Friday 26 August 2011


Pushing steadily for Global appreciation, OYASAF's mission
 By Tajudeen Sowole
 Friday, 26 August 2011 00:00 
Angyeman (right) and Shyllon in Lagos

Supporting foreign art scholars’ research on Nigerian art – a private initiative of Omooba Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon Art Foundation (OYASAF) – is expanding the scope of interest in the country’s art as more foreigners embrace the project.
  THROUGH scholarship, OYASAF, in the last two years, has hosted eight scholars from the U.S., Europe and South Africa. With this project, Yemisi Shyllon, the engineer-founder is sowing the seeds of deep appreciation of Nigerian Art.
Shyllon, who is reputed to have largest private collections in the country, stressed that the project is a major creative force in the study, collection, preservation and exhibition of Nigerian art. The OYASAF Graduate Fellowship is awarded, yearly to two non-Nigerian applicants from the disciplines of Art History and Cultural Anthropology.
For each of the scholars, however, the areas of interest differ as these cut across native and contemporary contents as well as the value of Nigerian art as tools in globalization. For example, Erica Angyeman, the eighth of these visitors, who just had an interactive session with artists in Lagos researched on cosmopolitanism and the relevance of art, particularly within the global context.
When the first beneficiary, William Ian Bourland of the University of Chicago, U.S. came to Nigeria, Shyllon stated that the fellowship was intended to give the visitors opportunity to conduct research in Nigeria, especially around the OYASAF collection. Preference, he stressed “is given to young or mid-career scholars who have not recently had the opportunity to spend time in Nigeria.”
Angyeman, who, during her stay in Lagos few weeks ago was exposed to several works as well as artists’ essays, warned that art should not be restricted to the status of mouthpiece for the society. She urged artists to be futuristic by being visionary.
A student at Columbia University in New York, pursuing a graduate degree in Modern Art History, Critical and Curatorial Studies, she was the second beneficiary of the 2011 OYASAF fellowship scholar. She was exposed to the OYASAF vast collections and visited more than 20 Nigerian artists and collectors.  She noted that over the past three decades, contemporary African art has earned increasing attention beyond the continent.
In performance artist, Jelili Atiku’s 2009 work, Agbo Rago; Peju Alatise’s sculptural collage, One Side of the Story; Ogbemi Heymann’s Royal Suite; Bruce Onobrakpeya’s series entitled, Nomadic Masquerade; Olu Amoda’s sculpture, Wuraola, Angyeman saw the boldness of artists in using art to evoke strong dialogue.
Earlier, the seventh visitor, Kathleen Coates, a South African, after her research noted that the line between Nigerian art and others from Africa, particularly, South Africa, was becoming less visible. Coates conducts the Art Education Programme at the Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town.
In Lagos, Coates met several artists, either at studios or during exhibitions. She explained that meeting with Onobrakpeya at his studio / residence, she saw in the master printmaker, an artist who has evidence of resilient experimentation with materials and techniques. The print master, Coates stated, “summarised his source of inspiration as gleaning from the past whilst learning from young people in the present. He expressed amazement at how the ‘primitives’ were ahead of their time.”
In the work of another veteran and master, David Dale, whose studio is located in Ajuwon, a border town between Ogun and Lagos State, Coates saw an artist “creating a tropical oasis within the concrete jungle of his Lagosian suburb.”

master print maker, Bruce Onobrakpeya (left), visiting South African art scholar, Kathleen Coates, founder Yemisi Shyllon in Lagos
 Globalisation content part of the OYASAF Fellowship award was more pronounced in the research of Rachel Ama Assa Engmann who did a study on Nigerian Islamic talisman and writing systems with particular reference to Insibidi motif in art. Her exposure was expected to contribute to dissertation for a PhD programme in Stanford University U.S. on the topic, Nineteenth Century Islamic Talisman in Asante, Ghana.
Engmann said her PhD project places material practice at the center of historical and contemporary analysis of West African Islam, by way of archaeological ethnography and textual analysis. Islamic talisman, she explained, “is seen as part of a living tradition, which is a local social phenomenon where artifacts containing texts, and manuscripts circulated in the past and at present.”
For University of Vienna, Austria’s Andrea Bauer, art and the Yoruba traditional institution was her interest. During her research, last year, she visited Obas’ palaces and priests of indigenous Yoruba religions in Lagos and Oyo states.
Bauer, the second beneficiary of the scheme works in the Museum of Anthropology in Vienna and in a community based organization called “Edirisa” in Uganda.
First South African on the OYASAF initiative, Ms. Nomusa Makhubu explored the link between Nigerian art and popular culture.
The scholar who is an art teacher from the Department of Fine Art, Rhodes University, had argued that the methodology of what is currently referred to as The Arts makes commonality of these genres unavoidable.
William Ian Bourland of the University of Chicago; Janine Sytsma, University of Wisconsin and Carmen De Michele of Ludwigs-Maximilians University of Munich were the other beneficiaries of the OYASAF Research Fellowships awards.
One of these earlier scholars, Sytsma, seems to have proven, subconsciously, that, indeed, the OYASAF initiative is already yielding results. She returned to Nigeria after her first visit. In fact, she seemed to have been more involved in Nigerian art, beyond the OYASAF scope: she was the curator of Return of Our Mother, a joint art exhibition of Tola Wewe and Moyo Okediji organised by African Artists’ Foundation (AAF). Sytsma is currently in Nigeria, conducting research on the ongoing surge in the local art market.
She said her interest in Return of Our Mother has a link to Onaism, on which her doctoral research in Nigeria was based. “I’ve known Okediji since 2003, when I joined the faculty at the University of Colorado at Denver (where he was Associate Professor of African Art History), and I’ve been working closely with Wewe since meeting him in Nigeria in 2009.”
OYASAF is a non-profit organisation established in 2007 to promote the appreciation and study of Nigerian arts and artists, making the collection available to museums, educational institutions and scholars.  OYASAF’s goal is to be a hub of the Nigerian art world, a point of contact for scholars, critics, artists and art enthusiasts.

Forbidden Fruit... brushing off gender inequality
 By Tajudeen Sowole
 Friday, 26 August 2011 00:00
AS exploitation of the female’s natural physique remains a challenge to advocates of gender equality and social scientists, 53 artists from Nigeria and the UK are coming together to make a painterly statement on the issue.
Under the title Forbidden Fruit, the group show, according to the coordinator and one of the exhibiting artists, Ruth Bircham-Shoyemi, holds at Real World Gallery, Algate London, U.K. from November 5 to 8, 2011.
From the Nigerian end, artists involved are: Peter Akiwumi, Damilare Mathew-Akinsiku, Adekusibe Odunfa, Animu Oboirien, Chuukkz Okonkwo, Damola Awotunbo, Adetayo Shoyemi, Burns Iffiomi, Jefferson Jonathan, Muri Adejimi, Awoderu Aoluwafemi and Titus Agbara. The group noted that women are only recognised when they are “exploited for the male gaze, hence giving a false sense of reality to the former.”
Organized by a UK-based group, Kreative Minds International Art Movement, the gathering, Bircham-Shoyemi stated, would afford artists a platform to express themselves via “sexual aesthetics; that stems from the artists’ own originality.” She hoped that the new art movement would “wow the globe with their earth-shattering expressions.”
Bircham-Shoyemi, her husband, Adetayo Shoyemi and another Nigerian artist, Ayoola Odupitan had, in 2009, exhibited under the Kreative Minds initiative at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos. Titled Exploitation of the Internal Mind, the second outing was held in the UK last year.
A contributor to the text of Forbidden Fruit, Chinedu Uzoma stated: “sexuality is normal in every human, but it takes a Godly man to escape its sinful indulgence.” He argued that sex was primarily designed for child bearing, “but it has been abused; humans had reduced themselves to animals, craving for sex just for mere pleasure.” This, he noted, has led most men to see women as an object of sex and not as a body that plays an integral part in the family.

“There are factors that are responsible for the inordinate sexuality in men, these are; erotic TV programmes, pornography movies/magazines and pressure from friends etc. The aforementioned factors are the major roots from which the prevalent inordinate sexuality in men stems. Most men at times linger in a burning desire for sex and because they can’t get it on that spot tend to resort to masturbation while some patronise prostitute.”
For Forbidden Fruit, Bircham-Shoyemi stated that the focus would be on the “secret desirability that are hidden but also viewed, it’s about the experiences that are usually felt and imagined, practical art works will focus on the female and male nakedness.”
She noted that by working together as an art movement they have the potentials to become well-known artists. Although sponsorship for the show, was still not forthcoming, she hoped that corporate support would enable the group take the show to different countries and share the theme with diverse cultures.
“We want the chance and the opportunity to tour the UK with this project, continue this journey, which will have a positive and rewarding effect on all as we aim to educate and evaluate.”
A collaborator, Martins, also stressed the challenge of the group in getting support, urging “sponsors from any organisation who want to support these artists and help them continue to exhibit these amazing educational pieces of art.”

ARESUVA... Nigeria's biennial debuts with high hope
By Tajudeen Sowole  
 Having participated, actively, at art biennials across the world, over the last two decades, Nigerian artists have been yearning to host similar gatherings. However, the 2011 edition of African Regional Summit on Visual Art and Exhibition (ARESUVA), which is expected to make its debut as a biennial, may be an answer to artists’ agitation.
WHEN ARESUVA debuted as a yearly international art event in 2008, and made the second edition a year after, the objective of the event as a gathering of African artists to explore the economic value of art was unambiguous. Although the exhibition section designed as sub-event, were, perhaps, not on the large scale of most international biennials across the world, subsequent shows – as biennial – could evolve into a bigger aspect of the regional summit.

Art events such as the Berlin Biennial, International Cairo Biennial, Venice Biennial, Dak’Art organized in Dakar, Senegal and others have spurred Nigerian artists, through different fora at home, to agitate for Nigerian-organised international art biennial.

And when the Acting-Director-General of the organisers, National Gallery of Art (NGA), Abudullahi Muku announced in 2009 that ARESUVA, henceforth, holds as a biennial, the visual arts’ community lauded the development, which they hoped would address the much-debated issue of an international art biennale for Nigeria.

However, the expectation of most artists, home and in the Diaspora keeps growing, just as fears are emerging that the event, if not properly organized, might undo the achievement of Nigerian artists at notable past biennials across the world.

Apparently, the NGA owes the country an obligation to organise a biennial that is, at least, within a moderate standard of similar events, which Nigerian artists had attended across the world. Indeed, artists from this shore have been very active at some of these global events.

In fact, Nigerian-born and U.S.-based curator, Okwui Enwezor has earned international fame for directing what has been regarded as the most successful art event: the dOCUMENTA 11, held in 2001 (it holds every five years) in Kassel, Germany. Also, the director of Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA), Lagos, Bisi Silva had been on the curatorial team of such events as Dak’Art 2006, Seventh Biennial of African Photography in Bamako (2007) and few others in Europe.  

In addition to offering opportunity for exposition of new art contents, a successful biennale, first and foremost, is a tourism boost to the host country.  

Silva agreed that ARESUVA as a biennial “goes a long way to fulfilling that yearning (biennial expectation),” even if it holds for just one week.  

A consistent and well-organised Nigerian biennial will definitely place the country on the destination map globally, Frank Ugiomoh, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State stated. He, however, noted, “government is yet to come to terms with the immense value of ARESUVA as a bolster to our national aspiration to be truly a great nation.”

The last two editions as an annual event were held in September 2008 and November 2009. As a biennial, the exact date of the event for this year is unknown. In fact, as at press time, nothing on the website of NGA suggested that a date has been fixed.

Chika Okeke-Agulu, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow and Assistant Professor of Art History in the Department of Art and Archaeology and Center for African American Studies, Princeton University, New Jersey, U.S, however warned that it’s not enough to change from annually to biennially. “What Nigeria needs is not a nominal international biennial, but an art biennial worthy of serious international art world attention.”

The economic focus of ARESUVA, one thought, should be an advantage; a paradigm shift from the common approach to contemporary art. In fact, it was designed to use the visual art to attain economic growth in line with New Partnership for Africa’s Development, NEPAD. NGA noted that the 37th Summit of the OAU (African Union, AU) in July 2001 had adopted the strategic framework document, NEPAD as a vision and strategic framework for Africa’s renewal.

The theme of the first edition, Promoting The Visual Arts For Sustainable Economic Growth & Development In Africa was clearer on that mission. But now as a biennial, the content should have a global appeal, without diminishing its African context focus.  

Okeke- Agulu doubted that ARESUVA “can deliver simply because of its imperative, as the organisers have insisted from the beginning, of linking contemporary art directly to economic development initiatives by African governments.” He explained that art biennial designed to fulfill government mandates without asserting enough separation between art and state, are justifiably regarded with suspicion, and could be ignored by the global art community. This, he noted, explained why the previous editions of ARESUVA were missing from the “contemporary art world’s radar.”

And that late preparation for such big event has always been the tradition, when it is government-organised, further fuels suspicion of insincerity. Aside lateness in preparation, which civil servants always blame on delay in the state’s budget announcement, there is nothing really wrong in building economic value into contemporary art, through biennial organised by government.

Okeke-Agulu agreed, and noted that art already has economic value. He however warned that “once you prioritise that economic value, it becomes a commodity, and that can upend the primary value of art as Art, rather than as a tool for economic development.”

In a country like Nigeria where visual art lacks private or corporate initiative, at a large scale, government remains the main source of art promotion. However, there should be a better way of harnessing the state’s resources towards results.
Perhaps the NGA can set up what Okeke-Agulu described as “an independent foundation that will be responsible for organizing the biennial.” This he explained is a model for government-organised biennials as done in other climes.

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