Friday 2 September 2011

Resale right... Harmattan Workshop's perspective
By Tajudeen Sowole
Tuesday, 15 March 2011 00:00 
 ORGANISED by the Bruce Onobrakpeya Foundation (BOF), the two-week event, which served as a platform to exchange ideas came to a close during the weekend at the Niger Delta Cultural Centre, Agbarha-Otor, Delta State.
The guest speaker and director of the Nigerian Copyright Commission Institute, John Asein, had, earlier in the day, during his presentation, explained that the lecture was about interaction on the peculiarity of artistic work and the challenges that come with the new media. This, he stressed, means that the judiciary has to be more liberal in definition of what constitutes art.

Meanwhile, the 2011 edition of the Harmattan Workshop, which, for the first time had an appointed director, held without the presence of the founder, Bruce Onobrakpeya, whose absence might have proven that the project has elastic content in management. A leading watercolourist, Sam Ovraiti, directed the affairs of the 13th edition.

From plagiarism to other various infringements of rights over intellectual property, visual artists appear not to have tested the copyright law enough to assess its relevance within the context of the changing dynamics of art.

Except for few cases involved painters such as Kolade Oshinowo, Muri Adejinmi, and about two others, visual artists, it appears, are either indifferent to the copyright issues or lack enough information to assert their rights. Insufficient testing of the provisions of the law, Asein argued “is not peculiar to the visual artists.” He warned that, it is too early to recommend for a total overhaul of the provisions of the law, rather  “we are looking at some provisions of the laws that are dormant, which the artists can make the best of.”

During the roundtable segment of the lecture, held later in the night, resale right of artists was extensively discussed, which brought to fore the content of the proposed Repeal and Re-enactment of the National Gallery of Art (NGA) Bill. The bill, currently with the National Assembly and awaiting the input of the stakeholders and the general public, also has provision for artist’s right in sharing from the subsequent sales of work. While Asein noted that it would be of importance to harmonise the NGA Bill with the existing copyright laws, he however added, “currently, we have to work on the existing laws.”

In the last two years, the issue of resale benefits to artist, has been debated more, largely because of the rise in value of contemporary Nigerian art, home and in the Diaspora. Most works sold through auctions and art galleries are not collected from the artists. For example, in Lagos, works put on sales at about nine to ten auctions, in the last three years, were not consigned from the artists.

With an estimated N350m from these sales, organised by different auction houses in Lagos, and perhaps additional half of this amount transacted through sales at galleries and non-informal outlets during the last three years, it is not surprising that artists, are suddenly waking up to the reality of increasing value of contemporary Nigerian art.   

In April 2008, ArtHouse Contemporary unearthed the high value of Nigerian art with a surprise sale of about 86 lots at N76m and improved in November 2008 selling 84 lots at N93, 000,000. Nimbus Art Centre’s auction, December 2008 sold 50 lots at N10m; ArtHouse Contemporary’s April 2009 auction of 69 lots recorded N67m; in December 2009, Nokterra auction had N7.2m; 84 out of 106 lots were sold at N69, 333,000, which represented 79 percent at ArtHouse Contemporary’s March 2010 sales; approximately N35m worth of art works sold, representing a 70 percent sales at Terra Kulture / Nimbus 2000 auction in April last year. ArtHouse, the last held recorded over N50m at the November 2010 sales.

As commendable as the efforts of the auction houses are in raising the value of Nigerian artists, observers always argue that it is worrisome that works of departed artists such as Ben Enwonwu, Gani Odutokun, Ben Osawe Simon Okeke and few others, which had contributed to these impressive sales at auctions did not yield remittance to the estates of the artists.

While artists are, currently, hoping that the proposed NGA Bill, which will recommend a fixed percentage of resale for artist – if passed into law – is the only legal backing needed to benefit from resale, Asein alerted that the existing copyright law is strong enough to assert that right. “The provision already exists in the law, artists need to activate it.”

Although, the president of SNA, Uwa Usen, during the roundtable also agreed that the input of NCC “is needed to have the bill passed,” artists were unimpressed by the leadership of the umbrella body.

Save for the intervention of the moderator of the session, Dr. Best Ochigbo, artists alleged that SNA has not been doing enough, particularly on educating members about issues of professionalism – artists’ right inclusive.

This perceived ineptitude of the leadership of SNA was more glaring when Asein alerted that since the inception of the NCC, visual artists were last represented on the board by master printmaker Bruce Onobrakpeya, over ten years ago.

And perhaps to prove that the SNA has not been as inactive as perceived, Usen used the occasion of the workshop to present the catalogue of the Nigeria at 50 Art Exhibition. While handing the catalogue over to Onobrakpeya Usen enthused that “this catalogue is being presented in public for the first time” and at the gathering of members of SNA. 

On the concerns of observers about the sustainability of the Harmattan Workshop, the first appointed director, Ovraiti, on whose shoulders the affairs of the 13th edition rested said that the journey towards adequate management has already started. “Neither the founder, Onobrakpeya, nor any of his children was here since the workshop started almost two weeks ago. He just came in on Wednesday (two days before the end of the workshop). This showed that the Harmattan workshop can be sustained with or without the family,” Ovraiti assured.

BOF is an artist-led and non-governmental organization formed in 1999 with a mission to engender the growth of art and culture through the provision of opportunities for artists; improve their skill acquisition for stronger empowerment.

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