By Chris Onuoha
When a panel of discussants comprising representatives from the stakeholders, policy makers and curators in the art industry came together on a platform engineered by Ben Enwonwu foundation to deliberate on critical issues concerning the industry, one important area of focus was how visual artists in Nigeria can benefit from the resale of their original works.
The would be monthly programme with a name tag, “Point of View” in its maiden edition was under the auspice of The Ben Enwonwu Foundation, supported by Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA) and Alliance Francaise, arm of French Cultural Centre in Nigeria.
The Foundation, in this new course, starting with a theme focus; “Artists’ Right of Sale” held at Alliance Francaise, Mike Adenuga Centre, Ikoyi on September 17, brought together a diverse line-up of artists, curators, writers, thinkers and policymakers, to share their perspectives on the role of the visual arts in shaping society.
Among the notable personalities at the event include, Prof Bruce Onobrakpeya, Prof Ebun Clark, Pa Jerome Elaiho, Kolade Oshinowo, Prof Frank Ugiomoh, Olu Amoda, Wura-Natasha Ogunji, Ndidi Dike, Olu Ajayi, Burns Effiom and Gbolahan Ayoola.
Others were Director of Bonhams London, Giles Peppiatt including Bonhams Africa representative, Neil Coventry; Chairman, Lagos State Council for Arts and Culture, Polly Alakija, Artistic Director, Lagos Biennial, Kunle Oshun, Director, Mydrim Gallery, Mrs. Sinmidele Adesanya and of course, the convener, Oliver Enwonwu, Director, Ben Enwonwu Foundation.
The main topic of the day was heated, as the panelists comprising John Asien, Director General of the Nigerian Copyright Commission; Dr. Simon Ikpakroniyi, acting Director General, National Gallery of Art, represented by Mr. Ajene Isegbe and Ngozi Aderibigbe, Sector Head, Technology, Media & Entertainment, Jackson Etti & Edu set the ball rolling making presentations about the existing rights and unknown facts guiding the artists’ intellectual property rights.
They also reveal through their statements, what has not been done in terms of policy implementation and what the practitioners need to be do, shedding more lights on the existing laws on the difference between copyright law and artists’ right of resale. The moderator was a Legal practitioner and art consultant, Mr. Seun Alli.
John Asein started the interactive discussion with informative assertions enlightening the audience on the Berne Convention and the Nigerian Copyrights Act. He said Nigeria is a member of the Berne convention of 1836, and that section 14 of Nigerian Copyrights Commission act sets minimum standard for artists’ resale rights in Nigeria. He therefore, disclosed that Nigeria is Berne compliant in terms of copyright legislation.
He also noted that Article 14 of Berne Convention sets minimum international copyrights standards, which is optional for only about 80 countries. “As far as Nigeria is concerned, there is a provision that makes it mandatory for the artist to enjoy some recompense whenever his work is sold at an auction,” says Asein.
He, however, added that an author also gets some compensation when his or her manuscript is sold.
Prof Ebun Clark, a distinguished writer and scholar reacting to Asein’s statement said, “I am not against resale rights but please do not compare it with literature. You can have your resale rights but please do not compare that with other literary or artistic genres.”
She went further to simplify an understanding that an author doesn’t take financial risk; that a publisher does, and he prints multiple copies and pays the writer royalty, whereas, the artist takes the financial risk of buying canvass, art materials and go out to sell. “Sometimes, an author have to do the marketing herself. So, it’s not the same market the writer shares with the artist. And when it comes to Nigeria, the writer doesn’t get royalty until after about three years,” she said.
Undone with her clarification, Clark added: “I will implore you to also have some pity on the art collectors who must have taken some financial risks. Again, you focused on only Britain, but America still has reservations for enforcing the resale rights because they think it might affect the art market.”
She however added, “I am for resale rights but I’m just trying to tell you to be wary of comparisons.”
Oliver Enwonwu responded by saying that the reason for the comparison is the fact that both categories are intellectual properties. On the US art market, he said: “I know that the US does not have that legislation but the UK market is there, which I pointed out earlier that it is the second largest in the world. I also brought in Africa that if it is not paying on our continent, perhaps we should also look into it.”
The NCC DG, Asein in consent to the argument promised to take actions aimed at ratifying the copyrights provision of the artist’s resale rights in Nigeria. He made the pledge in reaction to Prof Bruce Onobrakpeya’s appeal to the commission to fast-track the approval of the provision of section 13 of the Copyright Law, which seeks to allow artists benefit from secondary and downstream sales of their works.
Asein assured the artists that the commission already have enough concerns with piracy in books and music and such was never expected in artworks, but promised tougher measures will be taken against such, subsequently.
Other speakers, Ngozi Aderibigbe, an Intellectual property lawyer spoke on the Berne Convention that seeks to unify copyright laws across member states. She noted that one of its key principles is the ‘national treatment,’ which stipulates that member states are enjoined to give the same treatment to foreign works as they would to their own nationals.
She said that the law does make an exception in the case of artist’s resale rights, which makes its implementation optional. This, she said, means a member state is not obligated to extend the same benefit to the artiste unless the home country also provides that advantage.
“The implementation of this law becomes tricky, however, because you can’t always track the sale of an original work in a global market,” she said.
Ajene Isegbe, representing National Gallery of Art DG, in his contribution stated that the law that established the National Gallery of Art (NGA) as amended in 2003, has provisions to protect the interest of the artists, but that until this moment, the bill still awaits assent. “If the bill is not implemented, there are several capacities in which the NGA cannot operate,” he added.
Earlier, Oliver Enwonwu in his introductory remarks made case for artists’ property right in Nigeria. He mentioned that artists in Nigeria do not gain much from their original art works while their counterparts in abroad do. He said that collectors also reap from artists’ sweat, collecting cheap and making better sales in the auction houses. He subscribed for conditions where an artist or his family will benefit from resale of works after his or her death. He gave instances where some artists live and die in penury after producing magnificent works that sale high in international auction houses.
Neil Coventry, representative of Bonhams in Africa, a leading international auction house for African art, in his presentation gave a historical overview of the Nigerian art market, describing the late Ben Enwonwu, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Yemisi Shyllon and Njideka Akunyili Crosby among leading lights in the art. According to him, Nigerian artists have all been exhibiting on a global scale since the 1960’s till date, noting that what is new is the scale and interest globally. He also shared a numerical illustration on how the Nigerian art market has evolved tremendously over decades and how interests have begun to increase in the auction houses globally.
However, Coventry expressed deep concerns about the under-representation of African art in the global market, noting that ‘auction houses contribute a lot to the art market and need to do more, otherwise the market might shut down.’ He identified publishing, research and cataloguing as some of the measures that have been taken to document, thereby enhancing interest in the art market.
On counterfeiting and forgery in the art market in Nigeria, he presented some shocking images of counterfeited works by prominent Nigerian artists. He revealed that the images showed that pirates do not only stop at forging art works, they also go as far as duplicating the artist’s signature with impunity.
Commenting on the consequences, Coventry said art market gets saturated while interest diminishes, adding that there is too much to lose, not just in monetary value but also in culture, heritage and national pride.
“When looking at the pitfalls of contemporary African art, Africans have been given the right to write their own story; it used to be that the West told Africa’s story on their behalf. Now, Africa should tell her own story,” he added.
He also noted that for Nigerian to grow its market globally, it must start locally. He cited the lack of adequate museums that should project the appreciation of artworks in the country and however tasked both corporate and private bodies to look into it.