A Collector’s Passion: a Note on Dr. Okey Anueyiagu

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Art collectors everywhere collect for a variety of reasons. While some collect out of sheer passion, others collect for economic and political reasons. Although it is obvious that a number of emergent young art collectors in Nigeria are driven by the economics of art, Dr. Anueyiagu belongs to the older and more experienced breed on whose deep-scaled passion art and artists may depend.

Anueyiagu’s rich collection, dating back to his younger days in Kano, straddles epochs, styles, geographies, and paradigms. He is a collector par excellence. As he tells me, for him to want to have and to hold, the work of art must appeal to his aesthetic taste and resonate with the rhythms and realities of his environment, be it realism, surrealism or abstraction. A great lover of Picasso and Braque, he is also an enthusiast of impressionism, with a keen interest in, and understanding of, how all, particularly Picasso’s Cubism, derived from Africa’s conceptual and abstract approach to form and content.

It is perhaps his love for Cubism that attracted him to the works of Onyema Offoedu-Okeke, the Nigerian architect and prolific painter whose works in Anueyiagu’s collection number over 200. Any Wonder the ace art collector initiated and published a hardcover, large-format, full colour book of his Offoedu-Okeke treasures in 2012, titled Contemporary African Art: My Private Collection of Onyema Offoedu-Okeke, with contributions by Chike Aniakor, Ozioma Onuzulike, Frank Ugiomoh and Oke yAnueyiagu himself.

The richness of Anueyiagu’s collection can be gauged through the long list of the many vibrant artists that make it up, including Nigerian artists and others from other parts of Africa and the world. As a widely travelled collector, he balances his vision and perception of art vis à vis the possibilities and paradigms African art and, indeed, world art, have offered.
His proposed art centre in Awka for research and promotion of contemporary African art promises to consummate his passion for art and creativity, as it will be a major platform for the promotion of African art and heritage, in addition to providing an instrument for preserving his own collection.

It should be remembered that in 2003, Anueyiagu presented six Nigerian artists in London in the famous African Passage exhibition in collaboration with Pointec Group and Barclays Private Bank. Featuring Nsikak Essien, Ndidi Dike, OnyemaOffoedu-Okeke, Obi Ekwenchi, Sam Ovraiti, and Tony Enebeli, the exhibition was highly successful and logically created some awareness for contemporary African art in the UK, thereby contributing to the build-up to the current fructifying auctions of African art in that country .

Anueyiagu is one of those collectors who do not collect art primarily as stock. His interest is in the basic aesthetic essence of art, its humanist potencies that inscribe it as the pursuit of happiness, and those bio-cultural essences that bind art to the human spirit. Perhaps, this brings up the question, why do art collectors collect art? If it is primarily for aesthetic enjoyment, how is a work of art enjoyed, both in the literal and metaphoric senses of it? Are there problems and issues in human nature and condition which art’s salve can address? Why is art so valued and respected in human history that it commands very high economic value? What are the conditions that underpin people’s interaction with works of art and how do they generate ample empathy, enough to drive collectors to part with huge sums in exchange for art pieces? This is not the forum to answer these questions, but we must agree that art is not primarily made for collectors, although their position in the ecology of art is central and affects most of the other factors.

While some collectors live up to this expectation for sheer interest, passion, and humanism, others dabble in the art of art collection for crass materialism and personal economic gains. Perhaps it is on the former, rather than the later, that the turning of the wheel of art depends. It is among those selfless humanists that we must locate Dr. Okey Anueyiagu.
Professor Ikwuemesi writes from Nsukka