Saturday 11 February 2012

Behold, virtual museum of modern Nigerian art

By Tajudeen Sowole
 The absence of a national monument in form of a gallery and museum of modern art is being regarded as a major set back in Nigeria’s efforts to preserve and promote its artistic and natural endowments. But stakeholders in the private sector are filling this vacuum with a virtual museum, tagged Virtual Museum of Modern Nigerian Art (VMMNA), a collaborative project of Pan African University (PAU) and Art Exchange (AE) Limited.
  The online museum, according to the partnership, is located at Launched in 2011, it has archived over 600 artworks by 95 artists. They are all on display.
   Arc Jess Castellote of PAU and director of the museum stated that it is a unique, interactive, searchable website that enables users to view Nigerian art from the beginning of the twentieth century.
  Features of the museum include information about the artists, schools and styles. Castellote, a prolific art writer noted that the virtual effort “is a pioneering activity that has special relevance as most of these works of art are kept in private individual and corporate collections and are not available to the general public and interested scholars.”
  He disclosed that museum is owned by PAU, but sponsored by the Art Exchange Limited. “In addition to funding the start-up costs, the sponsorship will also provide for sustaining and updating the museum.”
 Mr. Robert Mbonu, founder of AE who was represented by Abimbola Philips, during a briefing, said the art broker is about increasing the level of awareness and recognition of Nigerian contemporary art. “Working with an advisory board of distinguished Nigerian experts and art personalities, the AE aims to create value for art owners through a careful process of identifying and documenting specific works of art into a distinct category of investment grade assets. 
In the Spirit (oil on canvas, 129 x 102 cm, 2008), a painting by Abiodun Olaku

  “This process will bring such selected works into known existence through compilation and displaying them on the company’s database. Artists benefit from the AE by being recognized, while art collectors, banks and investors benefit from the AE’s reference source and an important secondary market for the trade and exchange in art.”
 Castellote said PAU is “excited to be able to provide such a ground-breaking initiative in support of Nigerian art and culture. This collaboration is therefore a clear fruit of the meeting of minds.”
   The information and images featured under the VMMNA are organized around Exhibition Rooms; with each room devoted to a particular period, school or homogenous group of artists. In addition, the museum features a virtual gallery for the display of temporary online exhibitions.
  The museum has exhibition rooms labeled: Art Gallery, The Pioneers, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Zaria, Lagos, Yaba, The Osogbo Experiment, The Nsukka School, Ife, Auchi and The Future Now.

  Under Zaria, it states: The Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology (NCAST); the first formal art institution in Nigeria was a three-fold boarding college with branches in Ibadan, Zaria and Enugu. The Department of Fine Arts and Industrial Design of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria was founded in 1953 as part of the Ibadan branch of the old Nigeria College of Arts, Science and Technology, this moved to Zaria in 1955. In 1957/58, the school was affiliated to the Slade School of Art, and later the Goldsmith School of Art, both of the University of London. The college subjected its students to conventional Western techniques in art, though based predominantly on African subjects.
  “The radical revolution in the visual arts began in the late 1950s/early 1960s, following the creation of the Zaria Art Society, a forum established by students of the college. The period following this witnessed the gradual change of art styles; an embrace of indigenous expression and the systematic rebuff of the western. This was to be later termed Natural Synthesis.
  “Nicknamed the Zaria Rebels by Ghanaian-born art historian, Kojo Fosu, the Zaria Art Society was a conscious movement fuelled by the first generation graduates of the college (1958 -1961). This group challenged the College's curriculum and later went on to influence every sphere of visual arts in Nigeria. The main players in this group were Uche Okeke, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Yusuf Grillo, Demas Nwoko, Simon Okeke, Solomon Wangboje, and a host of other fellow students. Many of them went on to other formal Art Institutions to propagate this movement and School of Art.
  “Based on the recommendations of the Ashby Commission in 1962, NCAST was merged with the then regional universities, principally the Ahmad Bello University, Zaria, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife and the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. The Zaria Art Society folded up a year before, in 1961 following the graduation of majority of the founding members. Nonetheless, members of the group regrouped in 1963; strengthened by new entrants, to form the Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA)
Abimbola Phillips of the Art Exchange (left) and Director of Virtual Museum of Modern Nigerian Art, Arc Jess Castellote 

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