Leveraging Art for National Development

Chidinmma Iwuoha

Contemporary Nigerian art, if given its proper place would redirect our energies, creativity and imagination towards new approaches in addressing national issues. This was the view canvassed by Jerry Buhari, Professor of Fine Arts, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. He was speaking on the topic: [Re]current Issues in the Development of Contemporary Nigerian Art at the 12th edition of the Distinguished Annual Lecture organised recently by National Gallery of Art (NGA) in Abuja.

Expounding on the term, contemporary Nigerian art as against contemporary art in Nigeria, he focused on five of the [re]current issues affecting the sub-sector, namely: The place of formal and (or) informal education; the consequences of not having a national edifice; the problem of managing art collections; the place of professional practice; and the challenge of art forgeries.

On the place of formal and (or) informal education, Buhari noted that the terms were used by the West to create a distinction between western forms of education which they considered superior to others as different from theirs. “It simply constitutes a specific geographical location, a curriculum and time table as well as a host of instructors,” he argued. “Virtual education made possible by ICT is a fast-growing challenge to formal education and art is not exempted from its growing influence.”

He maintained that one of the consequences of the conspicuous lack of a national gallery edifice in Nigeria is the difficulty in building a coherent art collection that can serve as a tool for nation building, insisting that a physical edifice holding art works that represent the artistic practice of a nation can be deployed to enhance unity, integration and a national dream. This he links to the challenges of managing art collections which are diverse and can only be carried out appropriately by art institutions such as museums and galleries. “Artists are not equipped to carry out this function as older works tend to suffer neglect at the expense of new ones when stored in art studios. This again highlights the indispensable role of an edifice to shelter the rich art heritage of the nation where preservation and restoration are incorporated,” he added.

On issues surrounding professional practice in visual arts, Buhari classified them in terms of professional materials and ethics related to their use. “These pertain to artists in their production of art works, sale and the business aspect of the profession,” he explained. “The artist is required to indicate clearly, the media used for his production and also to get conversant with particular materials meant for each genre in order to avoid litigations that may result from misleading collectors who might term such an omission a deliberate act of deceit.”
He insisted that an artist must employ a manager to inventory his collection and manage the business aspect if he is unable to take time off his production schedule to manage his business.

Regarding art forgeries, which the professor said often carries with it, sensational displays and complex politics, “is a growing business in Nigeria fuelled by rising prices of art works even in a challenging economic environment and the high demand for a particular artist’s works especially if the artist is no more alive to identify the fake.” His panacea is a kind of cultural warfare to combat the problem. “All hands to be on deck to frustrate the development of art forgery,” he proposed.

Buhari’s recommendations on the recurrent issues included: “Open and continuous discussions, sincere, ethical and bold handling; appropriate sanctions and bold exposure of unethical and unprofessional practices; very deliberate and sustained synergy between artists, artists’ associations, the public and private sectors.”

The professor opined that the private sector has been the driver of cultural revivals in other climes and it cannot be otherwise for Nigeria. “Should all stakeholders take responsibility for the healthy development of art, this would automatically translate to the advancement of the private and individual interests of both artists and art collectors as well as cultural institutions, with government taking the credit.”

–––Iwuoha writes from NGA, Abuja.

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