By McPhilips Nwachuchwu & Japhet Alakam
Recently, the School of Fine and Applied Arts of Delta State University, Abraka stormed Lagos with an exhibition tagged Visual Symphony, an exhibition of the works of lecturers and PhD students at Quintessence Gallery, Falamo, Lagos. During the exhibition Sunday arts caught up with the Head of Department of the school, Prof. Grace Ojie and she bared her mind on a wide range of issues concerning arts
Can we meet you?
My name is Prof. Grace Ojie, the Head of Department of Fine and Applied Arts, Delta State University, Abraka. We are in Lagos for an exhibition of our works as lecturers and that of our PhD students. It opened on 24th September and ended on 15th of October at Quintessence Gallery, Falomo, Lagos.
Generally, we want to showcase a product within a period and as a school, we have had exhibitions in other places within the country and we thought it wise to come to Lagos which is the commercial centre of the country. We want the western part of the country to know about our exploits and about our creative prowess.We also believe that our PhD students have a lot to offer which is why we thought we should expose them, their activities and their work.
Many schools have their special features, what is the special feature of Abraka art school?
The truth of the matter is that we have presented our brand through our own individual creativity, but even in these individuality you will still find competence in a lot of skills in the works we are showing. We do not intend to be stereotype in terms of production but we make our students see a lot of resources around them and develop their creativity from the resources.
In the real essence, we don’t have a rigid way of production of both staff and students, but what we do is, through research and teaching, we open up their minds to see the possibilities that are around them, where they live, where they study and where they work and through that they will be able to develop their creative ingenuity.
Somebody from UNIBEN will tell you of Wangboje, Nsukka will talk about Uli , Ife will talk of Ona etc,what kind of style is Abraka known for. In other words, What is the remarkable thing about Abraka?
A good number of our students have developed what we call Akika that is scribbling-using line or line painting. We have a lot of students working in that direction, but even at that, we still allow them to use it the way they want. But what is prominent in most of the works we will be exhibiting , is what we call Akika painting, a word taken from the Igbo dialect.
What is the parameter used for the selection of works?
The works are just works of the lecturers and the PhD students with that of a year two student who distinguished himself with a special painting that caught the attention of the curator.
After the exhibition, what next?
We hope to take back the works that were not collected and add new works to them for a show we will have in Delta later in the year.
What is happening to the issue of Doctor of Philosophy as the requirement for teaching in Art schools as against the MFA and what is your stake on that?
It has come to stay, because NUC has made it a requirement and we also in Abraka believe that we should not be seen lagging behind. We shouldn’t narrow our growth, or stunt our growth by insisting that we remain with MFA because whether you like it or not those who are outside the discipline will not stop at the masters level.
If you find a situation where you are in the university system where everyone else is a PhD holder and you are not, the impression is created that you are unable to do it and I don’t think it is a big deal doing a research and writing a report on it.
Your research can come through methods or through materials or through processing of materials. The visual art is open, you can take the aspect of criticisms or critique of art works, you can major in the aspect of materials or methods and do your research and write your report and that doesn’t stop you from practicising.
You will have room to see the method you thought was not possible which you can apply in your work and it will be an increase in your creative ability through your research method. On the other hand, if you stop at MFA it will make you look inferior to your colleagues who have it, some of them will turn out to be those you are better than. University system operates with committees so you will be forced to serve under people you are better than who have PhDs.
Do you think that universities that offer Fine arts or visual arts have qualified manpower to engage Doctoral programmes in the universities?
The truth of the matter is that even the first PhD holder was produced by experienced masters degree holders, because after many years of teaching you can then take on the research. Possibly two persons can produce the first and after the first you now have a Phd holder in the area, you have to start it somewhere. But if you insist that unless you have competent persons with Phd before you start, you will never do so.
You must first use experienced professors with PhD in fields not necessarily in the visual art, it could be in the Art History or Art Education and plug the wealth of experience in research and report writing and they would be able to take on the first person, thereafter you will get the first person who is now fully competent to handle the issue of PhD students, that is exactly what we did in Abraka and within a couple of weeks, we will be producing the first set.
What is happening to the Visual art education in Nigeria?
The problem starts from the secondary schools where there are few art students and in some cases, the art students will be forced to change to other courses at the end of the day. So the product from secondary schools will not be enough for the tertiary institutions. There is indeed, need for government to encourage art education right from the secondary school stage.