Monday 30 January 2012

With opulent collections, OYASAF takes on the world

By Tajudeen Sowole
(First published Tuesday, December 09, 2008)            

  Within the art and culture sector, a project aimed at using visual arts to promote Nigeria's culture at the global front may have taken off in Lagos, during the weekend, courtesy of Omoba Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon Art Foundation, OYASAF. 
  On Saturday, December 6, 2008, at its home of contemporary art and antique splendour in Maryland, Lagos, the foundation hosted selected members of the diplomatic community in what it called a Parley with Diplomats. In attendance were delegations of the U.S, Italian Embassies and Ford Foundation.
  According to the founder and Chief Executive Officer of OYASAF, Yemisi Shyllon, an engineer, the event was meant to inform the rest of the world about the preparedness of the foundation to assist the international community in tapping from the huge cultural heritage of Nigeria.
Inside OYASAF Garden, Lagos, Nigeria

  Shyllon explained to the gathering: "We want to use this parley to facilitate the attraction of international scholars seeking to further their discovery of the mysteries and beauty of Nigerian art, with the aim of improving the image of the country in the international arena.
  "We look forward to this parley generating possible contacts for OYASAF to engage in international collaborative exhibitions, seminars, workshops, talk shows, presentations, travel shows, exchange programs and other related visual arts and culture activities with schools, universities, important galleries and museums in your countries."
  The relationship, he added, is expected to have OYASAF included in the diplomats' list of "prime art sites available in Nigeria, which visiting important dignitaries from your countries can patronise and enjoy to savour the hospitality of OYASAF."
  As part of this initiative, three members of OYASAF, he disclosed, would be travelling to six states in the U.S., late January 2009 and continue much later in the year, in Chicago to promote the mission of the foundation and by extension, Nigerian art. And within Africa, the journey to take the nation's art to a higher level, he said, would include the foundation's participation at the next Dak' Art, in Dakar, Senegal, in 2010, for a major exhibition. The parley, he stressed, would also afford the international community to assist OYASAF in the area of preservation of the collections.
  Listening to Shyllon, one wondered what gave him the confidence that OYASAF, truly, has what it takes to embark on such a mission.
  Really, so much has been said about the volume of art pieces; traditional and contemporary African works in the collection of Shyllon, who is a member of International Council of Museums, ICOM. These collections of various mediums and from artists of several generations, runs into several thousands in numerical strength. A tour of OYASAF complex on Saturday revealed such collections of artists like the renowned master surrealist, Abayomi Barber; multi media veterans, David Dale and Isiaka Osunde; leading carver, Lamidi Fakeye; pioneer painter, Aina Onabolu.

Programme Officer, Media, Art and Culture, Ford Foundation, West Africa, Margie Reese (left); Founder of OYASAF, Prince Yemisi Shyllon; U.S Public Diplomacy Officer of the Public Affairs Section, Lagos, Marylou Johnson-Pizarro; Mrs Shyllon and one of the guests

  Others were Ugorji, Shainumi Agbonbiofe; prolific painter, Kolade Oshinowo, sculptor, Adeola Balogun as well as traditional artists like Olowe of Ise. And coming so recent to artists as as young as up-and-coming one like 23 years old Olawunmi Banjo, among others, Shyllon's passion for collection is legendary.
  He must have been awed by the opulence of his own collection and resolved to put in place a structure to manage the resources, hence the setting up, in October last year, OYASAF.
  In August this year, the foundation made its first public display when it showcased "just a fraction" of its collection. The National Museum Gallery venue of the show was filled to the brim of works  from Nigerian artists of all ages, living and departed. Even though that show was linked to another group, of which Shyllon is a foundation member, Visual Art Society of Nigeria (VASON), it provided the art community a peep into his collections. Syllon's collections have been described in some sections of the art community as 'the largest in Africa.'
  "For me, it started as aesthetics; to decorate my walls. Later it became an addiction after traveling abroad and visited many museums. And now it's becoming to make some commercial sense. I didn't set out collecting for the purpose of investment, anyway," he said.
  But art, for him should be seen, first and foremost in terms of the beauty, cultural history behind it. "In 200 years or more people are going to be told how we lived now, what we were wearing, etc. So, the works of artists would tell the coming generations how we lived. That is the whole essence of it: for the humanity."
  From the several thousands of works in OYASAF's collections, a tip of the iceberg adorned the garden of the foundation-cum-residence of the founder in his aesthetic taste. The sculptural works on the lawn seemed to have found better habitation outside the studios of their artists as the serenity and sounds of peacocks, ducks and cranes communed with nature to give more life to the works.
Inside OYASAF Garden, Lagos, Nigeria
   Shyllon must have had enough of collections, isn't it? "It is not possible for a collector to stop collecting; it is a passion. And because the artists too are not static in their skills, you always want to collect more. For example, there are some artists you have been looking forward to collect, and once the opportunity comes, it is difficult to avoid it. I like to have more Onabolu, Akinola Lashekan, Olu Amoda, Ben Enwonwu and Fakeyes. I have these artists in abundance, but want more."
 Potentially, a museum beckons in OYASAF. But the apprehension over continuity in such a private initiative is real. Preventive measure for OYASAF, Shyllon argued, is as real too.
  "OYASAF is thinking ahead to ensure continuity. We have resource persons like Dr Ohioma Pogoson, a Senior Research Fellow of the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan, Oyo State; Nick Robertson, our program manager, who is going to draw up programmes; Dayo Davis, as our business development manager. I know that OYASAF, in future, will be too big for any of my children to manage when my wife and I have gone, that is why we are putting this structure in place which include trustees from my family and people outside."

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