How to drive economic diversification through cultural and artistic enterprise

The richness of Nigeria’s cultural heritage provoked a convergence of promoters , professionals, government agencies and parastatals, celebrating the hallmark of influence and inspiration in the products of an art movement, whose origin in Osogbo, Osun State, has made its historical mark across generations.

Its reflection would resonate across time and inspire emergence, courage, steadfastness and pride while it carries on a foundation of culture and traditions through which its impressions are instilled.

However, in the wake of a growing generation, the movement; the Oshogbo Art School has called on the youth not to loose their footing on traditions and practices of their origins to the fancy of the western world while it maintains its own. Development of Nigerian art, through its culture and traditions must be a priority for every government.

While the Director-General of the National Gallery of Art (NGA), Adbullahi Muku, has said art development is on the front burner of government’s agenda and interest, particularly now that government is trying to diversify the economy, artists at the Oshogbo Arts Movement disagree, noting that no development has occurred since government’s announcement of the diversification agenda.

Muku, in agreement that art should be sellable and commercially profitable, quoted the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, saying art would also step in against the country’s dependence on oil, which he said, is what government intends to encourage.

The DG, who was at the opening of Celebration of 50 years of Oshogbo School of Art, held at the Thought Pyramid Art Centre in Abuja, on Tuesday, said government is working on the review of enabling law supporting the arts, which currently focuses more on social service than commercial profitability. He said the embellishment of public spaces is also on the front burner of issues to be tackled by government.

He explained that where Nigerian art, which is well appreciated internationally and much more locally now than before, would have spaces where creative works can be appreciated and reviewed in a competitive environment, artists would be better encouraged to produce qualitative and appreciative works of art.

“Apart from the wealth generation factor of the arts for the artist, it can create employment opportunities. We are also working on the embellishment of public spaces where a percentage would be set aside for the embellishing of sites to encourage art appreciation and development.

“People have come to realise that art can be an alternative to the oil we have over time relied on. Through art, employment is being created. Most of the time, artists are not looking for government work but are looking for an environment to thrive in most of the time,” Muku said.

Chiefs Muraina Oyelami (left) and Jimoh Buraimoh ... at the Abuja show on Tuesday.

Chiefs Muraina Oyelami (left) and Jimoh Buraimoh … at the Abuja show on Tuesday.

The Oshogbo Arts Movement, however, said that as far as it is concerned, government has done nothing for the arts. The Movement also said government has done nothing on the diversification of the economy in respects to tourism and arts, especially in the area of job creation.

The Oshogbo Art at 50 celebration, which played host to rare art pieces and works from pioneering members of the Movement such as Twins Seven Seven, Jacob Afolabi, Muraina Oyelami, Adebisi Fabunmi, Jimoh Buraimoh and Rufus Ogundele, made its bold statement of reverence, honour, perseverance and integrity as the representing works bespoke with the fierceness of the influencing spirit commanding its fair candour of respect.

Earlier at the celebration, former governor of Osun State and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the collaborating organisers of the event and exhibition, the Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding (CBCIU), Olagunsoye Oyinlola, believes that culture is at the basis of international tourism and has facilitated growth and allowed various sections of societies to participate in development processes.

Though he was absent at the event, in his statement read by a representative, he praised the high confidence reposed in the celebrated artists, describing them as great cultural assets and remarkable reference points in Yoruba folkore and the Nigerian story .

He further referred to them as true heroes who have inspired generations with their selfless commitment to community development, their creativity, and entrepreneurship and recommended the values they portray as solutions for some of the challenges concerning poverty eradication and wealth creation in the country.

The journey began in 1964 when ‘The Ordained Six’, namely: Adebisi Fabunmi, who was a baker; Muraina Oyelami, a drummer cum petrol station attendant; Jimoh Buraimoh, an electrician; Taiwo Olaniyi also known as Twin Seven-Seven, who was a commercial dancer; Rufus Ogundele, a drummer and Jacob Afolabi, a bartender, cleared the path for a sustainable artistic venture for others to follow.

The relevance of the Mbari-Mbayo Artists and Writer’s Club 1964 Summer Art School, to the jubilee celebration of the Oshogbo Art School, which produced a league of pioneering artists who would come to be popularly known as the ‘Ordained Six’ can never be over-emphasised, probably because of their pace-setting qualities that would inspire creative works of many artists across generations after the workshop initiative.

The most interesting detail about the Ordained Six may however be the fact that they were not amateur or semi-skilled artist per se, but people only participated in a workshop targeted at encouraging non-professional society to attempt the artistic endeavour, which eventually produced creatively imaginative minds that would emerge as masters of the form.

Over fifty years down the line, the initiative which gave birth to the iconic venture would pull a gathering of enthusiasts, professionals and scholars in the nation’s capital, Abuja, for a convergence in celebration mentorship, invention, imagination and initiative.

The event played host to rare art pieces and important works from pioneering members of the Oshogbo Art Movement such as Twins Seven-Seven, Jacob Afolabi, Muraina Oyelami, Adebisi Fabunmi, Jimoh Buraimoh and Rufus Ogundele, the Ordained Six.

According to a Director at the National Gallery of Art, Mufu Onifade, Oshogbo Art had, in the beginning, sneaked in through the backdoor of primitivism, or naivety of form, but owing to conspiracy theory of time, consistency of practice and sustenance of exhibitions and salons, the Art advanced on to an unprecedented acceptability and a huge followership.

“In Nigerian Art historical evolution, no Art Group has been celebrated as much as the Osogbo Art Group,” Onifade said.

Onifade narrated that apart from training and producing as many successors as possible, Osogbo Art also extended its frontiers by influencing a new generation of artists who hail from Osogbo, based in Osogbo or had had contact with the Osogbo Art tradition. Primitivism soon developed into a giant constituency of originality and authenticity.

“Today, the Nigerian creative industry hankers for entrepreneurial approach to Art so that Nigerian artists can live by the ‘mercantilistic’ benefit of their art. Ironically, this has always been one of the strengths of Osogbo Art.

“Its part focus on ‘sellable’ and ‘commercially profitable’ art has assisted its exponents’ explorative aggressiveness, thus resulting in sustainable marketability. This is why it is easy to find artists who imbibe the Osogbo spirit of entrepreneurship at embassies, international mission houses and events, presenting their art in a most simplified way that guarantees commercial action and success,” he added.

Of the Six artists celebrated, only two were present at the exhibition. Chiefs Jimoh Braimoh and Muraina Oyelami. The elder artists, who are both titled chiefs in their respective communities, were fully accessible throughout the jubilee celebration especially during the Artist Talk also held at exhibition space in the Thought Pyramid Art Centre venue in Abuja.

While three of the artists have passed, one of them, Adebisi Fabunmi, was however not in attendance.

Jimoh Braimoh, one of the exhibiting artists at the jubilee event and member of the celebrated ‘Ordained Six’ is a pioneering artist in the history of modern art in Africa. This is mostly nonetheless owed to his being Africa’s first bead painter having in 1964 created the contemporary art form, inspired by the Yoruba tradition of incorporating beadwork designs into ceremonial fabrics and beaded crowns. Some of his works were exhibited.

Muraina Oyelami, on the other hand, is a painter, printmaker, poet, musician and actor. His works of Oil on Board were also featured along with Chief Braimoh’s and the other four artists.

Chief Oyelami made his strong views about the Oshogbo Art School noted especially on the influences of Georgina Beier and Uli Beier and he was quite unflinching about it. At the Artist talk event, Oyelami explained how the inner strengths and spirit of the artists had paved the path to their self discovery of self and style as he laid to rest the controversy that Georgina Beier had taught the artists how to paint.

“Georgina never taught us how to paint, she just gave us materials and we didn’t know what she meant it for. But we loved doing it. We never saw so much paint, so many colours. The art workshop was a wonderful experience because it taught us to see our own potential.

“I think that I can say that Fabunmi, Rufus, Twins Seven-Seven and myself, each discovered a new dimension in ourselves and painting is really like going into a strange place, like an unknown territory, and then you have to let your own integrity guide you. The importance of the art workshop to us was that it gave us our own identity,” he said.

While he encouraged younger artists to imbibe strong moral values with their art practice, he urged against dependence on government for development and advancement.

When asked of his views on government’s diversification agenda, Chief Oyelami said: “Has government ever done anything for the arts? With our 50 years of experience, no governmental agency has come to say to in appreciation of our works and for posterity’s sake take up collections of our works.

“As far as the Oshogbo Arts movement is concerned, government has done nothing for the arts. They have done nothing on the diversification of the economy in respects to tourism and arts. They have done nothing to create jobs in the arts.

“Lai Mohammed is now in charge. Maybe they are yet to settle down because of the political unrest, we have to forge ahead even if we are in trouble. We cannot say because we have crises, we cannot eat when we are hungry. No! You eat, so you can continue to face the problem. I think it is high time government unveiled what they want to do on diversification.

“I recently spoke to some staff of the NGA where they have directors who claim to have deep appreciation for the arts, yet, they can’t boast of any work of art collected by their agency,” he said.

While agreeing that issues being faced in the arts sector should be on the front burner for government, especially with its diversification plan to shift the nation’s dependence on oil revenue, implored government to develop an Arts Trust Fund.

He stipulated that the existence of such funds may most likely exist, but where square pegs in round holes are the order of the day, it will never amount to any good.

“I mean government tends to appoint people who either have no business in the industry or are even least qualified simply because they are connected or know someone in the high echelon of the society.

“For example, when once a man like Sir Victor Uwaifo was given a notable appointment in the culture sector, there were revolutionary trends during the period because it was like a round peg put in a round hole.

“This is lacking in so many of these parastatals that has to do with arts and culture. Not until we have people who are experts in their chosen fields placed in the right places before we can see a government official acknowledging or truly admiring the works of the arts.”

Chief Braimoh, on the aspect of mercantilism and commercial profitability, however, advised young artists not to be dependent on proceeds from sale of their works but develop a sort of bilateral relationship between their work in the art and have a job on the side in the interest of preserving the integrity of their creative engagement.

“What we do is to express ourselves through art. If people come to us to buy, we sell. When no one comes, it didn’t matter to us if we didn’t sell. The reason is because I have something else to fall back to. Even Chief Oyelami also has something to fall back to.

“This is why we ask every artist to have a second job. Like Bruce Onobrakpeya who was once a teacher. When he was teaching, he was at the same time working on his art. The same goes for Yusuf Grillo, Oshinowo and so on. I had my own job too before coming into the arts and I still have something I am doing,” he said.

While strongly advising against compromise of quality for the sake of profitability, he encouraged young artists to alongside having a job, have an agent to help oversee affairs with their creations and try as much as possible not to present themselves cheaply for cheap gains.

“Artists should not chase buyers around but organise befitting exhibition and respectfully in honour of their work and art. Also, we do art to promote Nigeria, its image and culture home and abroad and impart on the younger generation so that they can imbibe the idea and not to loose direction or origins.

“If you get to my house now, you will find series of works I kept and may refuse to sell sometimes maybe for a while because I am not a commercial artist like those in ‘Bar Beach’. Artists may sell, but should attempt to only sell few and preserve,” he added.

Ayo Ayanwale, who is member of the Board of Trustees of CBCIU, and Assistant Director of Culture, Ministry of Information and Culture, is also a traditional drummer and traditional poet. He coordinated a “Orisa Dances in Yoruba land” video also launched at the jubilee celebration along with a journal by the CBCIU.

He advocated for the commercialisation of art, especially Yoruba art but mostly for the purpose of exposing the artists from the present all through history. He said most masters of creative arts are gone but their works remain and are deserving of appreciation. Also, he stressed the need to encourage and enlighten young artists, which is part of the purpose of the Oshogbo School of Arts celebration.

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