jegede’s Septuagenarian Dance Reopens Talks On Visual Arts Practice
Prof. dele jegede whose career traverses studio and the academia could not have asked for anything more than what he got during his 70th birthday anniversary in Lagos. For two days, the community of artists from across Nigeria converged on Lagos to celebrate jegede, a painter, cartoonist, art administrator and art historian who is currently based in Ohio, U.S.
Whatever anyone needed to know about jegede’s academic sojourn was summarised in about seven minutes the of opening speech given on the day-one of Introspection: dele jegede @ 70, by Deputy Vice Chancellor, Prof. Duro Oni to a full audience at the Department of Creative Arts, University of Lagos, Akoka. Oni traced the emergence of the university’s school of arts to jegede’s contribution in the years of Centre for Cultural Studies – a unit that later evolved into the current department. While noting the contributions of quite a number of administrators, including Dr. Sheri Ajasin, Prof. Laz Ekwueme and the one he described as “the Tsunami, Prof. Peju Layiwola” who have, individually, contributed to the strength of the department since 1998, Oni argued that “it is the fastest growing in UNILAG.”
In fact, he stated that quite a number of the university’s VCs had testified to the contribution of jegede in building what later metamorphosed into the Department of Creative Arts.
Interestingly, the opening of Introspection: dele jegede @ 70 was also scheduled as day-three of two weeks of events to mark the formal opening of Department of Creative Arts’ new facility as well as the exit of Layiwola as Acting HOD. And perhaps to flaunt the quality of the department, a short interlude of dance drama by students was staged inside the auditorium of the new building.
Chairman, Organising Committee of dele jegede @ 70, Dr. Kunle Filani was elated that the personality of the celebrant brought many artists together under one roof, which he said was in a rare thing. “For a long time, we have not had as many artists at a single event as we have now,” Filani stated.
Ahead of the event, the current president of Society of Nigeria Artists (SNA), Mr. Oliver Enwonwu had noted as “immense” jegede’s “contributions to the development of the society, as well as contemporary Nigerian art.”
Currently a lecturer at Miami University, U.S., jegede is a native of Ikere-Ekiti in Ekiti State, Nigeria. He trained at Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, before proceeding to Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, where he graduated in painting in 1973; he won the department’s prize. He also received his PhD in Art History from Indiana University, Bloomington, U.S.
jegede was the Art Editor at Daily Times before he became a research fellow at the Centre for Cultural Studies, University of Lagos. He has been professor of Art History at Miami University since 2005 and has taken part in several exhibitions in Nigeria and internationally. His work can also be found in many public and private collections both here and abroad.
Another art historian at University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu State Prof. Ola Oloidi who gave the keynote started by firing at those he described as “professionally disabled” in the visual arts profession. Such people, he noted, needed to study the career of jegede to understand what professionalism is all about. Oloidi highlighted the footprints of jegede on the landscape of Nigerian art across disciplines.
“As a cartoonist, he was a household name in the 1970s,” Oloidi recalled, describing jegede’s work as cartoons with “dramatic characterisation.” Oloidi eulogised other qualities of jegede as “art historian with focus on “decolonisation”: an educator who has “produced many students at post-graduate level”; a great administrator who employs “diplomacy” to achieve so much, particularly in his contribution to Centre for Cultural Studies, UNILAG; a reformer as president of SNA under whose tenure the professional body was “re-registered” and had increased activities.
Most significant among jegede’s legacy – outside the academia – Oloidi stressed, was SNA’s leading role in the process of reviewing a government document known as Cultural Policy for Nigeria. Parts of the gains of the exercise, Oloidi stated, was the eventual emergence of National Gallery of Art (NGA).
Quite a note of lamentation from Oloidi set in as he reminded the audience that the NGA, which artists – under the leadership of jegede, helped to midwife over 20 years ago – has been slated for merger with another parastatal of government.
Recall that a White Paper Report of the Committee on Restructuring and Rationalisation of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies released last year recommended, among others, that NGA be merged with National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM). The merger was to be known as National Commission for Museums, Monuments and Arts. “The merger is anti-progressive,” Oloidi told the audience. He noted that “NGA is being suffocated by lack of funding,” a situation that has grounded “both local and international events being organised by the parastatals.” More crucial, the current state of NGA, he said, is worsened as “a gallery without a wall.”
Oloidi, a leading figure on the Nigerian art history space, would not sum up without beaming a searchlight on the art academia. He described as “intimidation,” a process that makes “lecturers of Art History to include creative works of art and exhibition for promotion in tertiary institutions.” Similarly, he disagreed with the directive of the National University Commission (NUC) that artists in the academia must get a PhD. He warned that given the pressure and desperation to acquire more academic qualifications, “some PhDs are being manufactured.”
The two lead papers dele jegede in the Context of Zaria and Development of Artistic Creativity in Contemporary Nigerian Art by a lecturer at ABU, Zaria, Prof. Jacob Jari and Historicizing Contemporary Nigerian Art: Four Decades of Critical and Professional Practice by a lecturer at University of Port Harcourt Prof. Frank Ugiomoh were presented shortly after Oloidi’s address. One of the presentations Beyond Paradigms: Children’s Art in Nigeria a panacea to Socio Economic Empowerment.came from Dr Khadijah Iyabo Tijani of Department of Fine Arts, Faculty of Environmental Design, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria and Oladesu Johnson, of Department of Design and Architecture, Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye, Ibogun Campus.
AMONG responses to the papers presented were that of the celebrant, jegede and the Director-General, NGA, Abdulahi Muku. Perhaps, to ease out much burden off the mainstream academia, jegede suggested that SNA should have a National Academy of Fine Art.
On the proposed controversial merger, he agreed with the rationalization of agencies in the culture sector, arguing that “there are obvious duplication of duties.” But the NGA, he stated, “should be left alone, not merged,” and recommended that “it has to be developed into a centre of excellence that will offer quality service and be a major attraction for researchers and those interested in our creative resources so that it will be relevant to the interest of the artists and the country.”
Muku pleaded with the community of artists to take a common stand against the merger, saying, ¨”I think we all need to speak with one voice to save the NGA from being merged with the NCMM.” He recalled the efforts of the management to prevent the merger. “We at the NGA management have made several appearances before the committee that the government set up on the matter, and they told us that it will not be merged.”
He explained that the management was left out of the later part of the process, noting, “Surprisingly at the last sitting of the committee, we were not even invited to make representation.”
On Day-2 of the event, sub-titled The Creative Confab (Stampede), held at the Art Complex Foyer, Yaba College of Technology, the issue of PhDs in studio practice generated quite a heated debate. Some minutes later, shortly before the art exhibition opened to the public at Yusuf Grillo Gallery, the celebrant warned educationists over tampering with the MFA as a terminal degree for artists. “The MFA is still the terminal degree, even if you have a PhD. Administrators should think twice before making the MFA less relevant.”
jegede has been consistent on the issue of terminal degree for visual artist. For example, in 2012 when he was the guest speaker at an NGA-organised ‘Eleventh Distinguished Lecture and Fifth National Symposium on Nigerian Art,’ held at the Mini Theatre, Cultural Centre, Calabar, Cross River State, he argued that the status of terminal degrees for various disciplines should not have been vested in the NUC. “The university regulatory body should not have the last word on what terminal degrees belong to which field.” And in a situation of possible review of the nation’s academic structure for teacher’s competency-test or criteria, jegede recommended “a credible independent national body – independent of NUC and the departments of art and design in tertiary institutions, but consultative to them. He insisted, “We owe our country to ensure that rather than emphasise acquisition of prefixes without fixes, our degrees are competitive with the best that similar institutions have to offer globally.”
With the current air of anticipated change in Nigeria, jegede told a gathering of artists at the Yaba ‘stampede’ not to be left out. “There is a new Sheriff in town in the person of President Muhammadu Buhari. Artists need to be proactive to contribute to the new mentality in the country.”
The exhibition, according to a member of the organising committee and chairman, SNA, Lagos State chapter, Dotun Alabi, was earlier intended to feature just the works of jegede. But the challenges of sourcing enough works of jegede for the exhibition led to the inclusion of other works from jegede’s colleagues, as well as other artists selected from across the country.
It turned out quite a rich collection of works of artists such as Kolade Oshinowo, Gani Odutokun, David Dale, Abiodun Olaku, Kefas Danjuma as well as younger artists Segun Aiyesan, Grrace Soyinka, Yusuf Durodola, among others enriched the exhibition.
In 2011, jegede had a solo art exhibition titled Peregrinations at Nike Art Gallery, Lekki, Lagos.
A bio of the celebrant states: jegede earned his Ph.D. degree in Art History at Indiana University, Bloomington, U.S., where he studied with Roy Sieber (1923-2001). Since the 1970s, he has taught in diverse environments and served in academic, professional, and leadership capacities locally and internationally. He was Fulbright Scholar at Spelman College (1987); Director of the Center for Cultural Studies, University of Lagos (1989-1992); President, Society of Nigerian Artists (1989-1992); Senior Post-Doctoral Fellow at the National Museum of African Art, the Smithsonian Institution (1995); President, Arts Council of the African Studies Association (ACASA), (1996-1998); and professor and Chair, Department of Art, Indiana State University, (2002-2005; Interim Chair, 2001-2002). From 2005 to 2010, he was Chair of the Department of Art, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.
jegede is active on visitation assignments for the National Association of Schools of Art and Design, NASAD. His research interests straddle the two worlds of studio practice and art history. As art historian, his research is concerned with the contemporary and popular arts of Africa, with particular focus on the seamlessness of creative boundaries in the city of Lagos, Nigeria, possibly Africa’s craziest city. As a painter, his creative research draws on iconic elements in African and Western cultures. He has had numerous solo and group exhibitions and participated in several conferences at national and international levels. As a teacher, he has developed and taught courses in African and African American art, and his teaching approach promotes experiential and hands-on learning.
In 2000, he curated two major exhibitions. “Contemporary African Art: Five Artists, Diverse Trends,” opened at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and featured Magdalene Odundo, Ezrom Legae, Mariam Aleem, Twins Seven Seven, and Kane Kwei while “Women to Women: Weaving Cultures, Shaping History” was held at the University Gallery, Indiana State University. It featured Sokari Douglas Camp, Ndidi Dike, Marcia Kure, and Iyabo Abiola. Both exhibits were accompanied by exhibition catalogs.
The innovative DC-ROM, Five Windows into Africa, which contains dele jegede’s window on This is Lagos was published by Indiana University Press. The remaining four windows feature contributions by Patrick McNaughton, Ruth Stone, Brian Winchester, and John Hanson. Prof. jegede has published extensively on diverse aspects of African art. His most recent book Encyclopedia of African American Artists: Artists of the American Mosaic, My New Book was published by Greenwood Press in 2009.
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