Remarks By His Majesty, Nnaemeka A. Achebe, CFR, mni, Obi Of Onitsha, Agbogidi, As Guest Of Honour At The Public Presentation Of The Book: Contemporary Nigerian Art In Lagos Private Collections

Remarks By His Majesty, Nnaemeka A. Achebe, CFR, mni, Obi Of Onitsha, Agbogidi, As Guest Of Honour At The Public Presentation Of The Book: Contemporary Nigerian Art In Lagos Private Collections

Remarks By His Majesty, Nnaemeka A. Achebe, CFR, mni, Obi Of Onitsha, Agbogidi, As Guest Of Honour At The Public Presentation Of The Book: Contemporary Nigerian Art In Lagos Private Collections, Lagos, Tuesday 01 May 2012.

Protocols, I feel greatly honored to be invited to this event – the presentation of the book: Contemporary Nigerian Art in Lagos Private Collections. I am sure I speak for all in thanking Sammy Olagbaju and Jess Castellote for their collaborative effort on the book.

I ought to declare from the onset that I have not moved my domicile back to Lagos. Considering the regularity of my presence in Lagos lately, the action governor, H.E. Tunde Fashola, might be tempted to go after me for income tax. This, of course, underscores a principal thesis of this book that there is an allure and magic about the city Lagos, which has become the hub of the country in various aspects of our lives, including the visual arts.

Sammy and I have been friends from our younger days in Lagos, when we struggled for survival. Unknown to me and many others then, Sammy was also quietly pursuing a deeply nurtured and very worthy passion for visual arts, which has reached prodigious levels today.

Jess and I have not been personally close but, of course, he is universally known on the internet, where he has become an icon for the promotion of Nigerian visual arts. His leading role in this impressive project is therefore not by accident.

Lagos has become central to Nigeria’s economic, social and
cultural life. It is also a counter force to Abuja in the realm of
politics. In the same pattern, it is also real that the great majority of
players in the contemporary arts scene – artists, galleries, dealers
and, collectors, etc – are based in Lagos.

The book is unique for the difference it brings forth. One of its
stated objectives is to correct the poor representation of Nigeria in
the available documentation of African contemporary arts. For the
first time, I believe, we have a book on Nigerian contemporary arts
that reflects deep knowledge and genuine passion about its subject.

The collaborators have successfully revealed the beauty and
diversity of contemporary arts in Nigeria, but also the prevailing
constraints and its potentials and possibilities. Avowedly, this is an
opening salvo for deeper studies that should be carried out to bring
our arts squarely within the international context whilst
maintaining its distinct Nigerian and African characteristics.

Whilst many of the artists presented are already household names
through the media, exhibitions, auctions, etc, the book reveals
collectors who are, or ought to be, household names too. The book
uniquely mentions a large number of private collectors who were
willing to show samples of their collections to the public for the
first time, I believe. More importantly, it tells us that, unlike our
traditional and ancient artworks, much of the best of which now
resides outside our shores, Nigerian private collectors today are up
to the challenge of ensuring that the best of our contemporary arts
is in our own hands in our own country.

This book evoked several feelings in me but my contribution must
of necessity be very brief. Permit me, however, to touch on two
points. Firstly, I sincerely complement the forthright and erudite
essay by Professor Dele Jegede. I fully support his argument that
the emergence of private organizations, such as Visual Arts
Society of Nigeria (VASON), The Omoba Yemisi Shyllon Arts

Foundation (OYASAF) and the arts auction houses, which are
doing excellent work in promoting visual arts, represents a clarion
call for the institutionalization of enduring structures that must
necessarily sustain the development of the arts in the country. In
effect, Professor Jegede summons all of us here and beyond,
individually and collectively, not to relent in the campaign to
persuade the government and our art institutions to rise above their
current levels and provide the necessary strong leadership for the
development and sustenance of visual arts in Nigeria, as is done in
other countries.

Secondly, Jess in the Introduction to the book makes the point, and
I agree with him, that that “human development is about . . . the
process of making the human being more human; about the human
spirit”. Therefore, according to him, and I further agree, more
needs to be said (and done) about the role of arts in human
development. This powerful statement, placed alongside the
current dominance of Lagos, should seriously concern all of us that
this country outside Lagos may fast be receding towards becoming
a vast cultural and artistic desert.

But this was not always the situation in the past considering that
the old regional capitals of Ibadan, Kaduna, Enugu and Benin were
cultural and artistic centers in their own rights before decadence set
in. Indeed, these cities remain homes for some of our most famous
art schools. I pray that a revised and re-focused national policy on
arts must give due attention to restoring the status of these regional
centers as well as other old and emerging centres, such as Abuja,
Port Harcourt, Oshogbo, and my commercial domain of Onitsha as
centers for arts development and appreciation. In this vein also,
institutions such as the Harmattan Workshop at Agbara-Otor,
Asele Institute at Nimo, and the Yussuf Grillo Pavilion at Ikorodu
should be equally encouraged and supported. Thus, arts will
progressively become accessible, and contribute, to making the
whole country more human and humane. This prayer is, of course, without detriment to the pre-eminence and dominance of Lagos as
the Nigeria’s capital for visual arts in the same manner as London,
Paris and New York City.

Ladies and gentlemen, from my foregoing remarks, you will notice
that I had a fore-knowledge of the book that we are about to
present. Indeed, Sammy was very generous in sending me one of
the early copies that arrived from the printers. I sincerely
appreciate that privilege. I have read the preface, introduction and
all the essays twice over and my fascination simply grows.
Therefore, without any reservation, I have the distinct honour and
pleasure of recommending and presenting this excellent book –
Contemporary Nigerian Art in Lagos Private Collections
– to the general public. I wish you all happy reading.
01 May 2012.