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. 

All in Your Eyes