Saturday, 25 July 2015

A 'complete' professional in dele jegede, according to Prof Ola Oloidi




 
DELE JEGEDE: THE CREATIVE VERSATILITY OF A COMPLETE ART PROFESSIONAL
A KEYNOTE ADDRESS Presented by Professor Ola Oloidi during the Conference Marking the 70th Birthday Celebration of Professor Dele Jegede in Lagos, July 24, 2015

Prof dele jegede

When I received the invitation to give a keynote address for this occasion, my physiognomy suddenly, though temporarily, became disorganized by, if not enfeebled with, a rather unsympathetic feeling of rejection, and not even indecision. Two factors were responsible for this: what I considered a comprehensive book on Dele Jegede has already been published internationally, and, again, I also have a chapter in the book, giving me the belief that it could be an academic foible and an opaque intellectuality to repeat what had already been known about Dele Jegede. However, in a rather extramundane manner, a meteoric thought came to suppress the illegitimacy and improbity of this already resident thought. According to the cliché, “devil is a liar”. Yes, because it is a notorious liar, I am now before you, believing that whatever might have been written on this precious son of Ekiti can only be the beginning of further work; hence the above title.

However, who is a complete professional? Before anatomizing the contextual adjuncts of this lecture title, it is good to atmospherically explain its symbolic thematic character, focusing on what I mean by “complete art professional”, or, generally, “complete professional”.1 For example, modern Nigerian artists, art administrators, art historians and art educationists abound in their “thousands”, and many of them are professionally capable, financially secure, nationally and internationally known and academically as well as intellectually sound. However, unfortunately, inspite of the professional triumphs of these professionals, and despite their high profile image, a significant large number is professionally disabled and, therefore, unqualified to be addressed as complete art professionals. This is because, these art professionals remain distant from being ordained as “complete”; for, they have not been able to organically or sincerely project the needed hybrid of professionality and morality, the sociological ingredients for being complete professionals.2
A complete artist or art historian is one who, by virtue of his high-class or even low-class professionality, more than ever before, implyingly and applyingly, becomes a crusader for art functionalism or unpretentious art humanism.3 He is full of environmental sensitivity, and has a fanatical desire to make others develop. He is one who has a clear mentoring and approachable attitude or image.4 Complete art professionals, in this case artists and art historians, are not saints or faultness, but their actions are hieratically endearing with translucent, humble and naturally distinguished and insulating morality.5 They are not complete art professionals, if their actions or human relations are fraught with arrogance or enfeebled with false sense of self-actualization and self-adulation.6
They are not complete artists and art historians, if their creative and intellectual output is insensitive to, or snub, individual, collective, national or people’s aspirations and problems. A complete art professional does not consciously project an image of economic, creative and intellectual superiority, even when it is evident that he is superior. He does not use his status to intimidate or harass but attract. A complete art professional can be a no-nonsense individual, but whose actions are not destructive but productively constructive and corrective. He is not a complete professional if he does not want those he is supposed to mentor to grow up to, or beyond, him. An art professional is professionally inadequate, if he habitually picks faults with and in others without mercy and good heart; forgetting that he is not an angel, and that what he sees as faults can be a virtue or perfection; having been misdirected by his own misjudgement. Ladies and gentlemen, having bored you with the above professional invocation, you will now know why the title has been appropriately chosen for this occasion.
Without trying to be patronizing or emotionally involved, but objectively art historical and socratic in my reaction, I will now occupy myself with those factors that have made Dele Jegede’s overall art professionality acquire a garment of completeness, as projected above, starting with his creative or visual arts professionality; that has made him a household name. In fact, a book, Art Parody and Politics: Dele Jegede’s Creative Activism, Nigeria and the Transnational Space, edited by Aderonke Adesola Adesanya and Toyin Falola, and published by Africa World Press, Trenton, New Jersey in 2014, has testimonized Dele Jegede’s entitlement to the theme of my lecture. This is because the book, with fifteen contributors, Aderonke Adesanya, Toyin Falola, Tolulope Filani, Krydz Ikwuemesi, Peju Layiwola, Okechukwu Nwafor, Sylvester Ogbechie, Onoyovo Ukpong, Yomi Ola, Tejumola Olaniyan, Olawole Famule, Segun Ajiboye as well as Akin Adesokan, C. U., Nzewi and Ola Oloidi, have presented painstakingly and vitaminously essays that very reasonably cover Dele Jegede’s professional versatility and moral as well as humanistic excellencies.
The book focuses on Jegede as a painter, cartoonist, art historian, educator and administrator. His intellectual, academic, creative and propagandist vibrations are also featured to enrich the biography of this art activist. This is saying that Jegede has made himself professionally active and effective in all the humanistically essential areas of visual arts. However, unfortunately, the contextual richness of the book has been made fugitive or imprisoned by its lack of wide circulation or total lack of circulation, particularly in Nigeria. Only an insignificant few have access to this ambitiously produced publication that now functions as a secret, rather than a public, document.

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However, as a painter, Dele Jegede, who was the best student of painting, and, in fact, the best graduating student, with a First Class degree, at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, has designed a unique space for himself in African landscape for master painters. With numerous solo and group exhibitions, nationally and internationally, this master of enrapturing colouration, elegant draughtmanship, organic pictorial composition, telling and ecstatic spatial distribution, has a painting style that is uniquely his; having his own painting vocabulary. Dele Jegede’s paintings are generally visually exhilarating and full of enthusiasm. His paintings are not mere academic or formalistic efforts. They focus on life, or people, with all force of ideological insignia that shows him as a defender of the poor, the disadvantaged, the socially and psychologically troubled minds as well as several other social inequalities and discomfort; particularly in the urban settlements.
Jegede’s paintings, with indicting revelational images, are a lamentation over the country he so much loves but without really receiving compensatory or rewarding returns. As a defender of the masses, he uses his paintings to embrocate the aching part of the society. These paintings are, characteristically, a synod of pictorial bombardment, needed to help make government and other affected agencies focus on humanity and not on epicurean attractions. One of his solo exhibitions focusing on some social shortcomings is titled, Eko Re e (This is Lagos); a 1991 exhibition that exposed some social problems in Lagos.7
Without doubt, Dele Jegede was one of the most popular cartoonists of the 8th and 9th decades. Historically, he still remains one of the leading Nigerian cartoonists; considering his cartoon activities between 1972 and 1991, particularly. It was his cartoons that made him a household name in Nigeria, especially between 1975 and 1987, with the adventures of his “Kole the Menace” and “Kole’s World” in the Sunday Times of Nigeria. Jegede will also always be remembered for hundreds of his cartoons captioned “Pocket Cartoons”, “Dele’s Opinion”, “Weekend Cartoons”, “Dele Jegede”, all in the Sunday Times and Lagos Weekend, and “Funny Cords”, colour cartoons, in the Sunday Concord. These cartoons, some of which are satirical, merely humorous or comical seriously have socio-political implications.
Jegede was undoubtedly very popular among traders, drivers, politicians, religious organizations, government agencies, professional and academic institutions, among others, in Nigeria. Evidently, Dele Jegede, like other cartoonists of his period, used his cartoons as emotional ablution or relaxation for those who were dejected for various reasons. He also used these visual agents, very unflaggingly, to challenge the wickedness and inadequacies of the oppressors. Jegede’s cartoons are also unique in formalistic presentations. That is, they are full of linear brevity. Elegantly miniaturized with highly simplified and readable images, they are expressive with dramatic characterization. These cartoons are also plain with aesthetically mannered draughtsmanship. They are generally straightforward and logical in message, while, as regards wording, they can be loquacious when necessary and brief when required. What has also added beauty to Jegede’s cartoons are their integral well written calligraphic or architectural words. Jegede has evidently found his entry into the book of cartoon traditions in Nigeria.
As an art historian, Jegede is also a factor, particularly in modern Nigerian art. Having had M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Art History, and having professionalized in this discipline through teaching and research, and because he has also published profusely, in this regard, not just on the theory, critique and other digressive affiliates of art history, he has become one of Nigerian’s notable and functional art historians. Dele Jegede studied art history in an institution or environment that mostly celebrated the authopologization of art history; seeing African art history or history of African art only as the study of ethnographic materials or antiquities whose makers have long been buried by art historical anonymity; what I have always referred to as “art history without history”.
The experience also initially influenced my own art historical foundation before I disengaged myself from this form of what I also considered “art historical colonization”.8 Very interestingly, and with high academic certitude, Dele Jegede, from the beginning, was art historically decolonized. It may surprise one that even before his postgraduate study in art history, he had already preoccupied himself with art history with history with his article titled “Student Art” of 1974.9 One is also not surprised that his Ph.D. dissertation focuses on modern African art. Today, while he does not devalue the traditional art culture of his fathers, he is one of the pillars behind the promotion of modern art historical studies in Nigeria; through the teaching of, and numerous publications on, modern African art. He is an organic art historian.10
In addition to being an art historian, Jegede is also a born teacher and educator, having taught art and art history in tertiary institutions in Nigeria and the United States of America, where he presently teaches. He has produced many students at postgraduate levels and, therefore several art historians, particularly outside Africa. Jegede is also well acknowledged for his shrewd administrative competence. With combinations of diplomacy, love, highly qualified strategies, understanding, humility, kindness progressive human relation and impetuous sensitivity, among other leadership qualities of his, he has always succeeded in all his administrative positions, particularly as the Acting Director, Centre for Cultural Studies, University of Lagos and President, Society of Nigerian Artists.
Kolade Oshinowo, Chief Emmanuel Olisambu, former M.D. of 1st Bank, Bernard Aina, Ndidi Dike, Professor Duro Oni, Associate Professor Peju Layiwola, Dr. Bruce Onobrakpeya, Bisi Fakeye, as well as Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi, Sam Olagbaju, Bunmi Babatunde and Toyin Akinosho, among several others, are witnesses to the above narrated administrative acumen of Jegede. However, the professional versatility of this art professional is not yet exhausted here, because he is also a book illustrator, a curator and a calligrapher. Naturally, Jegede’s print media art activities exposed him to many authors who, and publishing houses that, heavily patronized him for book, journal and magazine illustrations.
His curatorial experiences within and outside Nigeria are also well known; while his explosive artistic and academic imaging has made him consultant, on several educational policies, under the military and the civilian administrations. He has also been consultant to some Nigerian universities, government cultural agencies and corporate organizations. These are in addition to his consultancy activities in some museums and galleries in the U.S.A. Jegede’s handwriting, a self-created calligraphy, is a piece of art on its own. It is unique, visually pleasurable, beautifully romanticized, dramatically characterized, simplified and graphically radical. Without doubt, the aesthetic uniqueness of Jegede’s formal handwriting, unless one is with himself, can carry away one and easily overpower or suppress the contextual message intended for its reader.
Ladies and gentlemen, there are more professional revelations on Jegede. Some of these have already been analytically echoed in my contribution to the book on Dele Jegede, already referred to.11 However, the nature of this lecture will only permit me to just graphically address a few so as to make people know his lasting and concrete contributions to modern Nigerian art and culture; particularly, as earlier stated, when the mentioned book appears to be educationally elitist with highly restricted possession. I will here stress Dele Jegede’s presidency of the Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA). His presidency of SNA, no doubt, brought out of him that strongly felt nationalistic instincts, and not orientation, which he had already displayed, and with all fearless and creative instrumentality in his paintings and cartoons.
He became the President of the SNA on November 30, 1989, after about a decade of unofficial and indeliberate vacation. The Lagos SNA must be acknowledged here for this SNA’s revival. Jegede knew what he had before him, and, instead of raising distractive questions about why the SNA had not operated for several years, began to programme what would revive and stabilize the image of SNA, both nationally and internationally. In his wisdom, he formulated, unofficially, during one of my discussions with him in 1989, the motto: “Consolidation and Expansion Through Dialogue”. And with this, he moved along with his executive that had the first meeting on November 30, 1989, and whose membership included late Lucas Bentu, Bernard Aina, Ndidi Dike, Bisi Fakaye, C. Akran of blessed memory, C. Aniakor, B. K. Olorukooba and Ola Oloidi; though two of these were inactive from the beginning.
As the SNA President, Jegede promptly “decreed” the objectives of his administration, all of which were tactically and vigorously pursued; with most of them achieved, despite certain hindrances. He designed and reworded new Application Forms for SNA membership; compiled the Membership Nominal Role; revised the SNA annual due from 50 kobo to one naira; created additional SNA state chapters; re-registered the SNA under the Perpetual Succession Act of 1989; rejecting the earlier Company Decree of 1968; amended the SNA Constitution; introduced SNA Newsletter; had regular SNA national conferences and exhibitions; pressed the government to seriously enforce Tax Rebates for those corporate and other organizations sponsoring SNA events (as contained in Section 10.3.1 of Nigeria’s Cultural Policy) and wrote, on behalf of SNA, now Professor, Abayomi Adetoro, SNA strong member, for his appointment as Education Attaché in London.
Jegede, Dr. Lucas Bentu and four members of his executive visited the Director, National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC) on February 23, 1990 with the following demands: Review of Cultural Policy, Re-opening of the closed National Gallery of Modern Art, provision of space within the National Theatre for SNA and financial assistance. When no concrete result was achieved beyond the advisory level, Jegede contacted the art sage and monument, Yusuf Grillo who, along with Bisi Fakeye, Bernard Aina and Olu Amoda “paid a courtesy call” on the Minister of Culture and Social Welfare, Ambassador Mamman Anka and also presented the above demands in addition to the review of the planned eviction of the National Studios (now Universal Studios of Art).
Jegede also pleaded for the revival of Nigeria Magazine publication. The Minister’s reactions were unbelievably positive, promising to look into their demands. At least, the National Gallery of Modern Art was eventually reopened, and moves were on ground to address other demands. Like Oliver Twist, Dele Jegede was not satisfied with the re-opening of the Gallery only. He made his executive press for a parastatal status for it. It was not easy, but determination, diplomacy, human relation, necessary contact and paid adverts, in two major Nigerian newspapers for the President of Nigeria, Ibrahim Babangida, finally got this parastatal status; to be one of the major achievements of SNA under Jegede. Jegede, however, did not stop there. To make art more professionally dignified and respected, he, along with late Shina Yussuf, B. Aina, Bruce Onobrakpeya and two Lagos SNA members, attended the Nigerian Copyright Council (now Commission) Workshop and made their presence very noticeable.
After pointing out the ambiguity in Section 1, Sub-section 3 of the Copyright Decree, as regards visual arts, the Chairman of this event agreed that the affected portion needed a re-vision. Jegede’s executive also appealed to the government about the display and execution of mediocre or unprofessional monuments on the streets of Nigeria; particularly those in the south. He seriously condemned the use of non-durable materials, like fibre glass, to execute historic monuments. Obafemi Awolowo’s monument on Obafemi Awolowo Way, Ikeja, Lagos, commissioned by the Ikeja Local Government, was cited as an annoying example. Jegede, before prematurely abdicating his presidency to return to the U.S.A., had already revived and beautifully structured the image of the Society of Nigerian Artists for adornment and more beauty.
 Unfortunately, however, several years after his administrative departure from SNA, some anti-art problems still trouble the state of visual arts in Nigeria; the latest and the most dangerously challenging is the proposed merging of the National Gallery of Art (NGA) with the National Museum and Monuments, meaning that the NGA’s parastatal status, which was fought for, with all diplomatic, intellectual, corporal, financial and emotional stress will be repealed and decapitated. Let me make it clear, with sincere heart, that the proposed merging of the NGA with another parastatal, as planned, is an unbelievably egregious decision; a dangerously sinuous one against the NGA and against creativity, culture, art appreciation, art development and, therefore, industrial and technological development. It is anti-government cultural aspirations.
The argument given to support this decision, as learnt, is, to me, unprogressive, facile and spurious. The intended merger, and therefore the emboweling of fine and applied arts image in Nigeria, is not only a deification of uncivilized decision, but also, and clearly, a caustic devaluation of, as well as ignorant attitude to, cultural insignia. What a meteoric speed to socio-artistic underdevelopment. It is troubling at this age, when civilized nations, in their cultural policies, are promoting, if not canonizing, artistic masterdom, some artistically uninformed and culturally remote individuals are working towards the contrary. It will be of great cultural value if people of culture and cultured people prevail on government against this decision.
And this brings this paper to the National Gallery of Art territory. Probably because of the aforesaid, the NGA is being suffocated by government through lack of funding; which is why no seriously appreciable events have taken place there over a period. The UZO journal is also silent. Both national and international events that made the Gallery worth its name have been put to sleep. One must not forget that the NGA is also a “Gallery without wells”. This is because it is still a tenant, without the structure of its own. Presently, Nigeria is losing, particularly in international cultural co-operation and exchange, and immediate attention should be given to this situation, as was the practice in the recent past. The Director of this cultural monument should not be crippled, by lack of finding. As of now, artists are complaining, students are worried and art scholars are confused. I am, however, optimistic that the situation will change to the contrary, so that the present Director General can continue the good work he started.
It is good to also let Dele Jegede know that the Nigeria Magazine, through which many academics or scholars, especially, launched their intellectual rockets, is still in limbo. The SNA should not relent in making this almost 90 year-old journal begin its academic and cultural traditions. Professor Dele Jegede, ladies and gentlemen, I will not terminate this lecture without addressing some challenging modern Nigerian art problems. This is giving continuity to your critical attitude as a historian, painter, cartoonist and critic. For example, I have been informed that in some universities, art history lecturers, who are not artists but art historians, and who do not teach studio courses at all, are being forced to include creative work, through art exhibitions or designs, among others, in their promotion requirements to Senior lecturership, Readership or Professorship positions. This is absolutely out of formal promotional order, and it is a gross academically uninstructed intimidation of one’s professional discipline.
I am here also challenging, if not condemning, the type of research methodology that art students, or the humanities, are wrongly inured to in some Nigerian tertiary art institutions. I am referring to the improper scientific, rather than the historical, research method that these art institutions force on their staff and students. This has led to serious contextual sensorship and limitations, lack of analytical and indepth study, among other research implications, that are advancing the cause of science and not art or the humanities. What I am saying here is that art subjects are now made to require the same research methodology used by the physical, applied and social sciences.
I can see that the National Universities Commission (NUC) induced this research misdirection by removing visual arts from their traditional art faculties and placed under science-inclined faculties. This is not all, however. I will not be bored or tired of criticizing mandatory Ph.D. degrees for promotion. In few years’ time, the Nigerian tertiary institutions will see the futility of this NUC-forced decision. It is worse with the visual arts, where studio artists, or art teachers, are now engaging themselves in Ph.D. degree programmes; research degrees. The situation would have been more understandable, if they are made to pursue, if necessary, professional doctorate (Doctor of Fine Arts with appropriate abbreviated symbols) to advance the status of Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A) degree. I am yet to comment on the deteriorating state of journalistic or newspaper art criticism today.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have deliberately presented the above observations to Dele Jegede, the SNA and the entire honourable art community so as to continue the struggle already incited or aided by Jegede, who, at 70 years, is still a crusader, a nationalist, an intellectual, a versatile artist, a humanist, a critic, a man of ideas, a man of honour, an achiever, a humourist, a good teacher, a good father, a lovely and faithful husband, a friend and A COMPLETE ART PROFESSIONAL.
I here wish him what I wished Bruce Onobrakpeya, when I gave the keynote addresses for his 60th and 70th birthdays. Happy Birthday, while we all await your 80th birthday, with God’s approval. Thank you all.


NOTES
1.    Yusuf Grillo, was the first to indirectly direct my attention to the importance of character in one’s career, in 1968, during, one of his lectures in Western art at Yaba College of Technology, Yaba, Lagos.
2.    Examples of this position abound around us.
3.    Uche Okeke is a good example.
4.    Yusuf Grillo is a typical example.
5.    Bruce Onobrakpeya is an example. There are also many others.
6.    Individual artists and art historians can locate these characters effortlessly.
7.    His art exhibitions generally, thematically focus on the sad experiences of Nigeria;  see Eko Re e (This is Lagos): An Exhibition of Recent Artworks (Lagos: Centre for Cultural Studies, 1991), for example.
8.    My 1974 M.A. Dissertation in Art History, in U.S.A., was purely ethnographic, because it was solely on African traditional art.
9.    Nigeria Magazine, No.113, September 1974, pp. 32-40.
10.Also see his early art historical contributions in Nigeria Magazine, No. 144, 1983, pp. 22-37; Nigeria Magazine, Vol. 53, No. 3, July-September, 1985, pp. 17-23.
11.Aderonke A-Adesanya and Toyin Falola, Art Parody and Politics: Dele Jegede’s Creative Activism, Nigeria and the Transnational Space (Trenton: Africa World Press, 2014).

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