Save Us From Extinction-Abuja Artists Lament

Source: Daily Trust, By Sunday Michael Ogwu.

Pre-colonial Nigerian arts were predominantly made for important ceremonial occasions most of which were connected with births, puberty, marriage and rites of passage (death), nonetheless many of Nigeria’s great works of the past adorn the world’s major museums where they enjoy a place of honour among other master pieces.The artist was required to provide appropriate artworks for such occasions and thus provided motivation for artistic creation, these works have become part of the sum total of mankind’s cultural heritage.Nigeria became renowned for Art works such as the bold and imaginative Nok terra cottas, described as the oldest sculptures in Africa South of the Sahara, the bronze and terra cotta heads of lfe which represent a naturalism comparable to that of classical Greek sculpture, the famous heads, figurines and plaques from the foundries of the ancient city of Benin and the lgbo-Ukwu bronzes.Nigerian art has however come of age having evolved from experimentation with diverse materials and techniques which have produced unique art forms which are now tailored towards the personal and material benefit of tourists, collectors and other consumers.No wonder Lilian Bulle Fagg, Historian of Yoruba and Nigerian art and pioneer in the systematic study of African art recognized Nigeria’s pre-eminence in African art and observes that “in Nigeria alone can we discern the mainstream of artistic development through two millennia and more… it is to Nigeria that all the African nations must look as the principal trustee of the more durable fruits of the Negro artistic genius.”The seemingly huge reputation of Nigeria in the world of art has been bankrolled largely by tourist and foreign art collectors as the averaged Nigerian attitude to a beautiful art piece remains mere admiration without any meaningful financial commitment.When Sunday Trust visited the makeshift art village located along the airport road in life camp, Jabi Abuja, it was a testament of tribulations as these naturally gifted group wait in nostalgia for the faith that awaits them with the declining patronage from foreigners or tourist on account of the non provision of an art market in the country’s capital that will strategically position for tourist and Nigerians alike to patronise.The art village comprises of about 30 to 40 exhibitors specializing in different forms of art from painting to sculpture, art furniture, ceramics, clay works, artefact and art history beautifully adapted to contemporary human needs like center tables, television stands, console frames, garden chair, wine rag wall frames space fillers, flower pots, kitchen chair to mention but a few.George Usen Henry a regular customer of the art village and a chattered artist by profession who was approached by our reporter said: “everyone’s’ attention has drifted towards music and we have relegated these form of art largely because we don’t see them as often, rather we see more of the digital forms and other forms of arts like a new car, watch or computer aided designs.”One interesting thing that caught the eye of most visitors was the sale of Nigerian old currencies including the silver jubilee medal of Nigeria’s independence, Eunice Chinyere Augustine who deals on this interesting piece of history said, ” We sell this old currency to customers to enable them teach their children about our history and culture, and it’s a must have for every home if you ask me.”Although the space currently occupied by the exhibitors is said to belong to an individual, Sunday Trust observed that the make shift pavilion have been marked for demolition by the Development Control unit of the Federal Capital Development Administration (FCDA) supposedly for not conforming with the master plan of the FCT.This development has forced some of the exhibitors to close shop while others were said to have abandoned this rear talent to take up paltry paying jobs as sales boys/girls in supermarkets, security attendant in private residents and fine arts teachers in private schools around AbujaOur reporter also scooped that he art village has been privileged to host customers like the Minister of Finance and the Coordinating Minister of the economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala which unfortunately has not translated into any form of deliberate infrastructural provision as witnessed in other climes.Lawrence Akinsheye Ilori one of the exhibitors summed up their frustration when he said, ” Most of our customers are the rich and foreigners but this location is not where a foreigner can easily access because there is no security presence and is not strategic at all so except for hearsay or passersby, we would have all gone into extinction.”The few Foreigners who through adventure or exploration of our land mark have identified these art village have also cut down drastically on their purchase, this according to Taiwo Jimoh who specializes in art furniture is due to the frustrating customs requirements to export our art work. Some of the tourists told us that when they get to the airport, they are told to get some approval from our museums and the amount required for such approval is even far much more than the cost of the art pieces.”Augustine Odeh, a consultant said: “Art is a massive foreign exchange earner for countries like Italy, Kenya, South Africa and Greece, but we cannot get there if we do not add values to what we have. The masterpiece produced by these “art hawkers” will only attract true monetary value if they are structurally grounded and that is the secret of successful artist like Nike Lee, 27/7 in Oshogbo and Pablo Picassoart works are better with the amount of time spent on a piece as well as the quality of material input, so the question is who will commit so much into a piece knowing fully well that the next minute they will be chased out of their location by the FCDA or even asked to quit by the original land owner should he want to develop his property?”

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