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Ahead of Nigeria’s golden jubilee, Smithsonian Institute rolls out drum for celebration

By Japhet Alakama

HEAD of Nigeria’s celebration of her golden independence anniversary in October 1, 2010, United States of America based Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, America’s only museum dedicated to the collection, conservation, study and exhibition of traditional and contemporary African art is spearheading the preparation for the celebration. After a special meeting of the body with the Ministry of Tourism and Culture and the office of the first lady, Mrs Turai Yar’Adua, the body at  a media round table organized by CMC Connect in Lagos officially announced the sponsorship of a two-year-long celebration marking Nigeria’s 50th anniversary of independence.

smithsonian press briefing
smithsonian press briefing

Announcing the programme, Anita L. Henri, the associate director for external affairs who visited Nigeria with Karen Milbourne, curator of the institute said: “the event with the theme ‘Nigeria: Then, Now and Forever’ will be the largest and most ambitious undertaking in the museum’s history.”

The event which promises to feature exhibitions, public programmes and other special events showcasing the culture, arts and people of Nigeria will kick off in November 2009 and continue through 2011. The project, according to her, is a partnership between the Federal Government, the US government and American Museum as part of a two year long international commemoration of Nigeria’s 50th independence anniversary.

Henri added that Nigeria’s first lady, Hajiya Turai Yar’Adua and educator and philanthropist, Camille Cosby, wife of Black American entertainer, Bill Cosby will be co-chairs of the special event.  According to her, the major highlights of the celebration will include a major mid-career retrospective by Nigerian-British artist, Yinka Shonibare; a Nollywood film festival; the premiere of a new dance by Washington Ballet dancer, Andile Ndlovu; and a series of special events with U.S and African leaders in the fields of art, entertainment, business and government.

Director of Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Johnnetta Betsch Cole, who was in the country last August for a partnership deal with Ford Foundation to assist the Lagos National Museum said of the celebrations: “This exciting and meaningful celebration reminds us not only of Nigeria’s road to independence, but of the many struggles for freedom and equality that exists across the African continent. At the same time, it sheds a light on the rich artistic contributions of Nigerian artists, both traditional and contemporary.”

The institute’s curator, Karen, explained that “Nigeria: Then, Now and Forever” will open with a major mid-career survey of work by Yinka Shonibare, the most celebrated Nigerian artist of his generation. She said: “It will open November 10 and continue through March 7, 2010 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Australia, showcasing paintings and sculptural tableaux (staged scenes made of richly costumed headless mannequins) featuring the artist’s trademark use of “Dutch resist wax” fabrics, dramatic photographic series and recent explorations in film.”

She said Shonibare will also participate in events at the National Museum of African Art in Washington adding that the celebration will continue in 2011 featuring “The Arts of the Benue River Valley” and outstanding works of art from the complex, inter-related people living along the lower, middle, and upper Benue River of Nigeria.

The exhibition is expected to be organized by the Fowler Museum at UCLA in association with the Musée du Quai Branly, Paris. Karen, however, added that the museum will also celebrate the history of Nigerian photography with a special focus on the collections of Chief Solomon Osagie Alonge, one of Nigeria’s premiere early photographers.

Alonge was the official photographer for the Royal Court of the Benin kingdom who documented the rituals, pageantry and regalia of the court for over a half-century. The exhibition will  highlight works of art from Benin in the museum’s permanent collection and rare collections of Nigerian photography in the museum’s Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives.

Other events lined up for the celebration include lectures and book signing by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of Half of a Yellow Sun and the 2009 collection of short stories, The Thing Around Your Neck,  Nobel Prize laureate, Wole Soyinka and Nollywood film festival featuring screening of short and feature films as well as panel discussions with film directors.

There will also be an international symposium on indigenous modern photography that considers the century-long contributions of Nigeria’s photographers and their place within the history of photography worldwide.

As part of arrangements for a successful funding and sponsorship of the celebration, Anita said a US based market specialist, Nex Rubica has accepted to help in facilitating the celebration of all things historically Nigerian with the major sponsor, Smithsonian Institution. She added, however, that her organization will be ready to work with any other body that is ready to support the event.


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