Saturday 1 November 2014

‘Aesthetics, not master signatures’ drive Dafinone’s vast collection

By Tajuden Sowole
Behind the heartbeat of art appreciation is one of Nigeria’s quiet collectors, Chief Okakuro Ede Dafinone whose passion for collecting has nothing to do with investment value and master signatures. In fact, he would not part with any of his precious vast collection in exchange for anything.

As crucial as art collecting is to the nerve of art appreciation and the entire strings of professionals attached to the business of art, it’s an irony that people like Dafinone who spend fortune on art hide behind the red tags. Apart from the few names that usually come to the public glare at art events, there are quite a large number of passionate collectors who prefer to remain anonymous. And when an opportunity comes to meet one in Dafinone, a chattered accountant, not even a horrendous vehicular traffic on Wharf Road, Apapa would abort the scheduled meeting.  After nearly two hours in the traffic – at one of the glaring evidences of Nigerian government’s deliberate wickedness against taxpayers – going through a journey of less than one kilometer, the art ambience of Dafinone’s office comes with the balm needed to be in the right frame of mind for the scheduled chat.

Chief Ede Dafinone.
Dafinone is a Fellow, Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, (2000): Associate Member, Chartered Taxation Institute of Nigeria, (1991) and Fellow, Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria, (2000). He is currently at Horwath Dafinone Chartered Accountants, Lagos, a growing dynasty he joined in 1989 where he became a Partner from March 1997 after he leaving Touche Ross & Co. Chartered Accountants, London, where he worked from 1984 to 1988.

 His job experience, basically, includes financial waste management that covers auditing of conglomerates, government parastatals, building contractors, manufacturing, transport and haulage contractors as well as consultancy in reorganisation of private companies. Others are Reporting Accountant, including the Initial Public Offer for Nitel Plc and NAL Merchant Bank Limited for the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE). Also consultant for the Budget Office of the Federation on the verification of local debts; the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation for a diagnostic review of Universities; in the establishment of companies in the Insurance Brokerage and Mortgage Banking industries, among others.

Attempting to distil any art stint from Dafinone's long list of job experience wouldn't just produce any link. Clearly, art collecting has been a passion he developed outside the job of being an auditor. On the walls of his office this scorching afternoon are art pieces that relaxes the nerves. The works, from art value perspective could make an art dealer sit on the edge of a chair. The works include wood panel of El Anatsui, large Edosa Ogiugo’s figural on canvas and some pieces by Abiodun Olaku other top artists

An accountant and a passionate art collector; where is the link7 Searching for a response, Dafinone falls back on his philosophy of someone who does not "like to box people." He apparently expects a reciprocal situation. "So to suggest that accountant may not have the capacity to appreciate art is unusual." Just in case the message is not clear he stresses that as accountants, like every other person in the society, "we have the tastes to appreciate quality art."

As much as art appreciation at whatever level should be commended, there are certain categories of collections that cannot just be lumped into the crowd. And when a collector is on the Board of Trustees of Guild of Professional Fine Artists of Nigeria (GFA) as Dafinone is, it suggests that his collection has strong depth. "I started collecting since 1990,” he discloses. "My interest in art started from the period I studied post-impressionism artists as an alternative courses at school." Now the accountant-art collector link is getting clearer. His tracking of the creative sector over the decades has convinced him that  "we have a burden of talents within our shores that coincidentally just beginning to enjoy international appreciation."

The visual arts, perhaps unavoidably, is elitist to a large extent and potentially a strong partner for corporate and individual business class. But art patronage by the Nigerian corporate sector appears less active as expected. At this moment, Dafinone, who has put into the Nigerian corporate class about 15 years experience is the 'spokesperson' for the sector. The art market, he notes, "is growing," and "there are several corporate organisations and companies that appreciate art both as a decorative and investment to yield returns." Art, he stresses, "is a major form of storing wealth," for some companies.  "Art can make returns as much as what we have in the petroleum and banking sectors."

Given the challenges of managing full-time studio career, artists are better placed concentrating on creating art and leave the business aspect to others to handle on their behalf. So, most often artists reach the corporate sector and individual business class professionals via art dealers.  And it seems the art dealers are intercepting most of the benefits from the corporate sector before it gets to the artists.  From the experience of being a collector in the business and corporate class as well as BoT member of artists’ professional body, Dafibone argues that artists prosper more if art dealers flourish.  "Our art market is still young, making people think the dealers are shortchanging the artists. Maybe for now, so long as significant profits exist in selling art, more people will enter the market, and when there is proliferations of art dealers, it shows that the market is growing, which in turn is good for artists.”
 As the art market grows, raising the bar so some artists are being left out of the mainstream art scene. Again, the growth, Dafinone assures, is a prospect that should take every artist along, maybe not at even level.  "Yes some Nigerian artists have been finding it difficult to get to the mainstream of art market. But that is changing as there is wider appreciation and awareness.  More young Nigerians are appreciating, buying art and the market is taking an international dimension." He agrees the last ten years has really changed the scene, noting that the art auctions have given a secondary value to the market. "This suggests that art collectors, investors have a market in which they can now trade their art."

With as long as nearly 25 years in the passion of art collecting, Dafinone must have come across Nigerian artists across generations, and perhaps, a patron to many artists. But why a member of  GFA BoT and not other body of artists?  "I don’t think anybody on the board of trustees of GFA lobbied to be a member; we were invited by the artists. Each member is well known as individual that appreciates art. It was based on the passion for art collecting."

As a professional whose career in auditing has helped corporate groups managed financial wastages and increased wealth of clients, art collecting perhaps comes as an extension of his personal ventilation for investment. "I did not start collecting because I wanted to invest in art." Really?  "I collect for my love for art, the aesthetics. I don’t buy for investment, but for aesthetics." In fact, he does not trade the aesthetics passion for masterly names. "I buy pieces that I like, not big names or art that could worth millions of naira in the future."

Few of Dafinone’s collection
For Dafinone, relativity of aesthetics comes with his belief that every art piece is different. "So, I can’t place a particular likeness to one." While he has no particular "formula", something is however consistent in his choice of medium. "The only thing that is constant is that I don’t buy watercolour works." Not necessarily for lack of good warercolourists. "There are good water colour artists, Sam Ovraiti for example is fantastic, but I just don't have passion for it."

 GFA was founded over a decade ago, but formally launched in 2008 by a group of artists who are the bridge between the old masters and young artists. More importantly, the artists take pride in the commonality of full-time studio practice. Quite a number of recent strides of Nigerian artists at home and the Diaspora have the touches of GFA members. How far can the GFA go under the current BoT members?  "The guild is populated only by the brightest of best Nigerian artists," Dafinone boasts.  "We could be moving faster, but the fact that the artists are the managers of their affairs comes with several challenges." However progress has been made and significant breakthrough achieved for Nigerian artists here and abroad, he argues. "Yes, the guild has challenges today, maybe tomorrow too but the strength is the family-like attitude among members. The main goal of promoting Nigerian art at international level is the strength."

On his vast collection, the importance of documenting for the benefits of the larger society is not exactly lost. "I hope to catalogue my collection in future." Still on sharing with the larger society, Dafinone and his family "have had in-house exhibition for friends to come and share in our collection."

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