Monday 16 July 2012

Why is 1960s African art attracting a British researcher's visit to Nigeria?

Few weeks ago when i stumbled on an art news about some African collection of  more than 50 years that inspired a British scholar's trip to Nigeria in trace of the original artists, I was not so excited. Reason: i suspected that the researcher, Dr Tim Brennan, a curator and Associate Dean at Sunderland University, North East of England is among Europeans who still see African art in the naivety context. 

One of the Unknown artists' works from Brennan collection
Curiously, i tried to get Brennan's thoughts through the email attached to the publication, but yet to get any response.
According to the publication, the collection is an inheritance of  Brennan, from parents Barbara and Martin, who in the summer of 1960, moved to Lafia in Nigeria to work as teacher trainers.
  Really, whatever argument one tries to put forward on the issue of  aesthetic identity, African art appears stranded in the shadow of ancient and naive modernity.
 We may ask: are the great aesthetics of 12th to 14th century Ife and Benin arts not enough reason for westerners to dismiss such collection like the Brennan's as some accidental form of African art?       
  Here is the excerpts from the online publication, Sky Tyne and Wear:
  Dr Brennan said: “The paintings evolved from the direct personal experiences of local students. They were encouraged to ignore Western influence, embrace their local environment and create artworks through free expression.
  “They developed a great confidence in their own work which resulted in aesthetically beautiful, vibrant paintings.
   “This collection of paintings was completed 50 years ago by third year students, who will now be in their late 60s and 70s. Only local materials were available, which included recycled paper from cement bags and the paints were made from food and leaf dyes, hair dye, washing powder, soil and clay. Boot polish, henna, chalk and charcoal provided the means to draw.”
   WaterAid, which has several projects in Nigeria, and the charity’s supporter Northumbrian Water, are backing Dr Brennan’s project called Tracing Lafia.
   Dr Brennan added: “We are delighted that Northumbrian Water’s support of this project has brought us so far in such a short period of time.”
  “The aptitude of the Nigerians coupled with the expertise of the teaching transcended these limitations to produce this original and accomplished collection.”
  Graeme Thompson, Dean of Arts, Design and Media at the university, said: “We are thrilled that we now have an opportunity to travel back to Nigeria to try and discover what happened to these brilliant artists."
  You can support the work of WaterAid in Nigeria by purchasing a limited edition print from the collection.

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