By JAPHET ALAKAM
As part of activities marking the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of The Society of Nigerian Artist (SNA), the body organised its first distinguished lecture themed “The Role of Art in National Transformation”, which aims to grow public dialogue and critical debate centered on contemporary art developments in Nigeria and Africa. It also serves as a platform for today’s most celebrated artists, thinkers, writers, curators, critics and art historians to share their knowledge, perspectives and ideas on the role of art in shaping society.
The lecture which was chaired by Chief Arthur Mbanefo with Dr. Abdullahi Muku, DG, National Gallery of Art as the guest of honour was delivered by Romuald Hazoumé, a celebrated artist and social thinker from Benin Republic at the Nigerian Institute of International affairs, Lagos.
In the well attended event, the speakers deliberated on a whole lot of issues, but two topical issues that were seriously mentioned as the necessary tools required for the development of art in Africa were the need for Africans to promote their culture by protecting their art works, and the building of a befitting gallery of art in the country.
Importance of art
On his part, the revolutionary guest speaker who dramatized and played it right home to the audience, charged Africans on the need to preserve their culture. Speaking on the importance of art and how it will help to build our image, he said that “art serves as a basis for our development, but we must draw and paint to suit our culture.
It is only when we do so that we really bring our society into international consciousness.” He cited the case of the exploits of late Afro beat musician , Fela Kuti and how he would have been received in foreign countries if he was still alive more than the way the president or former presidents of Nigeria will be received.
Known for his love for the recycling of waste as well as his mask series which has taken him to major exhibitions all over the globe, Hazoume who was dressed in his traditional Yoruba attire to demonstrate his love for Africa charged Africans on the need to build their country, pointing out that “we don’t have to wait for foreigners to develop us.
We don’t need to do like the whites, we must build our own as that is the only way to be on top. The neglect of art by the leaders is the bane of our development as the only way for development is to respect who we are, respect the works of art and save our reputation.” He added.
Displaying some of his works on the screen, the celebrated artists who said that he works with rubbish explained that he uses discarded cans thrown away by oil thieves from Nigeria to do his works. And some of the works address some of the topical issues about his country and Africa.
He came down heavily on Nigeria artists, who do their work to suit the whites and virtually sell all their art works to them and charged them to look inwards. He also charged the federal government as a matter of urgency to build a befitting national gallery of art that will house art works produced in the country.
“As an artist, we do not need to sell every work we produce because the whites are buying virtually all the works we have, we need to protect them by saving them for posterity, build our country with ease, creativity, save our culture, think about who we are, and what we are doing”. He noted.
He also charged the money bags to channel part of their money to arts instead of buying choice cars and other things so that it can provide job for the teeming unemployed youths
Earlier in his address, the chairman of the occasion, Chief Arthur Mbanefo who took the audience down to when the society was formed, commended the members for its sustenance. He said that the society has grown in years and that 50 years is good to celebrate as it will afford them the opportunity to assess its failures as a body and affect changes that are required .
“The practice of art has changed in Nigeria because of the new materials, art auctions/exchange so the body should be apt to face the challenges to determine the future of arts.” He then charged SNA to look into the impact of the auctions and find ways of regulating it to determine its effects on the members.
The DG of National gallery of Art, Muku who observed that the topic is an agenda that will be uppermost in the mind of the artists disclosed that art does not base only on studio work and calls for the need to look into the process of transforming it into real money.
According to the SNA President, Mr. Oliver Enwonwu, the year-long celebration which started in March, aims to sustain efforts to connecting all members of the Nigeria art community with the pulsation of state at all times. It is a platform for today’s artists, thinkers, writers, curators, critics and art historians to share their knowledge, perspectives and ideas on the role of art in shaping society.
Present at the lecture were: Chief Arthur Mbanefo, Abdulahi Muku, Dr Bruce Onabrakpeya, Prof. Uche Okeke, Prof. S. Adetoro, Pa Okhia Odjekere, Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi, Erelu Abiola Dosunmu, Kunle Filani, Kunle Adeyemi and a host of others.