The broad consensus at the recent stakeholder forum hosted by the National Gallery of Art in Lagos seems to lean in favor of building a gallery-worthy edifice while downplaying a grassroots-driven gallery culture. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke Reports

Exactly when the quest for a worthy National Gallery of Art edifice became the recurring mantra of its leaders is no longer so certain. But there is no doubt that he has become the predominant pheromone of the current leadership of Ebeten William Ivara should have been dispelled by recent events.

First, in an interview published in Gallery’s internal magazine Artivity, Ivara lamented the non-existence of a building for the National Gallery of Art – which is often abbreviated as NGA – in the federal capital. “We urgently need a building to showcase the creative genius of Nigerian artists,” he reportedly said. “The [National] The art gallery is very important. We need to think about building a gallery building, an arts house where the works and creativity of these eminent figures in the art field will be exhibited and properly preserved to attract tourists.

Months later, at the Stakeholder Forum, held on Friday, November 26 at the NAN Media Center in Iganmu, Lagos, his recurring emphasis on this quest seemed to ignite the smoldering passion for cultural activism among many. “When I was appointed and when I took office, I made the construction of a building a cardinal part of my agenda,” he revealed in his brief welcome speech.

Thus, he left no doubt about his determination to make this quest the focal point of this penultimate Friday of the stakeholder meeting, which was the third edition. “No country worthy of the name can do without a world-class structure for its art gallery,” he added.

Speaking of the Stakeholder Forum itself, there could not have been a better choice as a guest speaker than famous art collector Omooba Yemisi Shyllon. Shyllon’s credentials as arguably Africa’s greatest collector and Pan Atlantic University-based Yemisi Shyllon art museum financier – known as YSMA @PAU – made her choice for this task The good choice. So event moderator Mufu Onifade, who was responsible for reading his quote, found much of his job much easier.

As for the title of the conference (“Gallery Edifice as a Major Drive for Diversification of Nigerian Economy”), few actors were as passionate as this prince of Abeokuta. In addition, the fact that he is also a member of a handful of professional bodies, namely the Nigerian Society of Engineers, the UK Chartered Institute of Marketing, the Chartered Institute of Stock Brokers, the Nigerian Institute of Management , The Institute of Directors – Nigeria and the National Marketing Institute of Nigeria – and a member of one – the Nigerian Bar Association – have further strengthened its oratory integrity.

The great mathematician, who is not known to water down the facts, went straight to the jugular as soon as he took his place behind the lectern. “Since its inception in 1993, our NGA has failed miserably to achieve its primary vision of becoming a world-class gallery and global tourist destination, particularly its failure to organize and position a permanent exhibition space for its collection by creating a national edifice for the accomplishment of the main objectives of its creation ”, he blurted out.

But that was just a prelude to the real bombshell. And so his offer three years ago to the leadership of the NGA to contribute to the birth of a virtual gallery in the absence of the necessary support from his line ministry was rejected. According to him, as a member of the National Heritage Commission and Endowment for the Arts – set up by former president Goodluck Jonathan – he had offered to lead the private sector to build a building for the NGA. This was on the condition “that such a national gallery be run and controlled by the private sector with the government as [an] only minority stakeholder. But, his offer, he said, was “dead on arrival in acceptance.”

Perhaps the most disturbing consequence of the NGA’s cardinal sins – gleaned from Shyllon’s speech – is the potentially huge loss of income caused by the absence of this edifice. And one of those NGA’s alleged cardinal sins – being stuck in a time warp – frustrated the guest lecturer’s inability to display his table of “Comparable Statistics for National Galleries in 10 Countries”, which was sourced from the Bank. World, Wikipedia, Forbes and Indexmundi.

Trust the guest speaker – almost legendary for his gift of chatter – to have virtually everyone in the audience eat from his hand. And perhaps that is why the fact that he spoke of Nigeria’s loss of a potential annual income of $ 56 billion earned him the listening and concurring ear of many onlookers.

Among this audience, by the way, were eminent artists such as the former president of the Fine Arts Guild Edosa Oguigo, the former vice-president of the Lagos State chapter of the Society Nigerian Artist’s Dotun. Alabi, University of Lagos lecturer, Dr Bolaji Ogunwo and the Universal Studios of Art president, Bunmi Babatunde, and gallery owners like Rahman Akar from Signature Art Gallery and Sinmidele Adesanya from Mydrim Gallery.

Notable advancements offered by the guest speaker include the creation of a national gallery in line with the digital world, the creation of programs and activities aimed at maintaining an ongoing symbiotic relationship with artists, and the exploration of new areas for growth. from the national collection. Of course, there is also the inevitable setting up of a stakeholder committee as well as continuing discussions about the value of art and making the gallery more accessible to Nigerians.

Perhaps what should be considered the most important feature of his list of recommendations, which seemed primarily didactic, if not at times pontifical, is the need for such a long-awaited and long-sighed edifice to be preceded by a popular gallery. flourishing. culture. Subsequent speakers, carried away by the tide of his opinion, were too determined to hold the NGA up to criticism that they seemed to downplay this fundamental possibility. Oddly enough, in view of a brand new edifice, no one – except NGA General Manager Ivara, during his interview with Artivity – thought of exploring the use of one of the abandoned public buildings as provisional measure to house some 5,000 works of art in the national collection.

Undeniably, the need for a gallery building is imperative, as virtually everyone at the Stakeholder Forum agreed. Ditto for the recommendation to make it a private sector initiative. Yet a lot of work needs to be done in an attempt to transport huge swathes of the artist population, which exist into oblivion either to the NGA or even to the SNA.


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