Monday 19 December 2022

'Connecting the Dots' celebrates 70 yrs of Art school at Yabatech

A mural abstract by group of artists at Yabatech Art Department of 1965 on display during Connecting the Dots exhibition.

IN celebrating seven decades of existence, Art Department of Yaba College of Technology, Lagos converged artists for a group art exhibition titled Connecting the Dots, which opened on December 15, 2022 at Yusuf Grillo Art Gallery.

 A Curatorial note from the exhibition captures the trajectory of the Fine Art Department of the Art School at Yaba College of Technology.

Connecting the Dots in Commemorating Collective Memory: Yaba Art at Seventy in 2022.

By Odun Orimolade PhD

In the making of public history, milestones are auspicious markers of commemorative events in cultural spaces. The need to commemorate provides a link between the past and the present in the ideas and events that have shaped the contemporary status quo of a space. In the process of forging new futures, there is a constant need to remember, as Barry Schwartz aptly states, "to remember is to place part of the past in the service of conceptions and needs of the present" (Schwartz, 1982: 374). The commemorative remembrance action recognizes the efforts that have contributed to the current positive positioning. Historian Seth Bruggeman describes commemoration as "the lingua franca of public memory... to conjure deep regard for the past" (Bruggeman, 2017). This places importance on the presentation of the "Connecting the Dots" exhibition by the Fine Art department of the Yaba Art School at Yaba College of Technology in marking the seventieth anniversary of art in tertiary art academics in Nigeria. It not only celebrates growth but also highlights the beginnings of this tangent in a slew of other efforts in the development of art academics in the national sphere.

The exhibition showcases a mix of presentations to celebrate the archives of the connections, pillars, and faculty of the department from 1952 to the present. It is not a comprehensive account of interests, connections, and explorations but a commemorative presentation to honour the milestone in the trajectory of the art school. Several artists featured in the exhibition are or were alumni and/or faculty of the Yaba Art School. The exhibition contains six thematic sections, each spanning a variety of artistic mediums, styles, and time periods over the past seventy years.

The Yaba School is decidedly established at seventy, but it remains in the limbo of positioning into the National Universities Commission, which has been in a yo-yo tangent for more than two decades. Perhaps placement may challenge propaganda as the erosion, erasure, and subversion of history continue in contemporary discourse.  The presentation honours origins while saluting prospects in service to society. With seventy objects on view, the exhibition encourages visitors to consider why and how so much effort is put into mentorship and nurturing of creative prospects of the Nigerian art future. Connecting the dots emphasizes the expansion of exploration and ideology around meandering themes, shifting influences driven by constant evolution, and envisioning a future that reflects an even more inclusive and progressive view of creative growth. 

The exhibition reminds us of the Yaba School's unwavering determination, bold experimentation, and risk-taking spirit to practice and connecting pedagogy that has morphed it into being located at the heart of contemporary art practice in Lagos, Nigeria. These qualities were critical to the success of several of the school’s alumni on the domestic and international art scene. The exhibition is not curated in a single stylistic approach or in a linear trajectory of influences or expression spheres. Rather, the presentation highlights several artistic mediums from the classics of drawing, painting, and sculpture into multimedia and digital presentations, bringing together a range of media from diverse geographic areas, time periods, and styles. 

Over the years, the art school has explored a journey through liaisons between knowledge production, creative production, and impact in the socio-cultural sphere. This has predominantly weighed on practice-based research guided by forms of material and technique experimentation as well as critical conceptual engagement in efforts that are instilled in presence, history, and community memory. A lot of other histories of the visual arts at the Yaba have either been written or heavily quoted from past histories of the School of Art told by scholars and historians over the decades and do not need to be over-flogged or rehashed in its open domain, though efforts keep presenting themselves where the contribution and history of the school as the first academic art higher institution are discussed in more recent historical promulgations of the Nigerian academic art scene.

The exhibit celebrates collective creative achievements while also tracing multiple patterns of development over time that have contributed to the niche position of the art school. Classic sculpture techniques and materials coexist with a variety of painting techniques and styles, with the figure incorporated into the subject imagery. They collectively respond to relationships to the environment at different times over the seventy-year period, which shows commitment to the human condition and the creative articulation of reflective expression. Figurative painting and sculpture have for a long time dominated discussion and description of the art school's production; however, it is not the only artistic development to be nurtured and expressed by its collegiate students and alumni.

The art school is a part of the bigger story of the Nigerian art sphere as the genesis of tertiary art education that has sprouted into a myriad of tangents and political positions in art academics. It remains unquestionably present in its place at the foot of the waterfall. It celebrates its development as well as the story of creative development, despite different crutches used to systematically or stylistically omit in historical narratives. Innovative collaboration has also been one of the art department’s enduring strengths; there has always been a receptive and open policy for the benefit of broader learning and experimentation. It recognizes connectivity and collaborations with government, other academic institutions, non-governmental organizations, and the community in gown-to-town activities of public events over the years, as well as the prospects of expanding interactions for the benefit of institutions and the community alike. 

The Fine Art Department established in 1952 headed by expatriate late Paul Mount who handed over to the now national icon late Yusuf Cameron Grillo who in turn developed the Department into a faculty. The department initially catered to industry needs and those of government departments, such as the Federal Information Service and the West African Publicity. This was whilst also offering courses in Painting, Sculpture, Ceramics and Commercial Art. In 1964 the Printing the department which had been earlier created in 1947 was transferred into the Fine Art department. Fashion courses were later introduced in 1965. The department offered Certificate courses and National Diploma courses others came in the 70s. On January 30th, 1981 The Department earned a new status as the School of Art, Design and Printing. It instituted departments of, Industrial design and Graphics alongside the Printing and Fine art departments (Grillo, 2019). The School has continued to grow. In 2018 there has recently been the carving of the new Fashion Department out of the Industrial design department. Also in 2019 there was an approval for the establishment of the publishing department. With the age and size of the SADP and particularly its location in the Lagos metropolis, Nigeria’s art capital, the faculty advantageously benefits from a center point of the national arts hub in its activities and extra-curricular activities for the benefit of its learners and faculty that is imbued in the celebration of interests in this exhibition.

Interests are spread across many discourses, which should influence the content of contemporary African art that the public collectively experiences, while also nudging consciousness of this experiential state and orienting on ways to attend to issues from history, the present, and future prospects. The importance of art as a mechanism for generating discourse cannot be overstated. Ball supports this relationship between creativity, thought, and orientation by stating that "discourses are not only about what can be said and thought but also about who can speak, when, and with what authority; discourses embody meaning and social relationships; they constitute both subjectivity and power relations" (Ball, 1990:2). Where there is a creative platform for discourse engagement linked to an academic space, this reflective assimilation and re-envisioning for audiences engaged in creative production is a double-edged sword. 

This open-field engagement and reflection space creates avenues for addressing conflicting ideologies and inculcating new ideas for individual and collective acculturation through creative content and culture. Foucault recognizes this when he proposes that every educational system is a political means of maintaining or modifying the appropriateness of discourses through the knowledge and power it brings (Foucault, 1971:19). The arts in the academic space posit capsules of plausibility that fully engage the diversity of ideas that academia should promote. The creative mind's open mental space of nonconformity and reflective reaction allows for multiple means and alternate directions in the race to progress. Henry Miller aptly relates that the artist is the opposite of the politically-minded individual, the opposite of the reformer, and the opposite of the idealist: "The artist does not tinker with the universe; he recreates it out of his own experience and understanding of life" (Miller, 1961: 193). Thus, the arts in the academic space carry a world of advantages and visionary prospects that should be celebrated in the milestones of their impact and contribution.

Yusuf Grillo (1934-2021).

In that case, there is more to be drawn from the access point of presentations in the academic environment, especially when celebrating seventy years of rummaging in the academic institution's interdisciplinary environment. The late art critic Robert Hughes offered that art requires "the long look," describing it as "a physical object, with its own scale and density as a thing in the world." "Its images do not pass." This is because the images and objects of art works do not always readily surrender their multiple meanings and pleasures at a glance. Why else would we appreciate art over and over for the sake of new or more realisations? Hughes refers to color, form, and tone subtleties that slow down the eye and encourage a slow absorption and aesthetic understanding in this offering. The artworks presented in this exhibition reward the viewer who is prepared for a further consideration of the artists’ intentions, mastery and control of form and media, and the ideas and interests that constitute the subject matter, along with the completeness of each work. The audience gets to pit this reflection against their own deductions, impressions, impacts, and perceptions of the forms and colours that they apprehend in whichever dimension of creativity they choose. This allows for a new plane of knowledge generation that can be assimilated and kept or used as a contribution to the communicative action space of discourse in our collective interactions. Consequently, the audience is encouraged to decelerate the speed of the journey of the eye away from the fast glance to allow for meaning to play in the resonance of memory and imagination.


Ball, Stephen. 2013. Foucault and Education: Disciplines and Knowledge. Routledge Library Editions: Michel Foucault. US: Routledge.

Bruggeman, Seth. C. 2017. Commemoration: The American Association for State and Local History Guide. US: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Foucault, Michel. 1971. Orders of Discourse. Social Science Information. 10(2) pp 7-30.

Grillo, Yusuf Adebayo Cameron. 2019. Interview with Odun Orimolade, Mike Omoighe and Adeola Balogun at his studio residence Ikeja, Lagos, Nigeria.

Hughes, Robert. 1992. Nothing If Not Critical: Selected Essays on Art and Artists. UK/Aus: Penguin Books.

Miller, Henry. 1961. The Cosmological Eye. UK: New Directions Publishing.

Schwartz, Barry. 1982.  The Social Context of Commemoration: A Study in Collective Memory. Social Forces. Vol. 61, No. 2 pp. 374-402. UK: Oxford University Press.

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