DROOLING FOR A MUSEUM OF INTANGIBLE TREASURES
The almost-completed Yemisi Shyllon Museum of Art will not only extend the learning space of the Pan-Atlantic University, but also impact on the larger visual arts community, Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports
Abrown cuboid-shaped edifice perches on the grassy edge beyond the end of the long cobbled thoroughfare leading into the Pan-Atlantic University. This edifice, which is an extension of the Lagos-based university’s lofty educational goals, is the proposed Yemisi Shyllon Museum of Art, or YSMA. Of course, it is still a work in progress, as the scaffolding clinging to the structure attests. But, the Spanish-born architect, Jess Castellote, hopes that its physical structures will be ready for use by mid next year. However, he adds, the museum’s official opening has been scheduled for October 1, 2019. Even before that date, the museum’s doors would already have been opened to not only students from all disciplines in the university, but also to those from nearby schools, especially those located in Lagos.
Among the YSMA’s aims are the offering of programmes and activities that have a real educational value for students, who are not primarily involved with the arts. Indeed, the museum is being positioned as “an interdisciplinary educational instrument of PAU at the service of the university and local communities, through the experiential engagement with visual art objects by means of thematic exhibitions and educational programmes.”
Because the YSMA’s educational character, its future visitors will not be restricted from touching the displayed art objects, Castellote explains. The idea is to help its intended audiences discover the enriching value of art. “We believe the university art collection can help in the process of personal development towards greater human fulfilment.”
As a learning space of the university, the YSMA will not operate in isolation. Hence, its raison d’être already decrees that it works in partnership with not just the university’s other schools and departments, but also with institutions in the broader community. Indeed, through the museum the university community – the staff and students – will not only be engaged on art historical issues, but also in a broader way as a focus of cultural activity. This is as its contribution will hopefully extend to the acquisition of ancillary skills and competencies. Among them are the fostering of critical thinking alongside visual and art historical literacy, bringing to the fore social issues as well as contributing towards a greater sense of citizenship among the students, and faculty of the university.
Eventually, it is expected that the YSMA will progress from playing a significant role in the cultural and educational life of Lagos to becoming the leading university museum in Africa.
Even so, Castellote cautions that the museum is not hoping to compete with the National Museum or any local museum. “Unlike a National Museum, whose aim is generally the preservation, study and display of works of historical significance for a country, or local museum conceived as tourist attractions, or museums that centre its activities on artistic and curatorial experimentation, the YSMA-PAU will focus on audience engagement. Our objective will not be to attract the highest possible number of visitors, but to have the highest possible impact on those who come. Initially, we will focus on young visitors from the university itself and from schools in neighbouring areas.”
Even when it is basically conceived to be a small, collection-based museum, the museum is nonetheless committed to enlarging its initial collection. As for its long exhibitions, they will not only be well researched, but will also address specific themes, which it is hoped will foster critical thinking about central issues in the humanistic formation that the university aspires to offer.
Each of the museum’s two floors will display art works, which will revolve around two major broad themes. While the display on the ground-floor will focus on Materiality and Civilisation in Nigerian art, the upper floor is expected to host works organised around Tradition, Modernity and Society.
Intent on filling an educational and cultural gap in Lagos, the YSMA hopes to eventually become a place for artistic innovation which will also attract tourists. “Art can be a wonderful instrument to foster a deeper understanding of what it means to be human and to promote creativity as a necessary feature in all disciplines, from economics, to information technology, to communications,”the museum’s authorities hope.
The whole idea of having a museum at the prestigious tertiary institution was conceived a few years ago. The Pan-Atlantic University’s precursor and sister institution, the Lagos Business School (LBS) has always been known for its interest in the arts. Thus, it has, over the years, amassed an impressive collection from contemporary Nigerian artists. So, that explains why even the non-existence of a fine arts department at the PAU has not stopped its creation of an art museum, not only to host this collection, but also other works coming from artists and collectors.
A now-deceased renowned Lagos-based art collector, Sammy Olagbaju, had warmed up to the idea and had even gone on to make a proposal to the university. But, as fate would later decree, Olagbaju’s plans never saw the light of the day. Rather, it turned out that a collector friend of the late Olagbaju, Prince Yemisi Shyllon would not only offer to donate a large number of works from his massive collection, but also provide the funds for the building and the long term sustainability of the museum.
This was how the museum came about its name. Thus, YSMA follows the model of many European and American universities. One of these examples was in 1677, when the English antiquary, politician, officer of arms, astrologer and student of alchemy, Elias Ashmole, donated his “cabinet of curiosities” to the Oxford University, which led to the creation of the Ashmolean Museum.
This example has since been replicated in many other universities. Among these examples are the Fogg Art Museum at the Harvard, the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art at University of Florida, the Raymond Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University and the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University.
Also, many collectors are concerned about what would become of their collections after their demise. Availing institutions like the PAU of these works could be one way of guaranteeing their preservation and proper documentation. Hence, Shyllon’s decision to entrust over 1,000 works from his collection is a tacit acknowledgement of the PAU’s track record and commitment to excellence.
The university, meanwhile, has gone a step further to set up the governance and management structures, that would ensure the long term sustainability of the project. “The high maintenance, cleanliness and security standards of Pan-Atlantic University buildings will also be available at the museum,” the museum’s management promises.
Of course, the works to be displayed at the museum will not only be sourced from the university’s and Shyllon’s collections, but also from myriads of other donor collectors and artists. The museum space, Castellote adds, can only exhibit not more than 300 works at any given time. Hence, most of the works in the museum’s collection will not be displayed.
Castellote also explains the museum’s architect – like that of the other buildings in the university – obeys the three main principles, which are fitness for purpose, sustainability and character. First, the design of the building creates the flexibility that allows the museum to change its display configuration to suit changing curatorial whims. Then, there are the building’s external walls, which have a first-rate thermal insulation and the efficient air circulation throughout the single “exhibition space”, which requires a minimum air conditioning load. Finally, the museum’s building emphatic volumetry — a clean cube of 30 X 30 X 10 metres—and its richly textured finish of the stained concrete gives it the desired character.
No visitor to the university campus would fail to notice its strong physical presence on the lush green lawns. Nor would he fail to discern how much the university values the structure and what it represents for it.