Monday 20 July 2015

In Lagos, globalism inspires a rescue-mission for Visual Arts Scholarship

By Tajudeen Sowole
Being the foundation and fountain of art practice in Nigeria, the formal training sector is not unaware - contrary to widely held view - that the mainstream art  outside the Ivory Tower demands far more than what it is getting from the academia. In fact, the art academia is conscious of the fast pace of contemporary practice of which the former is struggling to catch up with.
                         Participants at the University of Lagos (Unilag) wing of the conference.

Apart from the cheering news that the trainers of artists have realised the need to take their rightful place, they have gone further to seek solutions in keeping pace with the reality of global progression of art. During the opening of a three-days forum tagged First International Conference on The State of Visual Arts Scholarship in Nigeria in the Era of Globalism, held at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Victoria Island, Lagos, the artists discussed areas of crucial repositioning of their profession. The event also extended to Yaba College of Technology and University of Lagos, Akoka, Lagos with participants drawn from art schools of tertiary institutions across the country. 

In his opening remarks, the President of Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA) and Chairman of the event, Oliver Enwonwu stated that the professional body "is in the forefront of supporting event such as this." He noted the urgent importance of Nigerian art to key into the dynamics of the global village. "The world is getting smaller, so our art needs to be repositioned," Enwowu told the gathering of artists and art teachers present.

In his Keynote Address, the convener of the forum and lecturer at Delta State University (DELSU),  Prof Osa Egonwa, went though the trajectory of art academia in Nigeria and argued that being at its current peak of awarding Ph. D has brought challenges. His presentation titled Research And The Academic Visibility Of Artists In The Ivory Tower In Nigeria highlights quality and competence of art teachers, documentation and art marketing.

"The limitations range from improper definition of purpose, mission and vision, none or nebulous methods of instruction, mixed system of staff hire and  fire, wrong or no research methods,  infrastructural and curricular inadequacies to poor text book development.". He insisted that the challenges listed "lead to poor professional engagement of trained-artists." 

In what he described as Quality Assurance, (QA), Egonwa traced the genesis of the gathering to the process "formulated in pursuit of excellence in product and service delivery," for visual artists. He noted that the Senate of various universities that offer Arts "approves visual arts programmes independently." In strengthening standard however, Egonwa stated: "It is my view that a continuous Quality Assurance via human capital involved in the teaching, research and instruction promises to be more effectual."

He hoped that the conference would germinate the required strength to make the art academia more relevant in setting the pace for mainstream industry to follow. "My earnest expectation is that through this conference, the egg heads in art and design will take the desired steps and get their rightful place in the ivory tower. Presently, the academia appears to be years behind the industry, in matters of art especially in Nigeria."

As it has been established that the curricular contents of various tertiary institutions are short of the mileage expected to cover the academic journey of the visual arts, the units or departments, perhaps - as a result of the orders from regulatory body, National University Commission (NUC) or failure of internal articulation - just might look for additional windows through which to strengthen art practice outside the confinement of academic administration. Such outlet is documentation via writing of books by art historians. Quite a number of observers, including Egonwa and non-academic critics have noted that books on Nigerian art and artists, in recent years, have been written by writers who are not from the academia. And the question keeps coming: what do the art historians of  Nigerian art schools origin do after graduating? 

The lead paper at the conference, A Revisionist Overview Of The Historiography Of African Art History, Disciplinary Authenticity And Western Mindset by Prof Frank Ugiomoh of University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, took the issue a bit further by probing into the technicalities of writing art books on African subjects. In the introduction to his presentation, Ugiomoh noted that  historiography of art history expects writers to tap from a source that is "always historically determined and knows no closure."
 Evaluating the historiography of African art, Ugiomoh started by tracing the origin of the continent's art history - within the academic discipline - to what he noted as recently "as when Roy Sieber in 1957 wrote the first dissertation on the subject under the tutelage of Paul S. Wingert."  He argued that Sieber’s work marked the take off in "methodological profiling" of African art history as a discipline. Based on his choice of background in evaluating African art documentation, Ugiomoh insisted that the importance of tracing what he described as "landmarks" is crucial.
  His presentation reads in parts:  "With a focus like this we are better informed on the gains and what has been left out or what ought to be done as well as defining an agenda for the future of the discipline of African art history. Forlornly, scarce attention has been paid to art historiography as an aspect of African cultural studies.
"Historiography, in a poststructuralist sense, engages methodological concerns in the deconstruction of narrative texts. To probe the nature and structure of the narrative, as deconstruction allows, has great value in understanding the processes of historical engagements. Such commitment helps define the ideological grounds that propel narrative devices and options of historical explanation and the interest they serve. Underlying deconstruction by way of general understanding is that language, a non-transparent medium of communication has direct impact on the truth of narrative as an explanation of the past. Jacques Derrida in deconstruction (a theoretical instrument he initiated) is concerned with the nature of language as a transparent medium of communication or the “opacity of language” (Munslow ). For the above reason the text of history requires the kind of scrutiny of its literary plot and structure. Munslow references Hayden H. White who likens history writing to literary engagement this way;
"What is argued for is that the analysis of style, genre and narrative structure, more usually associated with fictional literature, be applied to the understanding of the historian’s sources and written interpretations. Although this approach emerges from structuralism’s early concern with the arbitrary nature of language, history produced within the deconstructive consciousness has a much wider range of concerns (62)."
  He concluded that art history would always be articulated in diverse tone to drive home what an art piece represents.
He cited the western art history as example. “The history of the development of western art history is of considerable ancestry. In the process of its development it has developed theoretical and methodological frames that address the need to locate the object of art in time. Their practical values have never been in doubt considering the interventions in self-critical exercise it engages.”

Ugiomoh is a professor of History of Art and Theory and occupant Yemisi Shyllon Chair of Fine Art and Design, University of Port hatcourt, Port Harcourt Nigeria. His studio interests are in stained glass painting, sculpture and printmaking. While his interest in theory encompass historiography of art history, theory and aesthetics, where he has published avidly.

Prof Frank Ugiomoh (left), President, Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA), Oliver Enwonwu; and Prof Osa Egonwa during the opening of the conference at NIIA, Lagos…recently.

 At the end of the stakeholders meeting to round off the 1st International Conference on the State of Visual Arts Scholarship in Nigeria in the Era of Globalism the meeting rose with the  following unanimous resolutions:

1.   The creative and cultural Arts programme for secondary schools can succeed only when art, music and drama teachers are on ground in schools to handle their subjects. The new programme should be implemented only after personnel have been prepared for it. For that reason, it should be put on hold forthwith.

2 Research in the visual arts should be designed according to the nature of the discipline.  The practice-led or practice-based methods are suitable for the character of knowledge production in the visual arts.  Arts curriculum should be more functional to prepare recipients for the world of work.

3 Art training institutions should hire staff on the basis of appropriate training/qualifications not on the basis of ethnic, social or political considerations. Any other criteria are likely to lead to compromising of standards.

4.  Art exhibitions properly documented are a measure of scholarly productivity. Therefore, they should be used for staff appraisal in tertiary institutions, colleges of education, polytechnic subject to the professional specifications of the Society of Nigerian Artists.

5.   The  National Universities Commission (NUC) should  note that there is distinction  between the literary Ph. D ( in Art History,  Religious Studies , Art Criticism, or Art Education ) and the Studio Art Ph.D - drawing  and painting,  sculpture, ceramics, textiles ,photography and new media ) and this should  be reflected  in studio art degree curriculum. The MFA and (Ph.D) studio should have an updated benchmark for the sake of Quality Assurance.

6.  All institutions offering visual arts should enforce Classroom –to- Industry Transition in their curricular specifications: ensure that faculty members teach what they are certified to teach.

7.  Credit in Fine Arts should no longer compulsorily be a prerequisite for enrolment into B.A, HND, NCE programs in art. Five (5) credit passes in Arts, Social science or Science combinations is adequate. Similarly, mathematics should not be made compulsory for Post Graduate admission requirements.


8. Federal and State Ministries of Tourism, Culture, and National Orientation and cognate parastatals should show genuine and as much interests in the advancement of visual arts scholarship as in art and culture festivals. The National Endowment for the Arts already set in motion years ago should be actualized


9. The Federal Ministry of Education should worry about the gap between what is learnt from the school system generally and the needs of the society. The dichotomy between Arts and Science at the secondary schools level should be relaxed to allow students maximize the benefits of both arts and 

10. Art practice is research and yields knowledge as much as literary research, as well as producing intellectual property which advance cultural heritage.

11. The appropriate parastatals of the ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation should be bold to monitor and ensure that private art galleries and museums deal fairly with artists.

12. The draft National Universities Commission benchmark for Visual Arts in the ARTS document needs serious overhaul as it is bound to lead to the production of artists who will not be self -reliant or artistically productive. The Environmental prescription should be applicable irrespective of the location of visual arts in terms of faculty of domiciliation.

13. Visual Arts is a profession. Irrespective of the delay in the formalization of her registration board because of obvious peculiarities, institutions, and firms who use the services of artists should bear this in mind. Art business should be rewarding to the artist. Therefore, intellectual property laws should be enforced to the benefit of the artist.

14. Artists should be engaged to provide leadership in establishments where the central concern is art: this is particularly important in the appointment of Ministers, Commissioners, Directors, Special Advisers and project monitors on artistic matters.

Professor Osa D. Egonwa Ph.D; fsna
Society of Non- Fiction Authors of Nigeria (SONFAN)

 International Coordinator:
John Ogene (Ph.D)
Associate Professor
University of Benin, Benin City

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