(A post by Professor Chuu Krydz Ikwuemesi, Head of Department of Fine and Applied Arts, University of Nigeria, Nsukka) Participate and join us in making this homecoming a success:
NSUKKA SCHOOL, after 50 years
A Celebration of the Department of Fine and Applied Arts,
University of Nigeria, Nsukka
Date: November 17-19, 2016
Venue: Niger Hall, CEC, University of Nigeria, Nsukka
The Department of Fine and Applied Arts, University of Nigeria, Nsukka was 50 years in 2010. Established by Ben Enwonwu at the behest of Nnamdi Azikiwe, former President of Nigeria and founder of the University of Nigeria, the Art Department at Nsukka, otherwise known as the Nsukka School, has begot many of Nigeria’s art greats and maestros, with a good number of them very active in the national and international art arena.
The Department of Fine and Applied Arts, initially called the Enwonwu College of Art, was established in 1961 as one of the earliest departments of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka by the University’s founding father, Rt. Honourable Nnamdi Azikiwe. The pioneer teachers of the Department instituted the Western academy approach of naturalism, which promoted pictorial observational realism. This brand of Western academic pedagogy was, however, effectively terminated when the expatriate art teachers left because of the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970). After the civil war, students and faculty members reassembled and resolved that the art programme of the Department had to be reconstructed to meet the demand of a new Nigerian society. From this period, a new culture of exploration and experimentation with local environment in art teaching and learning dominated art activities of the school. Staff and students searched deeply into the nature and purpose of art and design in their communities as well as applying the proceeds of these intellectual and artistic endeavours to social and technological development.
Through its home-bred curriculum, the Department became the first to officially decolonise its programmes in a manner that was befitting of its position as the first degree-awarding fine arts school in Nigeria. Led by Uche Okeke, Chike Aniakor, Vincent Amaefuna and others in the post-war 1970s, this was achieved by the creative appropriation of the Igbo uli body and wall decoration into new modes of artistic expression. Since then, uli art has become synonymous with the Nsukka art school and has attracted a wide range of interests and studies, including major symposia, exhibitions and publications by such international cultural institutions as the Smithsonian.
The Department of Fine ad Applied Arts, University of Nigeria, Nsukka has taken many firsts. It was the first art department in the country to introduce written projects in Fine and Applied Arts. Its 1966 graduate of painting Babatunde Lawal was the first Nigerian to bag a Ph.D. in Art History. The Department was also the first to award the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree in Nigeria. Interestingly, the first MFA candidate, Obiora Udechukwu, an outstanding BA graduate of painting in the Department, later rose to the position of a professor of painting and drawing in the Department. The Department was also the first to graduate a Ph.D. student (now Emeritus Professor Ola Oloidi) in the history of modern Nigerian art.
The post-civil war Nsukka Art Department has attracted some of the best art students and teachers, a number of whom have grown to become great names in world art. Professor El Anatsui, foremost African sculptor, is a key example. The Department has since established an artistic legacy that has continued to attract the best brains. Its products have been celebrated as award-winning poets, international art historians, art critics and curators. In visual arts practice, graduate artists of the Department have creditably sustained the artistic excellence for which the Nsukka Art department is known.
From the brief history highlighted above, the Department has contributed in good measure to the brand name of the University of Nigeria. In fact, the Nsukka Art Department is best known internationally for the quality of art and literature that have emerged from its rolling hills and inspiring valleys. Through the illuminating lights of art, the Department has continued to spotlight Nsukka in particular and Nigeria in general in the world art map. Uli, for example, has entered the art thesaurus through the creative legacies of the Art Department at Nsukka.
The mention of “school” here is very important and needs to be explained a bit for clearer perspectives. Very often the word is used, in Nigerian parlance, to refer to art training centres and departments in Nigerian universities and polytechnics. This is a rather bastardized usage if school is rationally to refer to a group of artists or creative people sharing commonalities in ideology, style and vision. If this notion is upheld, then “Nsukka School” stands out as a classic exemplar in its experimentation with uli, not only for its own sake, but in conjunction with the wider concept of “natural synthesis” which I personally interpret as a variant of “glocalization” (the creative and instrumental fusion of self and other in the quest for new challenges at the frontier). This is the centralizing philosophy on which the Nsukka magic has depended.
Owing to the immense contribution of the Nsukka School to the development of art in Nigeria, and its well-known international accolades, it has been the subject of numerous studies. As Professor Emerita Sydney Kasfir recently put it in a seminar at the University of Nigeria, the art department at the university, from where the school emanated, has achieved international renown. Monographs have also been produced on some of its liveliest products; some its most interesting personages have been the subject of international events and publications. Some of these events and publications have been championed by intimate outsiders.
Having attained fifty years in 2010, with five more years added in 2015, Nsukka School merits celebration. Such a celebration should be two-fold. It should simultaneously offer occasion for self-congratulation on one hand, and an opportunity for self-appraisal on the other. Is an occasion to look at the cherish the past, appreciate the present and gesture at the future with renewed enthusiasm. Not only that. The celebration provides a basis for a special conversation, a conversation between generations in the Nsukka School, especially in view of the Igbo saying that a moon waxes and gives way to another (Onwa tie, o chaalu ib’ ye). Thus the centralising question that arises in the proposed celebration is, after fifty years of a sustained victory dance, what next for the school and its numerous jewels? This question and other issues will be addresses in through the various components of the jubilee, if jubilee is to be seen, in the words of Jonathan Sacks (2000), as that point where we are able to begin again.
Programme of Events
November 17, 2016
Opening of Exhibition
Curators: Dr Chukwuemeka Okpara, Dr Eva Obodo, Dr Chijioke Onuora
Tour/Assessment of Studios and Facilities in the Department
Group sightseeing on campus
• Launching of Departmental Journal, The ArtField (hard and online editions)
• Fashion Runway by faculty and students of the Department of Fine and Applied Arts
• Presentation of Books on prominent staff of the Department
The Commemorative Publication
NSUKKA SCHOOL, after 50 years
Edited by Chuu Krydz Ikwuemesi, Ozioma Onuzulike, George Odoh
The proposed publication of about 250 pages in colour and black and white will commemorate and document the celebration for posterity. Besides essays to be solicited from selected writers, it shall contain works exhibited at the occasion. The essays will cover four broad areas: History, Philosophy, Personages and Interviews. The book will aim to foreground the contributions of the school to art and knowledge production in Nigeria and beyond. The book-catalogue will have the following sections:
Part I: History
This introductory part of the book will embody several chapters dealing with the founding moments of the school and its trajectory through historical time in the course of the last 50 years.
Part II: Philosophy
Essays in this section of the book will engage the philosophy of the school from the time it was set up by Ben Enwonwu in 1960, through the electrifying period of Uche Okeke and company down to the present time.
Part III: Personages
The third part of the book shall contain critical portraits of selected important artists of the Nsukka School.
The fourth and final part of the book will contain interviews with relevant artists and critics on important issues in the history, development, and significance of the Nsukka School and art in Nigeria
Part five of the book-catalogue will contain colour and black and white reproductions of the works exhibited at the occasion.
For further details contact Dr George Odoh, 08035526236