The recently-established Society for Art Collection hopes to serve as a platform for educating artists and art collectors on the intricacies of art collection. It also hopes to stimulate discourse on the provenance and rights of artists, collectors and art patrons. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke, who was at its colloquium in Lagos, reports

“I’m glad that in all the madness and in all the confusion that visit us every day, quite a lot of us still have the presence of mind to appreciate the arts, to step back and commit some resources to supporting the arts,” Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki noted before a distinguished gathering at The Wheatbaker Hotel, Lagos’ upper-floor hall.

His audience – consisting mostly of collectors, critics and artists, among other stakeholders – had converged that Monday evening at the upscale venue at the instance of the Society for Art Collection, a non-profit organisation whose “vision is to provide the platform for an ‘educated collection’ of the arts.”

That the event chimes quite well with the society’s stated vision and mission could be deduced from the keynote lecture delivered by Professor Chike Aniakor and the subsequent panel discussions, which pivoted on the theme, “Exploring a New Informed Approach to Art Collection.”

As the governing council’s chairman of the society, which is also known by its acronym Sartcol, Dr Okey Anueyiagu hopes to steer the course of art collection away from its seeming elitist inclination. His predilection for the works of Picasso and Braque as well as his known sponsorships of art and culture across continents put him in good stead to impact on the visual arts scene. The University of Nigeria, Nsukka graduate, who also hold postgraduate degrees in political science and economics from the University of Rochester and Fordham University in New York, has also engraved himself in the industry’s consciousness as a not just a leading collector, but also as a business mogul, investor, teacher, author and philanthropist as well as the founder of Dr Okey Anueyiagu Foundation.

Also in the society’s governing council as members are such leading lights as Ms Frances Edozien (the founder, chief executive officer and managing director of Invivo Partners Limited), Adetotun Sulaiman (a known corporate titan, who now serves as the executive chairman of Arian Capital Limited), Ibrahim Dikko (a corporate and commercial lawyer, who among other things, is an independent director on the boards of Custodian Investments Plc, Baker Hughes Company Limited, Clane Company Nigeria Limited and Comercio Partners), Jess Castellote (a Spanish-born director of the Foundation for Contemporary and Modern Visual Arts), Professor Fabian Ajogwu (a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and Lagos Business School Professor of Corporate Governance, who co-authored the book Collecting Art: A Handbook with Castellote), Mrs Ananya Kaul (a practice oversight consultant at KP Nominees, which is an affiliate of Professor Ajogwu’s Kenna Partners) and Nero Asibelua (the executive director and chairman of MSI Africa Development Limited, who is also the founder of Nero Asibelua Foundation).

Actually, last Monday evening’s colloquium only lifts the veil on the Society for Art Collection’s main activities. Besides holding seminars for art collectors to discuss matters of interest bordering on art- collection, the purchase of art and art-related materials, it also hopes to organise sessions for collectors not only to speak about their collections but also on how to collect art. There will also be fora for the development of art and artists as well as support for art programmes and exhibitions. Expectedly, generating literature and database for artworks features prominently among its activities. Ditto plans to organise and support events centred on fostering an appreciation and understanding of art.
“We are using the society in a very subtle and very proactive way and means to educate people on the essence of collecting and preserving art,” Professor Ajogwu explained in a short explainer video screened during the event.

According to him, the society is also a means to inform the world on the creativity that exists in Nigeria. This was why last Monday evening’s colloquium turned out to be a heaven-sent platform for its special guest Governor Obaseki to share his thoughts on the call for the restitution of the looted Benin art pieces, which were lost during the well-known British invasion of the kingdom in 1897. Beyond the increasingly strident clamour for their return, the governor hopes to leverage on these works created by his Benin forebears. “Some of those works are amazing!” he said. “When I saw that ivory leopard in the British Museum, I couldn’t believe that my forebears created such excellent pieces hundreds of years ago.”

Nonetheless, the governor would rather the conversations around the looted objects revolved around issues bordering on their number, provenance, their locations and how they arrived where they are presently located. Besides, he saw nothing wrong in leaving some of the artworks abroad since they could be likened to “ambassadors”. “But we need to know them, we need to explain to our children and subsequent generations what they mean because they are a part of us.”

A major take-away of the governor’s short address is the state government’s concerted effort at raising the much-needed resources while collaborating with European museums and galleries to build an iconic, world-class museum in the Edo State capital city as a future home for the looted art objects.

“First, we are working with the Berlin museum on documenting these pieces globally,” he explained. “The next step is to show them to our people. We know that not everybody can travel abroad to go view these works. We want to have something that can attract the world to come and see when they come to Nigeria. We are also working with the prolific architect David Adjaye to think through the concept and to link the museum to our various ethnographic works around Benin City, including the moats.”

Back to the society, perhaps what distinguishes it from its precursor the Visual Arts Society of Nigeria (VASON) is its keenness to shed the toga of elitism. Central to its bid to reach out to a wider segment of the public to become its members is its plan to work with artists to make access easier to their works easier.

On the artists, Ms Edozien in the explainer video rues the fact they don’t have enough platforms internationally or even locally. “We don’t have proper museums, we don’t have enough galleries…,” she says. “So, we can reshape the visibility, we can reshape value and understanding the value of art and we can reshape the accessibility…” Obviously, the broadening of the collector base will breathe new life into the already into the talent-glutted Nigerian art scene. Hence, Castellote sees the society’s efforts as a contribution to the growth of this promising industry.

Dr Anueyiagu, who is also the Sartcol’s president, had in his welcoming notes at the last Monday’s event hinted at the society’s plans to deploy “tools that will assist artists and collectors to fully understand the dynamics and intricacies involved in art collection in order to foster the growth of art in our continent.”

This is anchored on the premise that Nigeria and Africa have, in recent times, been experiencing “new explosions”, which “have been the imperative that prompted the establishment of The Society for Art Collection.”
Besides Castellote and Dikko, the discussion panel also featured Tolu Alero Ladipo, a marketing and corporate communications expert and Ifeyinwa Momah, a legal consultant on general insurance.

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