By Japhet Davidson
IN line with its avowed determination to encourage artistic creativity and deepen the scope of the intellectual ability of art students, the Life in My City Art Festival, LIMCAF, the largest annual gathering of artists and stakeholders of visual arts in Nigeria included the lecture series and the 2019 edition which coincided with the posthumous birthday of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, the great Zik of Africa was dedicated to him.
The lecture with the topic: Zik’s influence in the development of Arts using Akinola Lasekan as example, was delivered by Prof. Ola Oloidi, a professor of Art History and Art Criticism, University of Nigeria (UNN) Nsukka .
Nnamdi Azikiwe was the first President of Nigeria and was instrumental in founding a string of newspapers across Nigeria.
The renowned art teacher who started with the myth of reality of Zik’s language stated that Zik played an important role in the development of art in Nigeria, but little is said about him in that regard. “When we talk about art in Nigeria, Zik has a permanent place but unfortunately many students do not talk about him in their write ups”.
He pointed out that Zik has a well structured language which made it difficult for many who worked with him to go extra miles in order to understand him, for example his wife Flora had to be sent to a special school in England in order to do so.
He stated that Nnamdi Azikiwe learned under Aina Onabolu, the first African art teacher and performed excellently that he got award as the best student in his class. According Oloidi, Zik followed Onabolu art and Onabolu gave him a brochure of his exhibition.
According to Zik, it was the ambitious brochure he got from Onabolu’s exhibition that inspired him to excel in arts, “The small book became my Bible. I became more engrossed on art and it opened my inner life.” While Zik was in the art school, he was always disturbed when the black Americans were not reflected in any art. Onabolu influenced Zik strongly, helped him early to see the synergy of arts and politics.
Interest in Art and Journalism
When Zik established the his newspaper, the West African pilot he engaged an adviser in Arts, people did not see the relationship between art and journalism but Zik changed the system. He brought Akinola Lasekan and made him a member of the editorial board and made him the official cartoonist of the West African pilot. According to Oloidi, “the artist, who was a cartoonist working for Azikiwe’s West African Pilot, during the struggle for Nigeria’s independence, shared the same activism mentality with his employer. In fact, there was hardly any editorial policy of the West African Pilot made without Lasekan’s input.”
Art and politics
When Zik entered politics, he made Lasekan a household name. Known for his flamboyant, romantic, structure and effective language, he said that we shall fight but very legitimately, so he used the newspaper’s cartoon contents, as a leading voice against colonial rule.
Lasekan became a celebrated artist whose cartoons – under the then popular signature ‘Lash’ – thrived in post-colonial political scene, most of which were seen as missiles against the opponents of Nnamidi Azikiwe.
Lasekan’s cartoons condemned the injustice of colonialism in Africa, he should therefore share the honour of our freedom with great politicians like Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Jomo Kenyatta and Kwame Nkrumah.”
Promotion of art institutions
Apart from the two art institutions in Nigeria , the Yaba College and College of Arts and Science Zaria that were teaching arts, when Zik realised that University of Ibadan did not value arts, Zik went out his way to establish the University of Nigeria Nsukka, UNN where he made sure that art was accorded its due place. He single handedly put fine arts in the curriculum of UNN and when the department was to take off, Olasekan was one of the pioneer staff he employed. He gave enough space to the school of arts.
He was a lover of arts for all the time he lived till he died, he loved art. “We should not forget Zik while studying or discussing art that without him, we will not have art in UNN and many people including Igbo will not be what they are today”, he added.