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Nigerian arts in the Pharaoh country

By MCPHILIPS NWACHUKWU, who was in Egypt

The just concluded two weeks visual arts tour  of Nigerian  arts, which took place in the two Egyptian cities of Cairo and Alexandria under the auspices of the National Gallery of Arts, NGA was in every sense a fait accompli.

It was a  dream come true  in the very strongest sense that, the promise was made long ago at the inception of the late President Yar’adua, whose administration came up with a new developmental blue print collated in his famous 7 point agenda, which sought to disentangle the nation from the grips of oil mono dependent economy.

Going by that new campaign being carried about against a mono- dependent economy coupled with threatening  global economic meltdown, which ironically brought the attention of world investors to the strength of art as a more reliable form of investment climate, the managers of the National Gallery of Art  in their own creative thinking, came up with a number of programmes designed to help develop the economic power of the visual art climate as another possible and more sustainable foreign exchange earner for the country.

Ahmad Tijani Abubakar, representing the Nigerian Minister of Culture and Tourism, Abubakar Sadiq Mohammed (3rd right), Mr. Mohsen Shalaan, Head of Fine Art, Ministry of Culture, Egypt (2nd left) and others at the opening of the exhibition in Cairo, Egypt.

Among one of the programmes designed by the Gallery is the project tagged; Nigerian Visual Arts World Tour, NIVATOUR, which is meant to take Nigerian artists  and their arts to the world so that they could interact and exchange ideas with their colleagues at  each of the tour destinations; with also the view to establishing lines of work collaborations and market development for their arts.

Planned to take off last year, but could not because of some in house crises at NGA, the tour coming under the theme; Nigerian Visual Art: The Evolution Tour of the Best of Modern Nigerian Art finally took place penultimate week, where  54 works from 39 artists living and dead exhibited first at the Palace of Art, Cairo along side the works of their Egyptian contemporaries  and a week later,  at Mohamed Said Museum, of Egyptian Modern Art, Alexandria.

Curated by painter, theorist and poet, Krydz Ikwuemesi, the works of Nigerian artists showcased at the well received show; especially in Cairo were some  of the best of Nigerian art from the works of fathers of modern Nigerian art like Aina Onabolu, Ben Enwonwu Erhabour Emokpae, Abayomi Baber to the more contemporary artists like Chris Afuba, Gani Odotukun, Kunle Fulani and Jacob Jari among others.

Interestingly works done in diverse media were showcased. There were works in ceramics like the mind captivating ceramic pieces of  Benue State  based  international ceramicist, Levi Yakubu, Enugu State upcoming based ceramicist, Uche Agonsi as well as textile works like the one done by Jacon Jari of ABU Zaria  and Pemela  Egware.

The works on display, in their very different characters tell in both their shouting and silent canvasses the stories and richness of the nation’s  bounteous endowment,cultural aesthetics and dynamics.  From the work of Aina Onabolu, whose portrait painting traces the history of modern art through Ben Enwonwu, the historical journey of the Nigerian art world was immediately served in the sizzling templates of Agonsi, Chris  Afuba, Oswarld Uruakpa  and Ojo Olaniyi’s deep etching and plastographic paintings.


Ideologically, the project of NIVATOUR in all its ramification is adjudged a success. This success affirmation is even given more credence by Nigeria’s Charge d’ Affaires, H.E. Sam Madu Okonkwo, who was quick to score NGA high for using the NIVATOUR project in presenting the positive side of Nigeria.

“ I am indeed very happy with NGA. This project has helped to present the positive side of Nigeria.” He said.

Continuing, Ambassador Okonkwo explained that,” The Nigerian Visual Arts World Tour is a programme of the National Gallery of Art through  which it presents Nigeria’s wealth of visual artistry and dexterity to the world.”

The  happiness of  His Excellency can be  understood, when viewed from the fact that Nigeria and in fact, the Charge d’ Affaires have been under fire of criticism since the break of the  news of the  alleged infamous marriage between  Senator Ahmed Yerima and the minor Egyptian girl.

Grinning from ear to ear, H.E. Okonkwo in the company of Fatami Mohamade, Director of the Museum  in Alexandra, Abdullahi Muku , DG, National Gallery of Art, Mr Esmat Dawstashy, one of the most important Egyptian artists and other  invited guests were conducted round the gallery spaces  at the Alexandra venue of the exhibition, where the artists graciously explained their works.

Another important mileage that NIVATOUR project recorded was the fact that it made it possible for Nigeria to perhaps become the first West African country to exhibit works of art in the Islamic dominated North African country of Egypt. This is no easy achievement, we must say.

Structure of the works exhibited…

In his speech at the Sadiq Mohamed’s Egypt Museum of Modern Art, Nigeria’s Charge d’Affaires in Egypt, H.E. Sam Okonkwo  told the gathering that works being exhibited are works taken from both Nigeria’s national collection in the custody of the National Gallery of Art and works done by privately engaging artists from different parts of the country, which are adjudged to represent some of the finest art forms in themes, content and aesthetics.

“The Nigerian National Collection; which are all contemporary/ modern works of art that are in the collection of  the National Gallery of Art exhibited in its space at the National Theatre , Iganmu, Lagos

“ It is important to note that the works in this segment are made up of works by such legendary Nigerian artists as Ben Enwonwu, Bruce onaborakpeya, Yusuf Grillo, Uche Okeke, David Dale  and Gani Oduntokun.

The Cairo Leg of the Exhibition…

The Cairo leg of the NGA driven visual arts world tour would be scored a huge success given the caliber of government functionaries from both countries, who  came  to Palace of Art, Opera House, Zameleke venue of the exhibition to grace the occasion.

In attendance were Ahmad Tijjani Abubakar,  who stood in for the Minister of  Tourism Culture and National Orientation, Chief Olusegun, Senate Committee Chairman on Culture, Ogunka, Taiwo, Member of NGA Governing Board, Mr Mohsen Shalaam, Head of Fine Art Sector, Ministry of Culture, Egypt and Mohammed Talat, Artist and Director, Palace of Arts.

However, Sunday arts check revealed that five  out of the 10 Nigerian artists billed to participate in the Egypt segment of NGA’S NIVATOUR succeeded in having a combined workshop session  with five of their Egyptian counterparts organized as part of the programme. The workshop, which had in attendance, Chris Afuba, Jacob Jari, Ansalrem, Folu Folorimsho and Pamela Cyril Egware aimed at creating a forum for interaction among artists from the two countries to synergise. At the workshop, Nigerian painter, theorist and poet, Krydz Ikwuemesi  spoke on the topic; Modern Nigerian Art: A Discursive Sketch.

Roll Call…

For the records, the following artists; Chris Afuba, Jacob Jari, Ansalem Nya, Folu Folorimsho, Pamela  Egware, Kunle Filani, Oswald Uruakpa, Ojo Olaniyi Levi Yakubu and Uche Agonsi were the artists, whose works for two weeks told interestingly the story of Nigeria’s immense creative wealth in the pharo country.

Why Egypt?

The question that has not left the mouth of many commentators was why the choice of Egypt for the take off of Nigeria world art tour? At a press briefing with Journalists in Abuja before the take off of the tour, the DG of National Gallery had told journalists that Egypt as the cradle of civilization merits the honour of hosting Nigeria before other parts of the world.

Significantly as it would turn out, Egypt as a country, whose economy is driven by tourism; one notices admiringly that Arts and monuments literally walk all nooks and crannies of Egypt. As one drives through the cities, one continuously  feasts his eyes on historic monuments and public sculptures that adorn strategic locations in the different parts of the towns.

In Alexandra alone, you have the famous Bibliotheca, believed to be the biggest library in the world  that is believed to be the custody of some of the rarest books on earth including the oldest Bible and Koran. Besides, Cairo is the home of the great Pyramid at Giza, an ancient architectural marvel, Sultan Mohamade Ali Mosque and Sultan Hassan mosque among many other interesting places and monuments.

The choice of Egypt in another significant sense was to excite the sensibilities of Nigerians towards the potentials that lie in the unexplored abundant cultural and tourism potentials that abound in the whole of Nigeria.


The  only regret, which of course, was a major minus in this supposedly great project was paucity of publicity and the inability of the artists to be allowed to sell their works. Sunday arts check revealed that the artists were stopped from selling their works because it was not part of the agreement signed with the Egyptian embassy in Nigeria, which helped to facilitate the journey.

Also, another unconfirmed source revealed that the inability of artists in selling their works was as a result of custom duties demands; which was perhaps not accommodated in the trip budget by the facilitators.

Coupled with this sad development was the paucity of publicity given to the Alexandra leg of the show. There appeared to be no flyers printed nor posted to announce the presence of the show in Alexandra. Sunday arts check also revealed that some logistics bottlenecks played out after the successful hosting of the Cairo leg of the exhibition, which went far in frustrating the Alexandria show. Who knows what the quarrel was all about? When contacted to explain this development, NGA’s Muku Abdullahi said that he regretted that artists could not sell their works. While acknowledging  some defects in the execution of the project especially in Alexanderia, he promised to improve in those gray areas in their subsequent trips.


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