Saturday 26 July 2014

Art for peace journey of OYASAF, Ufuk tours the world

By Tajudeen Sowole

Spreading its mission of promoting Nigerian art across the world, the Omooba Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon Art Foundation (OYASAF) has added a yearly international touring art exhibition to its numerous activities.

Known for its several art events and projects as a foremost art foundation in the country, the non-for profit OYASAF is currently partnering with Ufuk Foundation, a Turkish organisation founded in Nigeria, on a peace mission across the world. The partnership, recently, took the works of 12 Nigerian artists on a tour of Africa, Europe and the U.S. The touring exhibition titled Promotion of Global Peace is designed to be a yearly event, Prince Yemisi Shyllon, the OYASAF founder, gave the assurance shortly after returning from the tour. 

One Specie, Different Colours by Adeola Balogun.

Raqib Bashorun, Veronica Otigbo Ekpei, Mufu Onifade Tolu Aliki, Juliet Ezenwa Maja-Pearce, Toyin Omolowo, Adeola Balogun, Akinrinola Ahmed, Soji Akinbo, Seyi Ajayi, Kelani Abass and  Ariyo Oguntimehin were the artists whose paintings and drawings were exhibited.
 The exhibition took off in March as part of events held during the meeting of African Union (AU), in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia last March. Other cities on the list are Istanbul, Chicago, Washington New York.  The show, Shyllon stated is a one-year traveling event.
 The crust of the collaboration, he stressed, was to get Africa to use its art and culture in contributing to peace around the world.  "OYASAF is in this collaboration with Ufuk to promote peace and harmony around the world using the richness of African arts and culture."

Some of the works viewed via soft copies indeed represent the diversity of the mainstream art scene of Lagos and by a mild extension, Nigeria. From Bashorun's pastels, Light From Behind and For the Love of Piet to Onifade's Inevitable, Aliki's Dialogue, Ekpei’s United we Stand as well as Maja-Pearce's Parables, the gathering favoured paintings. And quite a shift to see sculptors such as Bashorun, Balogun and Ekpei brought their energy in chiseling and moulding into the paper and canvas surfaces.
 For Aliki, Omolowo, Kelani and Oguntimehin as well as other painters on the tour, it was an opportunity to continue on the line of identity for which their works were known. Clearly, sculptures and relief works were missing.  “It was deliberate," Shyllon said. "For logistic reason, not that anyone has anything against sculpture."
 From establishing OYASAF Fellowship for foreign scholars who research Nigerian art, to art competitions as well as consistent acquisition of art, Shyllon continues to lift the appreciation value of Nigerian art, at home and overseas. This much was not lost to the organisers of the 2014 Dialogue and Peace Awards, which recognised Shyllon for "for his contribution to unity through art in the field of culture." During the ceremony held at Sheraton Hotel, Abuja,  ten recipients received awards in various categories.

Shyllon and his OYASAF organisation are not exactly new to being recognised for contributing to the development of arts and culture. The OYASAF founder is currently holding what observers describe as the first professorial chair of its kind in Nigeria. Two years ago, Shyllon endowed as the first Nigerian Professorial Chair in Visual Arts and Design with the Faculty of Art and Design at University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State.  And last year, the university honoured him with Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters (D.litt) Honoris Causa.

Few days ago Shyllon stressed that the objective of the professorial char "is to create activities and attract research and grants as well as interact with institutions across the world in promoting Nigerian arts and culture." He disclosed that for better appropriation of the chair, a journal is in view. "Eventually, there will be a journal to outlive the researchers and art scholars. The journal will serve as a central art for scholars across the world."

Between 2010 and 2013, the OYASAF Fellowship has received 13 art scholars from the US, Austria, Switzerland, and South Africa. Such Fellows are Janine Systma, Ian Bourland, Rachel Engmann, Andrea Bauer, Nomusa Makhubu, Kathleen Coates, Erica Agyeman, Amanda Hellman, Erin Rice, Amber Croyle Ekong, Kimberli Gant, Jessica Williams and Victor Ekpuk.

For three years, consistently, OYASAF has sponsored an annual entrepreneurial workshop on visual arts at the Department of Creative Arts, University of Lagos.  The entrepreneurial workshop covers painting with pastel, watercolor, printmaking and ceramics.

Kathleen Stafford, a printmaker and the wife of a former consul general of the American embassy in Nigeria were among the facilitators.
Prince Yemisi Shyllon
In 2013, OYASAF sponsored two drawing competitions among the secondary school students in Ile-Ife, Osun State and Akwa Ibom. The Ile - Ife competition was organised in collaboration with the art students of the Department of Fine and Applied Arts, Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) while the Uyo competition was organized with the Society of Artists (SNA), Akwa Ibom State chapter.  

Last year, OYASAF added aesthetic value, in sculptural contents to the Freedom Park, Lagos Island by donating 18 life-size sculptures to the events and cultural venue.  The donation, seen as the largest from a private initiative in recent history of public space art in Nigeria was however overshadowed by the book launch, Conversation With Lamidi Fakeye. The book, written by Shyllon and Dr Chioma Pogoson was the major focus of the day chasen to unveil the sculptures.

Shyllon, Prince of Abeokuta from the family lineage of Ogunfayo and Sogbulu of the “Laarun” ruling house of Abeokuta had, in 2005, contested for the royal stool of Alake of Egbaland. He lost to the current Oba, Gbadebo, who Shyllon described as “better prepared contestant from my ruling house.”

Sharing his thoughts on collecting of art, Shyllon, at a lecture titled Art Collection: A Personal Experience delivered at the Miami University in Oxford Ohio, Ohio, US, in April trace the passion to his royal background.

Excerpts from the lecture: “With regards to my interest in art, I will like to recall Margaret Trowell in her book Classical African Sculptures (1972), where it is stated that, “some of the greatest collections of art works, are mostly initiated through royal patronage”. Royal courts in Yoruba land and in many other cultures in Africa are exquisitely adorned with an infusion where sculptures are part and parcel of architectural mix. Such an environment defines my family setting. As a child of school age, I engaged in drawing with some veritable degree of love and passion. This accounts for why in my undergraduate days at the University of Ibadan, when the opportunity arose, I easily keyed up with art again. Fortunately, very close to the library of a school where I usually studied during holidays, was a demonstration art garden. I met some art students there, whose work I found of great artistic value. This situation connected me back to my childhood appreciation of art works. My history as a collector started precisely at this point. And this encounter is now close, to four decades.

“It is important to note that while I thought that my initial course of study in engineering is distanced from the arts; I since found a great link between both disciplines. One significant discovery for me is that both disciplines are centered on proffering solutions to the core needs of humanity in concrete and tangible terms.
What does it mean to be an art collector? The art of collecting is marked by a certain prodigious disposition towards objects made by humans. This is a situation where the lure to possess what other humans have made because of their symbolic value, are irresistible in the first instance.        

“This is a human attribute. But it is not everyone that is bitten by the compulsive bug to acquire the objects made by other humans. It is such that there are then various degrees to which as humans we respond to diverse urges to appreciate first, and then to acquire. From observation, the artist in general terms depend on the charity of the affluent. Hence, for any human to part with money to purchase the work of art, he or she must have had enough to feed with; but unfortunately the bulk of Nigerians are either of the middle class or are poor. While from a realistic point of view, this observation may be grudgingly true, it is not all affluent people that have the lure to collect works of art. Collecting of works of art therefore, remains a gift and an insight that a few possess. This is why in Nigeria, it is possible to count a handful of collectors when compared to its huge population. 

The thesis of a select few and seeming “zany” humans, evidently is not limited to Nigeria or Africa. A few not-so-wealthy people have some holdings of artworks but I hold the conviction that a phenomenal sense of abnormality, defines the art collector or a collector of any item. Collection therefore carries with it an obsession which is made manifest in the holding which an individual’s art collection defines.”

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