Tuesday, December 30, 2014

‘Living Legends’ Portrait and Art Exhibition Honours Yakubu Gowon at 80

I am awed and greatly thrilled by the sheer idea of the ‘Living Legends’ project, especially the just concluded outing in November this year. For four hours General Yakubu Gowon (rtd) sat as a model before a mix of Nigerian artists – young, old and renowned, in one of the meeting rooms of the famous Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja. This portrait session was the fourth in the episodes of ‘Living Legends’ – a series of live portrait sessions in honour of some of Nigeria’s outstanding living personalities especially having to do with the art(s). It first took off in 2008 and is fast aiming to become a global project someday soon.

This recent outing was in keeping with the high standards the organisers have always maintained since its inception; it was also apart from honouring the former military head of state for his outstanding statesmanship, and patronage and support for the arts, at the same time to celebrate the General at eighty. This awesome event was perfectly put together by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) in collaboration with Olu Ajayi Studios who are the initiators of this laudable project, and managed by Eki Eboigbe.

The past ‘legends’ to whom this kind of honour has been done include – the erudite Prof Bruce Onobrakpeya, Prof Yusuf Grillo, Omo N’Oba Nedo Uku Akpolokpolo, Erediauwa - the Oba of Benin, Prof Wole Soyinka, and Prof John Pepper Clark Bekederemo. And from the ten artists who turned up, a sizeable number of portraits in drawings and paintings were churned out while the retired General posed.  In the midst of it classical and cool jazz music filtered through from a live bandstand led by Ayo Bankole at the background to soothe the atmosphere, calming the nerves of both model and artists alike.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Need to Reclaim Public Spaces for the Arts

Convent Garden is a well known public arena, a district in the UK. Year in, year out this Mecca of some sort is a potpourri of creativity and cultural out-pouring in theatre, Opera houses, art galleries, cinemas, shops and all manner of cultural activities including street performances. In the middle ages, the current square was a vegetable and floral field known as the convent garden: it supplied food to the monks of the nearby convent of St. Peter.

The old market which government of the day contemplated on demolishing for some private estate development was later to be transformed into a remarkable shopping and leisure centre due to mass public protest in the early nineteen seventies. And so an erstwhile abandoned public space was converted to become the tourist haven it is today for the United Kingdom.

 In (Lagos) Nigeria however, a good and successful example of how this idea could be harnessed is in the present use of the old Federal Prisons structures at central Lagos, which the Lagos State government has in recent years rehabilitated and turned into a fun, recreational and entertainment centre called Freedom Park. 

Freedom Park

Freedom Park is erected directly on the site of the colonial prison where prominent Nigerians had their jail terms during the colonial era. The park, which is now a peaceful place for individual and collective contemplation and interaction, is open to the public on a daily basis. It is fast becoming an important centre of various artistic and cultural as well as recreational activities situated in the heart of Lagos. Within the complex the park stages from time to time art exhibitions, drama presentations among other activities, hence the facilities in this park include an art gallery, an amphi-theatre, shops, a museum complex, etc.

And today also in Lagos, by the sheer forthrightness and farsightedness of the German cultural centre, the Goethe Institut which had always nursed the hunger to bring about this kind of transformation especially for the art community, is already matching thoughts with action. And so through the able leadership of Marc-André Schmachtel, the current director, the Institute in Lagos is already taking steps towards reviving the vacant Printing Press building and transforming it into a vibrant art space. 

Before now, the ‘abandoned’ old Federal Government Press on Broad Street since the inception of this laudable ‘experiment’ has hosted series of events, courtesy – the Goethe Institut, such as photographic exhibitions, installations, and then ‘The Pop-Up Theatre’. The Pop-Up Theatre which is also an experiment geared towards taking the National Theatre to the people, in that it could be enabled to spring up anywhere instead of the traditional fixated national venue which has seen in recent years a drastic reduction in attendance and, or patronage and consequent enjoyment of these exhilarating live performances.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Healing Art

In present day attempts to consciously deploy the curative or healing essence of art, a few health centres including infirmaries and convalescence centres, have been involved with the research and adoption of art therapy. Thus clinics have been equipped with pictures (apart from music) that will enable patients recover quickly. In children’s wards for example, serene pictures depicting atmospheres of play and cheer are being used just by hanging them on the walls for the patients to see all the time. This approach is equally necessary in the adult wards. Also, super surreal pictures will go along way towards penetrating the soul of the on-looker. These kind of paintings truly engage the audience in a dialogue and conversation that touches the on the spirit. The essence of it is that the spirit man predominates the physical.

Sometimes it could be paintings showing holiday atmosphere; serene and solitary hideouts and resorts, etc. I emphasise paintings, and not just photographs, because the appeal of a painted picture is always different. It is unique, more romantic, and quaint and looking … you know, ‘created’. It could still be a quality print, i.e. the reproduction of an original painting.
I once discussed this aspect of art with a doctor friend of mine and he was deeply fascinated and amazed at this startling possibilities. We should start applying this in our hospitals and clinics with all seriousness. The use and application of this form of therapy then would therefore actually transcend from the mundane to the subliminal essence, by psychologists, physicians, psychiatrists and even spiritualists alike. It is indeed a whole new world.

Surreal painting by Jim Warren

And so what do we discover? It proves that no art is without impact; and no honest art is useless or without function. Therefore all art should not necessarily be polit art or some expressionistic symbols with belligerent overtones. Art should not always have to scream at you, or shout blood and depression. Some of what some unlearned critics and uninformed patrons, and even artists, see as pedestrian, ordinary, and lacking in function and purpose, could actually be treasure houses of elixir, and soothing balms for the soul. I seriously think this form of art deployment should now be seen, not as an alternative, which will be most naïve, but rather as a complement to orthodox medical science, and consciously applied, by enlightened or trained experts, in helping patients respond to healing, and recuperate effectively.

Certainly, a very pungent and provoking message in a piece of art that is aimed at social commentary will not be healthy viewing if you are looking to ameliorating accumulated tress of a corporate executive, daily hassles, or the urban traffic. But it will pay such an individual better to relax in front of a beautiful and tranquil picture. It definitely will help relax the nerves as well as lower the blood pressure. Some of these kinds of pictures will include – nature, country landscapes, seascapes, rhythmic abstractions or what I might call ‘painted music’, and related concepts. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Morgan Nwanguma


‘My race against time’
– By Yetunde Oladeinde, Arts & Life, The Nation Newspaper

Art is beauty; it is the gem of life. Art fuels your power of perception and vision; and how wonderful it is to emulate God in the art of creativity. The artist connects with nature, the sublime terrains of the universe, and the community because he is the mirror of society. “He maybe a prophet sometimes crying and screaming in the wilderness for those who care to listen. He is a friend of the muse. What can be more exhilarating?” asked Morgan Nwanguma rhetorically as he takes Yetunde Oladeinde into his world

Tell us about some of your works.
I practice in various mediums and modes of expression, all culminating in making me a well rounded creative agent – a complete artist: My creative energies find expressions in the visual arts such as painting, graphics designing, etc. On the other hand, I am a poet and creative writer with a couple of unpublished books lying on the shelves for now.  As a painter my works are rendered in two major mediums – oil painting and watercolours. My watercolours are a celebration of spontaneous colours and ‘happy accidents’, in which you capture the fleeting moments, your patience is put to test while you take a breath of fresh air in visual poetry as I usually refer to my works in that whimsical medium of expression.  

Oil painting affords me the freedom to express hard and deep concepts. I am able to execute concepts on a larger scale and of course a more durable format such as the canvas. The oil medium no doubt is the king of painting or two dimensional medium of expression. But in all, my paintings and drawings in whatever medium, will cut across impressionistic, and semi-abstract expressions most of the time. Sometimes too I would also delve into the surreal when there is the urge to express some ethereal impulses. One of my favourite paintings in this mode is the one I titled ‘Time is against you’. It is a race against time, and we are all involved in it. Therefore whatever is there to be done must be done right now, because you lose this moment, it is gone forever.

What are some of the exhibitions and projects in which you have participated?
I have had the privilege of having my works shown in various parts of the country and a few times abroad. My works also are proudly adorning so many private homes in Nigeria. Some adorn the walls of corporate entities as well as galleries. In foreign lands I am proud also to say that my works are in private collections in places such as – USA, Russia, Spain, Kenya, Venezuela, Taiwan, U.K., and Germany. My most memorable exhibition so far is my third solo show at DIDI Museum, Victoria Island in 1999, titled ‘Lyrical Expressions’. I am also a curator, and so have handled quite a few curatorial projects for group shows. A good example of these is ‘The Pains, The Tears, The Regrets’ - an art exhibition on violence against women by (LRRDC), also in 1999, at the National Museum in Lagos.

Monday, November 17, 2014


Art as most of us know is creativity and beauty. But beyond that is an intrinsic and subliminal value that is embedded in art. Thus art and the practice of art is also seeking to connect mankind with the essence and meaning of life and existence; it seeks to entrench a sense of harmony and the attainment of inner peace. Art is able to heal us all and our entire society.
After all, the whole man-made world is art. The buildings all around us - architecture of course being a fine art; the motor cars and the likes; textiles and fashion wears, etc. Take a look at the landscapes and skylines created by man. And of course – nature, the art of God; they are all works born out of creative thoughts and imagination. The Oxford Advanced Learner’s dictionary of current English defines art thus: The creation or expression of what is beautiful, especially in visual form. Beauty and creativity have therapeutic essence which gives rise to mind and body equilibrium.

Serene Landscape

It is important to go into these details in understanding art in its entirety, in order to fully appreciate its usefulness and relevance in the act and process of attaining wellness. But in the first place, what is the function of art? Art being as old as man, has always therefore been functional, be it for its spiritual core value, social or domestic, etc. But embedded in all of these, is its untapped great and hidden power to heal. Now, let us take this from the perspective of colour application and colour psychology. Colour, be it in painting, design or sculpture, etc, is used to enhance or beautify a work of art apart from being a medium of expression.

For a better grasp of this artistic essence, we shall delimit this discourse to the analysis of painting and colour. Thus before any colour is applied or used at all, the artist as well as most ‘conscious’ persons would understand the fact that there exists warm and cool colours, as well as neutral colours. There are also combinations that will turn out to be hot or cold, violent, rioting, noisy, and even harmonious. Colour usage also can result in balance, heaviness or lightness of mood, as well as the depiction of temperament and character, etc. Sometimes we react to colours or certain pieces of art works without knowing it. We know quite alright that we are feeling something but not knowing what, or why.

We can actually feel heat or cold physically, or even an alteration in the state of mind, due to colours we see around us. Most people would for instance reject the idea of having their rooms painted red or black. If anybody does otherwise, you would want their head examined I suppose. One would want to ask why this is so? Why do most men refuse an all bright red outfit, for instance, unless of course they are engaged in professional entertainment or showbiz? But ladies will gleefully act on the contrary, and it is normal! In fact a baby was known to have cried out hysterically when placed in a room painted with a strong RED; while we also know an all black surrounding can as well evoke a sombre feeling.     

Monday, November 3, 2014

FESTAC and the Tragedy of a Mask

In the year 1977, at the height of Nigeria’s past glory, the entire (global) black race converged on the Nigerian soil in a global feast we called FESTAC ’77. It is rather very unfortunate however that a few unlearned minds, sometimes even highly placed, have come to link the nations recent misfortunes, (which actually are attributable to barefaced misrule and corruption), to that global fiesta that brought fame and recognition, and also development to the country.

FESTAC actually means the world Festival of Arts and Culture (being the second edition of the world black and African festival of its kind) in which all black people and people of African descent were fully represented, and Nigeria just excelled herself in that memorable carnival of awesome colours . The symbol of that great gathering was the carved mask image of the Queen-Mother, Idia, during the reign of the irrepressible Oba Ovomramwen of the great ancient Benin Kingdom. That great kingdom is today a part of modern Nigeria.

The original FESTAC mask

In the month of February 1897, the British conquering colonialists carried out a raid which has been popularly tagged the “Punitive measure” on the then reigning monarch and his kingdom. Oba Ovomramwen who was said to be recalcitrant towards the colonial rule had his empire sacked and he was subsequently deposed to Calabar. Many of his chiefs were killed in that coercive move, and the climax of it all was the looting carried out on the vast artistic treasures of Benin. The stolen works of art from the private collections of the royal house are said to number more than 3,000 pieces of treasured artefacts which were carted away to the United Kingdom by the British. 

Among the numerous treasures carted away stands out one particular piece – the carved mask of Queen Idia, the queen-mother herself. It is instructive to note that the FESTAC mask or symbol, which was employed during the festivities, was actually a replica of this stolen mask. As the British refused to return, donate or sell it back to the country, the Nigerian government of the day commissioned a skilled craftsman in the modern day Benin area (which is still famous for its rare quality traditional craftsmanship) to produce a copy of the original mask. And this was what was used at FESTAC ’77. As it stands therefore, the original mask that was stolen from the Benin treasures is sadly sitting in the British museum where many tourists world-wide, including Nigerians sometimes, come to pay to see this beautiful work of ancient Benin artistry among other works in the museum.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Issues in Modern and Contemporary Nigerian Art

In resolving the bugging issues relating to modern and contemporary Nigerian art, it is important however to note the differences as well as similarities between the terms - Modern art and Contemporary Art, and then look at them in the Nigerian context. Modern art includes artistic works produced during the period extending roughly from the 1860s to the 1970s, and denotes the style and philosophy of the art produced during that era.

Modern artists experimented with new ways of seeing and with fresh ideas about the nature of materials and functions of art. A tendency toward abstraction is characteristic of much of modern art. This movement actually begins with the heritage of painters like Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Georges Seurat and Henri de Toulouse Lautrec, all of whom were essential for the development of modern art. But Contemporary art can be defined variously as art produced at this present point in time, or art produced since World War II. The definition of the word contemporary would support the first view, but museums of contemporary art commonly define their collections as consisting of art produced since World War II.

Ceramic sculpture by Ato Arinze

According to Dr. Dele Jegede, the erosion of the traditional base of Nigerian culture through contact with Europeans had set off a metamorphosis in patronage and artistic promotion. Western education interrupted the traditional apprenticeship system. Between the 1930s and 1960s, Christianity and a new social order contributed to the genesis of a new era in Nigerian arts. The Oshogbo and Oye Ekiti workshops were important watersheds, which led to a new patronage system, along with the emergence of galleries, new opportunities for exhibitions, and government-sponsored cultural festivals. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Surrealism today

Surrealism in art is an area that has always fascinated me, and I have utmost respect for the practitioners of this branch of painting. Sometimes I have delved into this realm myself and it is wonderful a times treading on these parts of the somewhat esoteric realm. It is a 20th century movement of artists and writers (developing out of dadaism) who used fantastic images and incongruous juxtapositions in order to represent unconscious thoughts and dreams. And thus you will begin to wonder what really goes on in the minds of these artists.

 Take a look at the works of the all time great - Salvador Dali and those who have come up after him for instance. Even these days, the level of sophistication and sheer skill on display by the adherents of this genre is just incredible. However, here in Nigeria, the notable names are rather few and still remain the likes of – Abayomi Barber, Muyiwa Spencer, Muri Adejimi, etc. In the eighties, and on to the very early nineties, I was highly enthralled by the works of the late Boniface Okafor. The power and vision inherent in his paintings have remained of the highest order. But in the western world it is tremendously astonishing what they have continued to churn out today. Here are just a few of what I have encountered: 

Morgan Nwanguma

All in Your Eyes