate commitment to developing the Nigerian Cultural sector.

Mr. Ubiñas in his words “the cultural patrimony of the African continent is in this Museum and unless we protect and develop it, open it to the rest of the world; the world would not understand the incredible cultural heritage in Nigeria. The importance of the Nigerian people rests on their cultural traditions and arts. Centuries and centuries of arts are sitting here, in this facility waiting to be understood by the people of Lagos, Nigeria, Africa and the World”.

The President was accompanied by the Vice President of the Ford Foundation Dr. Jacob Gayle, the former Commonwealth Secretary-General Chief Emeka Anyaoku, the Acting Director of the Federal Ministry of Culture and National orientation Mr. George Ufot, a representative of the British Museum Mr. Jonathan King, the Secretary to the Lagos State Government Ms. Adenrele Adeniran Ogunsanya, the Managing Director Guaranty Trust Bank Mr. Tayo Adenirokun, and lots more.

Join us in thanking the Board of Directors, Patron members and advisors consisting of Mr. Tayo Aderinokun the Managing Director Guaranty Trust Bank, Mr. Jahman Anikulapo Editor Sunday Guardian, Ms. Ndide Dike, Ms. Myma Belo-Osagie Attorney Partner Udo Udoma & Belo-Osagie, Mrs. Bolanle Austen-Peters, Chief Emeka Anyaoku Former Commonwealth Secretary General, Prof. Ekpo Eyo Former DG NCMM, Dr. Bola Fajemirokun Executive Director DIN, Ms. Margie Reese Program Officer Ford Foundation, and Mr. George Ufot Acting Director, Ministry of Culture and National Orientation whose vision and dedication have anchored this major step forward for Nigeria.

Mar 18, 2009

The Book Launching...

The Launching of my book at the Goethe Institut Lagos turned out very well. The event was very well attended and I was pleasantly surprised to see many old friends and schoolmates, a few of who traveled all the way from eastern Nigeria to be present at the occasion. I had a chance to reacquaint myself with the convoluted forms of protocol demanded at formal occasions in Nigeria, and to listen to many good speeches discussing the importance of the book and personal remembrances of Ben Enwonwu. Special Guest of Honor Chief Asiodu set this tone when he reiterated that the event was a celebration of Ben Enwonwu whom many of us knew and whose impressive achievements we were all proud to now see very well documented. I was interviewed by many reporters and stories about the launching of this book was already circulated in the national media. Over the next week or two, more stories seem set to appear. The launching of my book was coordinated by The Ben Enwonwu Foundation, which under its director, Oliver Enwonwu, is doing a great job managing the artist's legacy. The pictures come from the book launching event. From top:

(a) Being interviewed by reporters at the start of the event
(b) With Oliver Enwonwu
(c) In the audience awaiting my formal introduction
(d) Cross section of audience: guests in the front row are my brothers, sister and cousins (from right: Onyi, Nnamdi, Uzo, Onyeachonam, Emeka Adolie)
(e) Bashorun Randle giving his speech
(f) Cross section of audience
(g) Ndidi Dike
(h) post-Launch reception

Mar 17, 2009

Ben Enwonwu in Focus

Counting down to the Enwonwu book launch tomorrow at the Goethe Institute Lagos. I'm getting very good coverage in the Nigerian national newspapers (see here and here for examples) and the event seems set to be a major item. The Ben Enwonwu Foundation is handling all aspects of organizing this launch and they have done a superb job, especially its director, Oliver Enwonwu who was recently appointed the Chairman of the Lagos State branch of the Society of Nigerian artists. Picture below: At the Omenka Enwonwu Gallery of Art, located in Ben Enwonwu's house, where a comprehensive collection of his artworks can be seen and studied.

Mar 10, 2009

All is Not Lost: National Museum Lagos Exhibition

Ongoing at the National Museum Lagos, an exhibition of Nigerian art and antiquities titled All is Not Lost: A National Treasure Worth Preserving, produced with curatorial assistance by Ndidi Dike, exhibition design by Collins Onuosa, and documentation provided by Cynthia Iluobe of the National Museum's documentation unit (Ronke Ashaye is the national museum's curator). The exhibition is part of an important intervention by the Ford Foundation West Africa designed to restore the functionality of the National Museum and assist in moving it into the 21st century. As I’ve posted on this blog earlier, the Ford Foundation has been giving substantial support to cultural preservation projects in West Africa, with Nigeria being a major beneficiary of its largese. Margie Reese (left) of the Ford Foundation Lagos office has been a big booster of these cultural initiatives, and she is very interested in helping move the national museum back into national prominence in Nigeria. Her effort, which initially appeared quixotic, now seems quite prescient and is yielding impressive results.

The National Museum Lagos is the flagship institution in Nigeria’s network of 34 museums spread out all over the country focused on collection, preservation and exhibition of Nigeria’s vast cultural heritage. Established in 1957 through the indefatigable efforts of Kenneth C. Murray, the museum has gone through several cycles of boom and bust along with other Nigerian institutions in the era since its inception. I have spent much time in this institution over the years as I worked through one research project after another. Most of all, whenever I am in Nigeria, I always visit the museum to pay respects to Ben Enwonwu’s masterpiece—Anyanwu (Awakening), a sculpture that adorns the front façade of the museum and welcomes visitors to its extraordinary collection of artworks.

For the past fifteen years however, I have visited the museum as one would a mausoleum, watching with sadness its long and steady descent into decrepitude. In a country with intermittent (and that’s being charitable) power supply and even less focus on maintenance of any aspect of culture and society, institutions such as museums suffer greatly from cuts in funding and general neglect. The Nigerian museum system has been systematically sliding downwards and every visit to the National Museum Lagos seems to confirm the steady erosion of its function, which was visible in the ongoing erosion of the physical structures of the museum. I usually walked to the front entrance, looked carefully to ensure that Anyanwu was in good condition and walked out. Like many Nigerians, I was aware that the National Museum housed a great collection of treasures but wasn’t sure that its constituent artworks were of any decent quality (didn't the British colonizers loot the country of any decent artwork in the early part of the 20th century? Yes, but it turns out the museum actually has a vast and important holding of significant artworks mostly kept in storage rather than displayed). The few exhibitions that were extant in the museum were anemic and visitors who come looking for examples of the great works of Nigerian art usually came away disappointed with the decrepit state of the national museum. The institution that created the groundbreaking blockbuster exhibition Two Thousand Years of Nigerian Art was literally on life support, unable to muster enough resources to maintain its buildings and conservation programs.

Maggie Reese encountered the museum in its declining state and promptly set about revitalizing it. Today, through the Ford Foundation’s support, the museum is once again showing signs of its erstwhile greatness. Big changes are afoot here and signs of change can be seen everywhere. Old unstable structures have been demolished and plans for new ones put in place. The Ford Foundation’s $2 million gift will provide a conservation lab for sustainable preservation of the cultural heritage. The British museum is already providing capacity development training for museum staff and new exhibition policies are yielding interesting shows of the sort described here. In early March, The Ford Foundation visited the National museum. All is not Lost was hosted to commemorate the visit, as a way of giving the visitor an insight into the vast holdings of the museum’s more than 40,000 key antiquities spanning all eras and regions of Nigerian history. As the museum’s press release puts it:
In preparation for Mr. Ubiñas’ visit, the Lagos museum will open a new exhibition of objects from the “stores” many which have never been exhibited before, in a small showcase exhibition entitled “All is Not Lost: a National Treasure Worth Preserving”. The intent of the exhibition, according to museum staff, is to begin to show the public more of the extensive collection that includes magnificent examples of Nok, Ife, Owo, and Benin works. Over 80% of the collection in the Lagos museum is wood sculpture including over 600 door panels and 3,200 ancestral figures. The showcase exhibition will feature a sampling of 7,000 masks and headdresses and rarely viewed Ere-Ibeji figures, of which the museum holds 3,000 of these delicate wood carvings.

The exhibition, which was open to the public from March 1 - March 6, 2009 in the Temporary Exhibition Gallery, featured a very commendable installation of artworks pursuant to global exhibition standards. The selection of artworks was excellent but the display protocols were even more impressive. I’ve seen a lot of exhibitions in Nigeria but this is the first exhibition of indigenous art I’ve seen in Nigeria that compares favorably with what I am used to seeing as an art historian in the global context. I look forward to seeing similar and even more improved exhibitions from the National Museum Lagos, which in time will hopefully impact positively the revitalization of the other institutions in Nigeria’s chain of museums. This will no doubt be a significant task. If it works out, we have to thank people like Margie Reese who fought tirelessly to make it happen.

Illustrations from top:
(a) Yoruba Ibeji (twin) Figures
(b) Maggie Reese
(c) Yoruba Gelede Mask headdress
(d) Yoruba Epa Mask featuring Warrior Rider Motif
(e) Installation shot showing selection of Nigerian masks
(f) Installation shot showing Igbo Ikenga sculptures
(g-l) Installation shots showing general layout of the exhibited objects.

Mar 9, 2009

Goethe Institute hosts Ben Enwonwu Book Launch

The Goethe Institute Lagos is the venue for the upcoming formal launch of my book--Ben Enwonwu: The Making of an African Modernist on March 18, 2009 (click on invitation for details). The idea of a formal book launch is a peculiarly Nigerian tradition much revered in the complex formal protocols of appearance in this image-driven society. Basically, an author arranges a "launching" by making a formal presentation of his book at a carefully planned event, which requires a Chairman, Special Guest of Honor, other special guests, friends and well-wishers, and prominent people in his field of study. The book is formally presented in a protocols filled process in which all the major invitees listed above give a speech extolling the intellectual achievement of the author with much ribbing thrown in to avoid what Nigerians call a "swollen head" syndrome, aka undue self-aggrandizement. The author is asked to talk briefly about his work (and brief in Nigeria usually turns out to be not quite brief), after which the Chairman launches the book by purchasing a copy for sums of money far out of proportion to the list price. Other launchers and guests of honor follow suit. At the end of the event, if the author is lucky, he or she has usually collected a decent level of financial support for his future efforts. The issue though is that organizing a launch costs money--to rent the hall, fete the guests and generally put up a good appearance.

I have been present at many launches and it seems to me that the main value of this event is that it allows the author to make a formal presentation of his work to an audience of his peers who have an interest in his intellectual endeavors. In the case of a book like mine, published in the USA, this is a chance for many people I interviewed and who helped in the course of producing the book to actually see the finished product and thus see how their contributions aided its emergence. I thus see a formal launch as a social affair that actually affords a US-based scholar like myself the chance to have my Nigerian audience comment on my work as they see it. I look forward to this, my first launch and hope it doesn't turn into a roast. Wish me luck.

Mar 6, 2009


The changing face of Lagos: all over the city, new hangouts cater to a hip set comprising of (as one wit once put it) "the literatti, glitterati and all other members of the rati race". A steady flow of foreigners pass through the city these days along with many "Tokunbos", returnees comprising Nigerians living in the Diaspora who are in town for brief stints or have actually relocated back to Lagos, of which I have heard of and seen many in recent times. This global crew comes with great expectations and many establishments are popping up to cater to their needs.

Bogobiri House is a mega-hot spot on the new Lagos social scene, and bills itself as a "perfect haven for the traveler in West Africa. The restaurant cum hotel prides itself on "catering to everything good about being an African" and its environment reflects that idea in total. I am impressed by its general laid back atmosphere but above all by its super fast free wireless internet access, through which I am posting this blog entry. Stop by this classy hang-out if you pass through Lagos Nigeria. It's quite an experience.

The following images show various aspects of Bogobiri House.

Mar 3, 2009

Lagos Museum Gets $2million boost from Ford Foundation

The Ford Foundation recently donated $2 million dollars to jumpstart the revitalization of the Nigeria National Museum, Lagos. The donation is part of a larger FF project to help the Nigerian government enhance the management and preservation of Nigeria's rich cultural heritage. The Ford Foundation president, Linus Ubinas, personally announced the grant during a week long visit to West Africa that took him to Lagos for several days. (Read the full story here)