I was called to order that I quoted a friend out of context in my last blog post Turn@Red. I have pulled it down and apologise for giving a meaning that is contrary to the views of my friend. With love from Dakar.
From July 18-21, 2018, the Art Historical Association of Nigeria (AHAN), in conjunction with the Department of Fine And Applied Arts, University of Nigeria, Nsukka is organising a conference on art history in Nigeria.
Theme:“The harvest is plenty, but the labourers are few”: Art Historians in Nigeria and the Challenges of Historiography
Date: July 18-21, 2018
Venue: Department of Fine and Applied
Arts, University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
By the second decade after the civil war in
Nigeria, the pioneer art historians in Nigeria had emerged; namely, Babatunde Lawal,
Ola Oloidi, Chike Aniakor and Dele Jegede. For a modern art tradition dating
back to about 1900, that was a late development. In spite of the boom of modern
Nigerian art in the 1990s and beyond, the gap between studio practice and the
business of historiography is far from shrinking. Not even the Ph.D. spree occasioned
by NUC‘s order, that university teaching staff, including visual arts faculty,
should obtain Ph.D. (in anything), has helped the situation of art history in
Nigeria. While a significant number of art historians has emerged in the last
decade, armed with masters or doctoral degrees, only few are committed to the
business of art historiography. The implications of this reality are easily
palpable in the art departments in our universities and other tertiary
institutions; as well as in the field of practice where art historians should
construct the stories that oil the wheel of art. This situation remains very
worrisome, in view of the traditional role of art history and the enormity and robustness
of Nigerian art; much of which begs for investigation and documentation by
professional art historians. In response to this situation, this conference
invites papers from art historians on any of the subthemes below or on any
other issues that are relevant to the development of art history in Nigeria:
Art and the Challenges of Professional Art Historiography
of All Trade/Master of None: Artists as Artists and Historians
History in Nigeria: Towards Proper Research Methodology
and Failures of Engaging the Verbal-visual Challenges in the Nigerian Art Field
of Art History in Nigeria: the National Universities Commission (NUC) Benchmark
Colonisation, Art History and the Need for
g. TheNigerian Art Historian and the Politics of Postcoloniality
History, Art Criticism and the Space In-between
Curricular Problems in Art History Training
Art History in Nigeria and the Global Standards
Art History in Nigeria for the Challenges of the Future
participants are to submit an abstract of not more than 250 words before April
30, 2018. Abstracts should indicate the full title, name, and institutional
affiliation of the author(s) as well as keywords. Send abstracts and enquiries
to firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com Conference registration
fee is N15,000, payable not later than two weeks before the conference.
AHAN convenes this
conference in honour of its retiring founding president, Emeritus Professor Ola
Oloidi and the other pioneers of art history in Nigeria, Prof. Babatunde Lawal,
Prof. Chike Aniakor, Prof Emmanuel Odita and Prof. Dele Jegede. These icons will be
honoured at the conference in Nsukka.
Elections will beconducted to usher in a new executive.
conducted to usher in a new executive.
Professor Babatunde Lawal; Prof. Chike Aniakor
My 40th birthday anniversary was celebrated with a great party. I had a beautiful cake with the number 40 stuck at the top. I thought that was the age of new opportunities, but the rest of the developed world seems to think otherwise. They think that 40 is the age after everything good should have happened in your life, about five years earlier!
Let me explain. But before that, let’s go back to when I was 35 years old. Everyone who wished me well was on my neck to ‘settle down’ (in other words ‘get married). I was in-between two mindsets. One thought that a man can marry whenever ‘he feels’; while another point of view felt that I should have married earlier so that one can begin to have children earlier.
Whether one had a steady source of income at the time (which I didn’t) was irrelevant. We are part of a teeming population of graduates fighting for the few jobs that appeared to come in ratios of 1:20,000 people. I mean proper jobs that pay your house rent and still leave you with money to spend on personal needs. The better jobs allow one to save some money on top.
At 35, I had worked for two privately owned companies that ran the business like they were a family affair. One of the companies made me work without a salary for over 8 months. It was the case of enjoying the work you do without getting financial gratification. I didn’t have a job then. It was a hobby. I sold the odd portraits/painting and raised the money for transportation to and fro; for feeding; etc. At age 35, most of the Nigerian youth are heavily dependent on family members for financial support and accommodation. They even go ahead to borrow money to have extravagant weddings that show off their parents’ affluence in society. With all the expectations that come with it, any job would do at the time.
Unfortunately, in Africa, we seem to be just getting used to being adult at that age. We seem to be ten years younger than our contemporaries in the West. We look it.
My sister and her husband who live in London brought their children to spend the Christmas holidays in Nigeria. Kamdi my niece was 2 years old the first time we met. It’s been over ten years now, and I cannot get over her composure as we sat in my sister’s parlor discussing life. Anyone eavesdropping would have thought we were two adults having a chat! Kamdi’s mates would have run outside to build sand castles in the dirt. We live younger for longer.
Unfortunately, the rest of the advanced world thinks differently. One is expected to have peaked in his career by the age of 35. So the opportunities out there for growth are open to the younger generation of adults who just graduated from university/polytechnics, etc. The demographics favor those between the age of 23 and 35.
Here is how I soon found out. By then, I was more serious about my work and life but it seemed already late. I started looking for residencies to apply for. I saw some funds also that I tried to apply for. There were competitions too. The guidelines generally had age restrictions the applicant must not be older than 35 years old. Africans are supposed to run at the same time with their contemporaries in the West. I wonder who make these rules across the board for all humanity. It’s as if they are blind to see our leaders- old grandpas that should have been retired to their villages to live out the rest of their lives. The West turns a blind eye to the fact of the millions of unemployed youth still struggling to survive in Third world countries.
They have a system that supports their youth to reach their full potential as long as they have the right dreams. Here the youth will dream and die hungry because they live in a society that does not promote excellence and hard work.
Some of my contemporaries may have run off for the residencies or received funding from the West. It is easy to forge one’s birth certificate, to get a passport that reflects the same age in these climes. ‘Fantastically corrupt’, we have been called. The corruption is in the system. The thing is, the youth immediately bear the brunt of the sick system. Either they use any means necessary to escape to the West to seek ‘greener pastures’ or they keep hope alive and work decently, hoping to outlive the system that has failed.
In the case of some of us who embraced the Internet wholeheartedly at an earlier age than our contemporaries here in Nigeria, the exposure means that we have shared enough personal data with the rest of the world to make it almost impossible to create another identity. We are who we were forced to become. The rest of the world doesn’t care. The choices to continue after the age of 35 are few. I have become that unbelievable survivor who made it through insurmountable odds. I am a rarity that the rest of the world can’t believe. I don’t blame them. There are times when I can’t even believe the fact that I am still here, and well. I will be 45 years old in 18 days. And I will be partying at the opening ceremony of the thirteenth edition of the African Contemporary Art Biennale in Dakar, Senegal. Believe me, I will pay my way to be there. The time of expecting aid is passed. I work and pay my way through. I have the green passport. I am proudly African. And hey, you will never believe my age if we met. I look younger than 35.
A few times in the past I wanted to know what people say about me and do the Google search. There are images of my work with other references from this blog, etc. Now I think this blog has been a part culprit of putting me out there. Here is how about 10 years ago I read about tips for making one’s blog more relevant in online searches, and thus, driving more traffic.
One-first lesson is to use hashtags well. The other point is to try to mention famous people and important ideas so that your blog about bathing your dog in the garden comes up when people are searching for reviews on the latest BMW. That kind of stuff could happen because I mentioned the neighbor’s BMW car parked beside the lawn of my house in the article when trying to give my story some scene props!
Now I shared what one strategy of getting famous through disjointed storytelling. The flip side is when your product or whatever you were advertising (that caused you to start blogging in the first place) gets wrongfully associated with others. A few minutes ago, a friend sent me a website called Ranker- www.ranker.com. The particular webpage ranked famous artists from Nigeria. They mentioned some great names- Aina Onabolu, Demas Nwoko, Yusuf Grillo, Twins Seven Seven, Chike Aniakor, Obiora Udechukwu, and Felix Idubor, etc. Hey, I jumped to the good side. Right before the list is an intro that includes Keziah Jones as a famous Nigerian artist (fine artist)! I don’t know how or where these writers get their information from. No, I know Google is everybody’s friend! A quote from the introductory lines on Famous Artists of Nigeria gets specific ‘if you are a fine art lover use this list of celebrated Nigerian artists to discover some new paintings that you will enjoy.’
Ok, it just keeps getting worse. Which moron mentions Aina Onabolu with new paintings in the 21st century? Well, we are all bloggers. When one reads the post and images of artworks of the famous artists, the writer of the post on ranker.com commit a worse offense the works of other artists get wrongly linked with the images of the famous artists. Two of my paintings are posted on that page. One is ascribed to Obiora Udechukwu and the other to Chike Aniakor. I usually mention Obiora Udechukwu who is a mentor and my professor at Nsukka in some blog posts. Also, I must have written about Chike Aniakor, who was my professor also at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Ben Enwonwu’s painted is given to Aina Onabolu while Obiora Udechukwu’s painting appears twice as Ada Udechukwu’s and Tayo Adenaike’s works concurrently. Would have been cool to make the list of famous artists, but unfortunately, only images of my work are stolen. Then the authorship is given to others. The second image is part of a poster I designed for my 2013 solo exhibition Autobiographies and Beatitudes, which held at the Pan Atlantic University. The painting is titled The Mourners from The Blessed series, culled from Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. The work was inspired by a period of mourning. I had lost my mother a few months ago and still could not live with the loss.
So Google’s search algorithms bring up images of my works when you type Obiora Udechukwu images. That’s how these things happen. Google can help show off how shallow some writers are. Or just lead you to enjoy great writing and stories behind the images. And a lazy journalist looking for cheap fame just downloads the image instead of visiting the site, adds up some stats from Wikipedia, and quickly posts. Sadly, the webpage shows the number of times people have viewed this misguided article a whopping 87.4 times, as at the time of writing this article. Maybe I should appropriate stuff for my blog and get up to a thousand views for one of my articles for a start. Maybe I should get famous for lying. The victims of such lies are everywhere. The one that got famous that way soon becomes a god with clay feet.
The image of The Mourners used in the Ranker.com article-https://nsoforanthony.wordpress.com/2017/08/17/my-dream-show-autobiography-and-beatitudes/ ;
It seems that there are problems everywhere, especially online. Social media in so many ways has heightened our presence and fears from all the ills befalling mankind at the speed of sound. It all seems aimed at turning us into information explosion disorder wrecks( I am sure there is a name for that now). It is more painful when it is more difficult to decipher the true news from the fake. As if the events from everyday modern living hasn’t become so much more complicated! The other day I read through a comment by Reno Omokri, the former spokesperson to ex-President Goodluck Jonathan. He was questioning why Nigerian governments of the past did not tap into the progressive technologies of Biafra to move Nigeria forward. I will not bore you about the stories of war, or of the issue of Biafra here and now. But I was struck by some lines in the short essay by Omokri where he spoke of how Nnewi, a town in Southeast Nigeria, has moved on in creating a better environment for the indigenes, without waiting for government interventions that seem not to be coming. The Nnewi people have built roads, energy plants, etc. to make their place better.
It got me thinking- why scream and shout daily on social media platforms about all the neglect and misdeeds of government? The problems are still there, in fact, the last time I checked, I don’t know if I am getting more pessimistic with age; or that it is this- things are actually getting worse on Planet Earth? Again I pause, I deviate. Whatever the case, inspired by the forward-looking mindset of Reno Omokri’s essay, I have decided to begin to create personal solutions to the challenges of daily living! It sounds quite commonsense, but the thought flees us in real life situations.
There is a lot that people can do to make a better world without waiting for others to think for them, without looking to ‘government’ as it obtains in so-called ‘better societies’/ places where things work! The Internet and online communities are such a wonderful gift and treasure trove for accessing tons of useful information about nearly all of mankind’s issues. Social media allows the sharing of tips, tons of video tutorials to make handymen of all of us. Unfortunately, most of the active generation on this planet is still drooling over the possibilities of socializing, and sharing their daily lives on platforms that can possibly reach millions of people in no time. They waste the time interacting online, bickering and blabbing about all things bright and beautiful and screaming about all things ugly and stuff in-between. So much data is wasted. Instead of seeking out solutions for fighting the beast, we are powerful social commentator and armchair critics, with a honed knack for explaining out all the reasons that show how the government has failed, how all the world’s problems start and end with the politicians.
The best minds have studied the problems of contemporary living, and continue to churn out innovations and inventions to make this world a better place.
A few good men dream up solutions and ways of making the world a better place to live in. To survive, Man keeps creating, innovating, but in these days when knowledge has increased like waters covering the sea, we only hear the groans and whining of lazy loafers who think that ‘the grass must actually be greener on the other side’. With much information available to mankind, it is easier to be deceived, to believe the lie! Hopefully, we will wake up today to start looking for the solutions to the hazards of daily living. The solution, the nirvana we seek is here with us to make, to establish. The tools are online. The answers are here with us. The shared experience of living has allowed men in different societies and stages of development to come up with answers. We must use the time well to ask Google, or whatever you ask. Its already a better world elsewhere. We can bring that world here. Kingdom comes. Lets not escape into wasteful thinking of the other side. We are not really sure how it is ‘over there’. At the point you are now, where you are reading this, is the space that you must act to change the status quo. Just ask, and you shall receive answers. Be the problem solver, the visionary who sees a brighter tomorrow.
2018 is the year after all things Art in Lagos and yes; contemporary Art in Nigeria will never be the same. With the demise of two important stalwarts of the Arts, the rise and rise of El Anatsui, the appearance of ‘new’ artists with training in other things to challenge the status quo; with a new patronage of Art by Ambode’s government and a fading away of yellow buses, with Sotheby’s first African Art auction happening and markedly starting an international scramble for contemporary African art, with Lagos hosting a second edition of West Africa’s biggest art fair, with the opening of the first major Contemporary Arts Museum in Cape Town; and a significant body of non-figurative artworks being sold, of installation and performance art becoming an area of interest and artists building their art spaces and usurping the position of the hitherto non-existent middlemen in their practice – with all these and more happenings comes the realization that there is an emergence of a new Nigerian Art.
Art House Foundation has a residency program that is gaining in importance and creating international connections, though one is not so sure of the auctions. Don’t get me wrong- I remain one of the most uninformed about the importance (Jess speaking) of these auctions! Apart from a few open auction calls, one wonders where or how some of these auction houses get their pieces. A way to look at it is that some of the older collectors open their storerooms and put them up to evaluate the present worth of their works.
Once iconic images like the yellow buses of Lagos are now scarce. There are fewer requests for such scenes by expatriates who want to take ‘something Nigerian’ home. The yellow buses have gone the way of the ‘Fulani milkmaids, durbar scenes, and load bearing maidens by mud huts, with the orange sun drowning into a river with coconut trees lining the riverside! To put things in context as per the New Art of Nigeria, one must remember certain facts about the present- History as a subject is no longer taught in Nigerian secondary and primary schools. This means that we have returned to the days of telling tales by moonlight, and the passing on of our traditions and history by ‘word of mouth’ (though such opportunities for conversation are also very scarce with social media activity on everyone’s mind for getting noticed, relevant or entertained.
The economics of survival in a society where everything has been turned on its head has changed the view of things here. The landscapes got more and more abstract till they became blurbs of color splattered in split seconds on the artist’s canvas. Of course some of us had been early at this form of presentation of where we are as a nation, having spent most of our adolescence learning from the prophecies of King Fela Kuti. It wasn’t the marijuana that made him iconic. Not even the government of the day could rob him of his street credibility, his non-conformist, critical view of people in power. Adolescents could relate to the conflicts with their coming of age realities and phantoms. So we could paint those abstract scenes then. And like a bad dream, no one was buying it then. The connoisseurs (the buying age of pre-Independence adolescents who became adults in the glory days of the oil boom) had eyes for all histories pre-colonialism, with a few tweaks that added corrugated roofs and the bustling metropolitan chaos of an African State capital. A few of us were born in the crossroads, somewhere between the glory days and growing in the years of Nigeria losing it all to thieving leaders; to the present times where history is being erased, memories are being expunged, and new narratives to support where we are as a Nation has sprung up. For some of my generation, Art became the tool to use to speak a codified language interpreting contemporary realities. We remain the leftover bodies who did not join their smarter mates on the sojourn to new lands. We are ignorant, dull of hearing, or numb with shock at the aftermath of the disaster of contemporary Nigeria. The other day, a former classmate referred to how he now understood why some of us had publicly renounced their citizenship!
But I speak of one set of people. The other set are new to me. They have not really absorbed our history. They know what they have been told by biased relatives who think that their farmlands end at the edge of other people’s homesteads. The younger artists in Nigeria have come into it without the necessary, slower gestures of indoctrinations happening. They take what they will, and run with it. The restlessness of youth allows for hits or misses. After all, there is still time to make amends. A new non-figurative art is quite popular these days. This is understandable, judging from the foregoing. Everywhere one looks, the faces in artworks seem contorted by mixed, exaggerated feelings- anxiety, angst and sorrow, while elegant bodies now give way robust feisty bodies whose ‘aesthetic appeal’ lies mainly in being lively. Formalism is discarded for sensationalism, the wow factor is ‘it’/’in’ for now! Everyone has joined in on the ride. Nigeria blares out a new non-representational ‘ism’, all in a flush to become noticed by the institution. Now that Africa is in the limelight. Well things may be celebrated. Art is the only truth to tell the people of the gory mess we are in.
No wonder the prices of contemporary artworks in Nigeria seem to have gone up by two digits. Two privately sponsored art museums, in Lagos and in Onitsha will soon open the door to curious society who did not see Art becoming the phenomenon that inspires change, that promotes culture and transforms the mundane into a magical place in our hearts. One cannot keep up with all the exhibitions opening every weekend in Lagos. There are so many new faces and names. Is it because one is more involved in his profession, or is there an upsurge of non-academically trained artists taking over the art space? Gratefully, art is now practiced as a true profession. Artists are more interested in the end-to-end marketing and management of their work. With the growing popularity of the acrylic paint, it is now rare to meet an artist jumping out of a bus with a wet canvas, trying to sell to Mister Akar (of Signature Beyond). The Revolving Art Incubator is a new space and Nimbus was the place to see avant-garde art. 2018 is the year that completes my circle. Three years after I moved out of Lagos to establish a studio in my village, I return to a new studio in Lekki. There are new collectors who really find a resonance with my work. It is the middle age of Art for me. One is reminded again every time there is a call for artists for art competitions- one is usually 10 years overage. Maybe we have paid our dues. Maybe we paid the price to be where we are today. We open our studio doors to the rest of the world now. They should come. Things have changed so much. This year, there will be Dak’Art, many more art exhibitions and involvement with other spaces abroad. The words are fewer these days. A new critical way of discussing art has emerged. It is light-hearted, maybe like this blog post. I said it before- things have changed. Art has become fashionable, contemporary in strong terms. The child is now encouraged to become an artist. Welcome to a new phase for art in Nigeria. It cost us so much to get here. We won’t let anyone mess it up.
To paint a small picture is to place yourself outside your experience, to look upon an experience as a stereopticon view with a reducing glass. However, you paint the larger pictures, you are in it. It isn’t something you command- Barnett Newman.
So, my experience has been that of stepping into my work head on, walking in and living inside it. This is a refreshing way of reliving the experience of art, in connecting process to theme, action to passion and reason. The gesture of laying brushstrokes is mediated by the span and reach of the creator/artist. In the larger work, the limit is physical. But the spiritual predates all that. You finally see summaries. Catchphrases stay on the mind forUi longer in a complicated life. We can always wring the phrase to squeeze out meanings like wandwaving magician’s apprentices on off day in the workplace. The very act of doing is enough justification for being presented as ‘art’. Now one ties to the idea of the dignity of labor. Not a sweat is wasted as it falls to the brown earth. There is a system to all the chaos, to the broken form, to the patches of color pointedly placed.