Wednesday 19 May 2021

As museums go future, shift in presentation of African art looms


Artist, Lanre Olagoke (left) received by Director of British Museum, Hartwig Fischer, as first guest when the museum reopened to the public on Tuesday, May 17, 2021 after the last lockdown in the UK.  Pic: c/o Lanre Olagoke.

OVER five years ahead of the International Museum Day (IMD) 2021, elsewhere, the theme has been preempted. The International Council of Museum (ICOM) declared The Future of Museums: Recover and Reimagine” as the theme of IMD 2021.

The lMD is celebrated on May 18 of every year since 1981 when ICOM, an affiliate of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) had its maiden edition worldwide.

The future of museum as a central focus of 2021 theme comes to one's radar within the global context and how it also concerns Africa. Never in the history of the world had technology changed the way people live as the 21st century is currently advancing. Either in contents or presentation of cultural objects, museums would not be isolated in the aggressive and rapid growth of high-tech.

Whatever the 2021 IMD's theme says, including presentations in more innovative ways, the future is still the focus. Some developments in the last few years, elsewhere, predicted what the textures of museums should be like in the 21st century and beyond. In 2014/15, a new concept, Museum of The Future took off gradually in Dubai, UAE with the launch of its architectural design. A US$136 million project, it was ready for opening last year before the Covid-19 pandemic truncated that plan. The concept of Museum of the Future is all about incubating what the Dubai Emirate described as "new inventions" with display "of prototyped ideas" in display contents.

Perhaps, the world's focus on the future led to quite a number of sudden change of attitudes from European holders of ancient African art. Dozens of artefacts of Benin origin, for example, are expected back in Nigeria from European museums and private hands soon. The illicit holders have announced returning the looted objects, voluntarily.

The excitement, in Nigeria, that followed the announcement of returning the artefacts were well understood, given the long years of agitation for restitution. In fact, the Edo State Government was already having a new museum in place to be dedicated to the 'returnee artefacts' from Europe and other foreign holders. But how such museum will sustain general public interest as the future beckons aggressively, may be a challenge.

Yes, the Virtual Reality (VR) presentation format may provide semblance of contemporaneity for museums of ancient art. However, the contents would struggle to communicate with a 21st generation that is aggressively exploring the future.

Whoever wishes to explore the future with fresh museum concepts in Nigeria needs not look elsewhere for contents. The awesomeness of sculptural works in both welded-metal and moulded, seen recently in the works of artists such as Adeola Balogun, Fidelis Odogwu, Steve Ekpenisi, Dotun Popoola' and Abinoro Collins during the group exhibition, Ajorin; Dance metaphor, at Thought Pyramid Arts Centre, Ikoyi, Lagos were enough signs of what the future holds. Also, the energy oozing out of the palette of contemporary Nigerian painters, as seen, in the last ten years suggest that the future is here already. 

There is no doubt that the past must not be forgotten, but the future, in a world of aggressive high-tech innovations of digital culture, could survive without the past. Quietly, museum culture in Nigeria, in the past few years, appeared to have been preparing for the future, as well, subconsciously.  A gradual shift of contents from exclusive ancient to modern and contemporary visual displays is evolving.

Between 1945 when a colonial  administrator, Kenneth C. Murray (1903-21 April, 1972) set up Nigeria's first National Museum, at Onikan, Lagos and currently, a mono content has sustained over nearly 50 facilities across the country. Specifically, 48 national museums were recorded when NCMM marked its 70th anniversary in 2015. All the museums owned by the federal government still display ancient texture kind of art - some of the works were not necessarily produced at the period being depicted.

For the first and second generation of Nigerian museum enthusiasts, the perception of ancient art as exclusive contents of a museum has endured. Adding to that mono contents of ancient art was the monopoly of government in setting up museums. Nearly all of Nigeria's 36 states has a museum facility owned by the Federal Government. From Federal Antiquity Department of the 1945-1970s, came Decree 77 of 1979, which created what's now known as National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM), a parastatal set up to preserve Nigerian cultural past. Among the NCMM's mandates are to establish and maintain national museums "and other outlets for or in connection with, but not restricted only to the following, that is, Antiquities Science and Technology, Warfare, African, Black and other Antiquities, Arts and Craft, Architecture, Natural History and Educational Services."

Apart from few pseudo-specialised facilities such as National Unity Museum, Enugu, for example, nearly all the 47 other museums of NCMM are strictly of ancient art contents. As much as preserving the past through art has been well established across the world, museums in Nigeria, so far alienated modern and contemporary contents. 

However, the last five years have been generating a shift that may send museums of ancient art into a state of sepulchre very soon. Museums that speak to the subsisting narratives of cultural preservations and inspire the future are emerging. Apart from few hidden ones in government-owned higher institutions of learning, more elaborate and privately owned facilities are either being established or already in existence. Such examples of museums with more focus on modern and contemporary than ancient contents include Yemisi Shyllon Museum of Art (YSMA), opened in 2019, inside Pan Atlantic University, Ajah, Lagos; a work-in-progress Chimedie Museum, from Obi of Onitsha, His Royal Majesty Nnaemeka Alfred Achebe; and recently announced Museum of Black Women In History (MofBWIH), to be built in Oyo, by the Iya-Laje of Oyo, Chief Mrs Comfort Titilayo Orija-Adesoye, among others that are shifting away from ancient art contents. The MofBWIH, a project of Oranyan Heritage Foundation (OHF), has been announced with focus on documenting and preserving history of great women of black descents across ages, periods and professions, its consultant, Lumin-Artica stated in January 2021. Also, a Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA), Lagos, an underdog effort was set up in 2018, by artist, Uche Joel Chima, at Maryland; and Iyase-Odozi Museum at GreenHouse Art Empowerment Centre, opened in December 2009, at Olambe, Ogun State.

In fairness to the federal government, the modern and contemporary art contents have windows of appreciation created under another agency, National Gallery of Art (NGA). Founded as a separate agency from the National Council for Arts and Culture {NCAC} via Decree No 86 of 1993, the NGA has over a dozen galleries across Nigeria with collections of strictly modern and contemporary contents. And when the issue of merging the NGA with NCMM came up, the former appeared more vulnerable. Reason: galleries, traditionally, exist under the structures of museums. Every museum across the world segments their display under galleries. 

Has the seeming functions duplication between NCMM and NGA affected proper museum development in Nigeria?

From all indications, the future of museum culture in Nigeria is already unfolding. With more non-government groups and individuals venturing into the space, focusing on contemporary and future contents, facilities with ancient art priority may be vulnerable to extinction or confined within academic application. 

 -Tajudeen Sowole is a Lagos-based Art Advisor.

When Prince William, Musawa others celebrated Olagoke's MBE

Separating Yoruba religious tradition from Isese (2)

No comments:

Post a Comment