Tuesday, September 28, 2010

DEVELOPMENT OF NIGERIAN CONTEMPORARY ART SINCE 1960.


DEVELOPMENT OF NIGERIAN CONTEMPORARY ART SINCE 1960.


Beginning from the Nigerian Independence 1960 which is 50
years ago the contemporary Art of Nigeria continue to grow,
striving to be more and more relevant to the people who now
use it as a potential instrument of change.
The Nigerian government, the elites and the ordinary people
appreciate it as a means of passing on folklore, culture
and values; creating identity, effective cultural
diplomacy, a source of renewable wealth, a potent tool for
creating awareness and the development of communities.
Artists are respected and the profession is now
considered a worthy one. Therefore contemporary Nigerian
Art has moved from hobby to big business. And from being
provincial, to world class. However, there are still many
things to be fixed in order to reap the greatest benefits
derivable from art.

Internationally, our contemporary art works have equally
moved from ethnographic shelves to being hung side by side
with the best from all over the world. Within the period,
Nigerian contemporary art works , created at home or in
disapora have not only being entered for the world’s most
prestigious biennales, but have also won the much envied
gold medals. The art works produced by Nigerian artists
today, have now been accepted by the West as both
contemporary and modern, acknowledging the fact that as
members of the global village we have the freedom to draw
from and upgrade our inherited values as well as
domesticate good ideas which are foreign. And that whatever
form or philosophy the contemporary Nigerian art adopts,
the important thing is that it fulfills the role of a
barometer for measuring our times.

The first agent in this continuing development is the
Federal and State governments which set up art schools
institutions and programmes. The independence Trade Fair
which showcased art was one of the programmes which started
off the period under consideration. Works of pioneer
artists like Aina Onabolu, Ben Enwonwu and Akinola Lasekan
were shown side by side with those of younger artists
amongst whom were some students from Zaria (N.C.A.S.T) who
would later be credited with a philosophy that
revolutionized our post independence art.

Furthermore, in 1977 she staged FESTAC which gave the
contemporary art an international focus. This kind of
boast was repeated in recent years, although at a lesser
scale by other international shows called ARESUVA (2008
and 2009). From time to time either working alone, in
partnership with UNESCO or other national governments, the
federal government continue to boast contemporary art with
awards to deserving practioners or to canonize projects or
sites.

Over the past 50 years, private non profit organization
established by individuals have played very important role
in the growth of our contemporary art. Described as
migratory education by Prof. John Agberia because they are
seasonal, art workshops have become forum for informal art
education. Instructive and interactive, skills are
introduced while ideas are shared by all participants
creating freedom for experiments with new materials while
old and dying art forms are revived. And because the
workshops bring artists and other people from all over
Nigeria, West Africa and abroad, it helps to engender
understanding and peace. In many ways it has helped to
upgrade the communities in which they are cited. It was
started in early 60s by Prof. Ulli Beier at the Artists and
Writers Club Ibadan and was later moved to Mbari Mabyo,
Oshogbo and then to Ori Olokun in Ife. Inspired by the
successful experiments other workshops were established at
Asele Institute in Nimo by Uche Okeke, at new Culture
Studio Ibadan by Demas Nwoko and at the Harmattan workshop
Agbarha-Otor by Bruce Onobrakpeya. The workshop as
alternative to academic art education has produced a number
of eminent Nigerian artists.

Some foreign missions in Nigeria, clubs and individuals
have contributed to the development of our art. The
British council, Geothe Institut, USIS, Alliance Francaise,
Italian Cultural Institute, to mention a few, not only
frequently showcased works of promising Nigerian artists
but also sent some of them abroad to study and exhibit. The
“Thursday show” organized by Jean Kennedy and her husband
Dick Wolford passed from one expatriate to another in the
60s and 70s, connecting artists to collectors. Large
Multinational Corporation like Shell, Guiness, Nestle,
Texaco, Ford Foundation and Art House Contemporary Limited
e.t.c and many individuals sponsor art exhibitions give
grants to run workshops as well as publish books and
facilitating other related art activities. In no small
measure, these contributed to the development of
contemporary Nigerian art.

Beginning with Gallery Labac in the 60s, contemporary
Nigerian art today attracts a large number of commercial
art galleries which are gradually developing into secondary
art markets. But by far the greatest impetus to the
development of contemporary art in Nigeria is the imergence
of art auctions. It started with the Nimbus Gallery in
Lagos and in 2008, Art House contemporary limited, under
the directorship of Kavita Challerams floated a second
auction which created supper prizes, setting off a ripples.
Now, contemporary Nigerian art works are being collected
for auctions even in London and New York.

A few very serious collectors all over the country have
emerged and have done the nation good by buying and
retaining good art pieces which should have found their way
out of the country. In the Lagos axis, names like Sam
Olagbaju, Yemisi Shyllon, Apostle John Edokpolo and chief
Odimayo have now become household and are responsible for
the leap in the development.

Religion has always had immense contribution to the
development of art in any given age. It has done the same
for Nigeria within the last 50 years. Christian religion
is clearly on the lead. St. Paul Catholic Church in Ebute
Meta for instance, is like a museum. Sculptures (mainly
carvings) by Fakeye, Osifo, Otoro and the paintings of the
Stations of the Cross by this writer Bruce Onobrakpeya,
draw visitors. The stained glass decoration by Yusuf
Grillo and David Dale are attractions in many of the
churches, Demas Nwoko developed Nigerian architectural
style which he has used to build the Dominican monastry
in Ewu, Delta State.

The other side of the story is that the new churches with
ever increasing population are not encouraging the use of
art particularly those inspired by traditional motifs and
symbols. Some sculptures in public square have been
condemned as fetish and destroyed. These draw backs not
withstanding, there has been resurgence in the celebration
of local festivals and carnivals in our main cities,
bringing back the masquerades thus encouraging the
creation of new art pieces.

Our artists working assiduously at different levels are
important factor in the development of the contemporary
arts. He or she is a teacher, a mentor, a writer, a
documentor, a researcher, an architect, an innovator, a
publisher, curator etc. As a result, there is
collaboration amongst the different discipline of the arts.
The artists have themselves generated considerable
literature to help people understand better what they are
doing, and have contributed new terms like Uli,
plastography, Ibiebe etc to the international art
dictionary.

The media have played a vital role in the growth of the
arts. It criticizes and amplifies what the artist have
created, allowing the messages to reach the larger society.
It makes both the artists and their art works very important
and therefore marketable.

As a concluding part of this sketch one must mention that
the emergence of contemporary art as a force in our overall
development would have yielded more fruits if some aspects
of it have not been neglected. For example, the endowment
policy has not been ratified by the government. Artists
work under poor conditions and no legal backing to make
them claim royalties, particularly those arising from
resale of art works in the secondary markets or auctions.

The country lacks art collection policy and good
infrastructure. Many of our best works are allowed to
leave the country. Corporate bodies and individual are not
given the tax incentives to enable them buy and donate
pieces to galleries and museums. Artist groups
particularly the Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA) which
have membership in almost every state of the federation is
not given adequate subvention to enable it function
property in the country as well as participate in
programmes of International Art Association (IAA). With
these and more gaps filled, Nigerian contemporary art in
this first part of the 21st century will help the country
to attain greater heights.


Bruce Onobrakpeya
July 2010.

1 comment: