Friday 3 August 2012

From visiting grantees, museum, textile get focus in Lagos

By Tajudeen sowole 
The last Omoba Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon Foundation (OYASAF) fellowship programme featured two grantees: Amanda Hellman of Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, U.S; and Erin Rice from University of Bern, Switzerland who engaged members of Lagos arts community in a lively discussion that touched on museum, textile industry among others. 

HISTORY, place of museum as well as the expanding space of textile in contemporary Nigeria engaged the attention of participants at the gathering. 

Hellman’s research on museum and art themed The Intersection between Museum Development and Modern Art in Nigeria takes the National Museum, Onikan as a case study. She also researched one of Nigeria’s pioneering artists, Akinola Lasekan (1916-1974).

For Rice, her thoughts on identity interrogated what she described as The Architecture of Identity: Textiles and Impermanence in the Construction of Art and Space in Nigeria and Ghana.

Hellman is a doctoral candidate in Art History from Emory University. During her fellowship in Nigeria, she visited artists such as Olu Amoda, Sam Ebonhon and Veronica Ekpei, as well as curator Bisi Silva at Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA).

She spoke on her dissertation entitled, The Colonial Museum Project in British Nigeria, in which she looked at the development of museums in Nigeria. She noted the policies set forth by the Department of Antiquities and the establishment of the Jos Museum and the Lagos Museum in the 1940s and 1950s, while also looking at how the developments “affected ideas of heritage and citizenship in Nigeria.”
Caption: (Fifth from left) Amanda Hellman, Mrs Funmilayo and Engr Yemisi Shyllon, Erin Rice and painter Kolade Oshinowo shortly after the OYASAF interactive session in Lagos
Hellman argued that the materials she found about the founder of Nigeria’s museum, Kenneth C. Murray “corroborate and elaborate on my previous work in the Katherine Murray archives at the West Sussex Records Office in England.” Visit to the library at Onikan museum, she disclosed, was the highpoint of her experience in Nigeria.

Indeed, the development of museums in Nigeria as started by the colonial government was not really a conscious effort. It would interest Hellman to know that Murray, who had a tough time in convincing the colonial government on the need to set up a museum was also inspired by the art of some communities in the eastern part of the country.

During his visit to Nigeria in 2009, one of Murray’s assistants, Perkins Foss (now professor of Art History, Pennsylvania State University, U.S.) during a chat said his former boss had a lot of traditional artworks he collected from Igbo people in exchange for portrait drawings. Murray, he recalled, thought that it would be great to have the works housed in a place, hence the idea of a museum at Onikan.

Also, the attention of Hellman was drawn to the role of late Ekpo Eyo, another key figure in the post-independence development of museum in Nigeria.

On her second project, which was about researching artist and teacher, Lasekan, Hellman noted he was among “artists who helped define modern Nigerian art and education.”

Although Lasekan was well known for having a blossom career as a political cartoonist, Hellman’s focus considered his proficiency in fine art, generally. She discovered that the artist was a prolific writer who documented his career from the mid-1930s until his death in 1972.

And quite a coincidence, so it seemed as the yearly Yusuf Grillo Pavilion art fiesta – held few months before Hellman’s visit – briefly revisited the literary aspect of Lasekan. According to Lasekan’s apprentice and the celebrant of the 2012 Grillo Pavilion, Prof. Uche Okeke, the cartoonist’s prolific writing inspired him to be including extensive texts in his art. Indeed, Okeke is one of the very few artists who use poetry to support their art.

In her presentation, Rice who is a doctoral student at the University of Bern, notes that though the technique of using textile is not new, but it's a recent experience for most artists just as the interest is growing. And between style and technique, within modernity and contemporaneity, she submitted that  "contemporary reflects the time; modern reflects the technique."

Before coming to Nigeria, her project focused on the works of El Anatsui, Yinka Shonibare and Sokari Douglas Camp, all of whom use or reference textiles in their sculptural work, using themes such as Ghanaian native textile, kente, Dutch Wax Print otherwise known as ankara in Nigeria, and injiri respectively. She examined the relevance of these textiles in the works within the context of the Western art world.

And when she chose Lagos for her research, she had the hope of “gaining an understanding of how textiles function in everyday life and in contemporary art on a local level.”

Some of the issues Rice’s thesis addressed include:
role(s) textiles play in contemporary Nigerian society; using textiles to symbolise the identity of Nigerian artists when exhibiting abroad; local application of textile by artists; textiles shaping the construction of space in the post-Independence era; role of traditional forms of impermanent architecture on newer forms of building.

On her experience in Lagos, Rice said she visited artists who are active in the contemporary art scene including, Olu Amoda, Peju Alatise, Kolade Oshinowo, Yusuf Grillo, Bruce Onobrakpeya, filmmaker Tam Fiofori, and Nike Okundaye. She also visited several exhibitions at galleries in Lagos, toured the Lagos Museum and the Yaba College of Technology Art Department.

The founder of OYASAF, Prince Yemisi Shyllon stated that the grantees' visit to Nigeria underscored the organisation’s commitment to expand the knowledge-base of the world about Nigerian art. He also disclosed that Hellman and Rice would proceed to visit art resource centres such as Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan, Oyo State; and various art studios and traditional sites in Osogbo, Osun State before their departure.

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