Social media and smartphones have had significant impact on art world. Digital has put power in the hands of collectors and aficionados to search at will for information, as well as to choose among a myriad of means in order to acquire art.
Twelve years after former Director-General, Chief Joe Musa, initiated plans to build a befitting edifice for National Gallery of Art (NGA) in Lagos or Abuja, not much has been achieved in this regard at the 26-year-old federal agency.
Beyond documenting through exhibitions and book publications, there is no edifice in Abuja, which suggests the height of the gallery’s activities.
Dr. Simon O. Ikpakronyi, the acting Director-General, has assured of a renewed determination to realise the goal.
Ikpakronyi, a seminal figure in Nigerian art, believes that the facility is not only a homage to the country’s strength as a major player in the contemporary art scene, but equally canonised the profundity of Nigeria’s artists.
He notes that without a gallery edifice where NGA could hold its events, the government and the people will not acknowledge or appreciate its functions.
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According to him, if NGA has an edifice it will host exhibitions of its works that are rotten away in stores. “Such exhibitions will be opened to Nigerians and foreigners to appreciate the quality of artworks by Nigerian artists, living or dead. This is my major concern and direction.”
Ikpakronyi laments, “periodically, artworks in our collections would have been exhibited for months and later returned to the store for preservation. Artworks are supposed to be kept under certain conditions and space that enhance their preservation or conservation. As we speak, we cannot guarantee such appropriate conditions and spaces where the works are now. We have over 3000 artworks by the masters in our collection. By cramping them together we are denying the artworks life.”
The DG, who spoke on his six months in office, described the lack of such facility as a huge setback to the growth of Nigerian art and artists, adding that the poor conditions of some artworks in the stores would not have arisen if NGA had its edifice designed to host its shows.
He continues, “during my defence of NGA budget at the National Assembly recently, I made it clear that my dream and direction is for NGA to have a befitting gallery. The good news is that the two committees (House and Senate) on culture and NGA are on the same page on this matter.”
He adds, ‘’NGA has been at the Federal Secretariat Complex, Abuja for some years now. And you cannot find any identification to show NGA exists there. Yet, we have about 26 outstations across the country. We may adopt Public-Private partnership arrangement to raise funds for the project. I know for sure that building such an edifice is not a day’s work, but we can start from somewhere. And it will grow from there.”
Ikpakronyi’s personal history and artistic oeuvre is quite commendable. He holds a master’s degree and Ph.D in Art History from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He equally has a Master of Philosophy (M.Phil.) and Master of Arts (M.A.) degrees in Visual Arts: Art History (African Studies) from the University of Ibadan.
He had also obtained a Bachelor degree (B.A.) from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, in the same discipline, and a Certificate in Policy, Strategy and Leadership from the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPPS), Jos.
At the time of his going to NGA, there was ideological privileged of politics, histories and cultures, which made him seek a path that engages the predatory longing of the young graduate: the desire to conquer and appropriate the intellectual material to advance the African society.
Ikpakronyi reveals that he has been part of the NGA journey and now is the opportunity to make a difference.
On December 12, 2019, NGA will be celebrating the producer of FESTAC mask, Pa Joseph Igbinovia Alufa.
NGA will hold an exhibition of the artist’s works and images in Benin City. Already, a documentary is being done on him, “because up till now, very little has been written about him. Remember that Pa Alufa rescued the Black race from British embarrassment when Britain refused to return the original Queen Idia mask that was used for FESTAC 77 symbol.”
He continues, “we decided to put a search light on him and project his works to the world. The exhibition will be accompanied with a book.”
Before now, NGA had staged major art shows featuring the works of Nigeria’s revered artist and scholar, Prof. Jimo Akolo titled, Jimo Akolo: Eminent Scholar and Painter. A comprehensive book publication documenting the life and works of the Professor emerged from the programme.
Another exhibition held between July 26 and 28, at the same Exhibition Pavilion, Radio House, Abuja. This time, it was in honour of Demas Nwoko titled, Demas Nwoko: Renowned Artist and Outstanding Architect.
A book showcasing and documenting the works of the iconic artist and architect was equally produced.
“These people are old and we need to document the now,” he confesses.
At the last National Festival of Arts and Culture (NAFEST 2019), from August 22 to 24, NGA was in Benin at the Conference Hall, Protea Hotel, staging another major exhibition tagged, Art of Benin Kingdom: Complementing Coronation and Igue Festival. A rich publication on Benin art was equally presented at the occasion.
On July 8, at Cyprian Ekwensi Centre for Arts & Culture, Abuja, NGA held a programme tagged, Rainbow art: Unlocking creativity designed to tap the hidden creative genius of children and youth to the admiration of the culture community.
On August 30, NGA was at Igbo-Ukwu, Anambra State where it had a successful and colourful art exhibition to mark this year’s New Yam Festival. The show was received with applause by the indigenes and visitors.
‘’Truly, NGA has been doing some of its programmes but in few months these will be forgotten. However, we will still do the major ones, but we have not been able to hold major ones, such as ARESUVA, that we transformed to Biennale. This is worrisome. In fact, we need to resuscitate these programmes and possibly trim them,” he says.
‘’As for the Aina Onabolu Complex in Lagos, it is unfortunate that as at today, it is the only property NGA has. Yet, we have not given it adequate attention. But it is going to be of priority to us now. We will soon be in Lagos for a Christmas exhibition featuring works from our collection. Hopefully, we will turn the complex around.”
He says: “I came in at a time programmes of NGA were no longer coming up as regularly as before due to paucity of funds. Even though the Gallery account was almost empty at the time, I was convinced that we could bring NGA back to reckoning again.”
For him, “programmes are the soul of any government organisation. There are no excuses for not executing them on a regular basis. As a foundation staff, I looked back to NGA’s glorious past and I was poised to turn the table, money or no money. Hence, I rolled up my sleeves and dared management and staff of NGA to think outside the box and bring back that glory.”
According to Ikpakronyi, “it is a huge challenge running a parastatal like NGA. Till date, many top government officials cannot differentiate the functions of National Commission for Museums and Monuments from that of NGA and National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC).”
To this end, “we are planning to host members of the two National Assembly committees on culture to rub minds on these key agencies’ needs and mandates including having edifice that represent the quality and quantity of works Nigeria has. Again agency like Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilisation (CBAAC) deserves same edifice that will house its collections, which maybe in poor state like those of NGA and NCAC.”
A foundation staff of NGA, Ikpakronyi worked closely with three Director Generals in the agency and has curated several art exhibitions. He has also written extensively on modern African Art, particularly, the Nigerian art.
Before his elevation, he was the Director, Planning and Research, NGA. He had earlier served as Director, Planning and Documentation as well as the Director, Educational Services.
Some of his seminal publications include, Timothy Adebajo Fasuyi: The Doyen of Zaria Art School in Timothy Adebanjo Fasuyi: A Renowned Artist and Educationist; Ben Enwonwu: One of the Two Pillars of Nigerian Modern Art in Ben Enwonwu: Life and Times; Yusuf Grillo and His Contemporaries in the Growth of Nigerian Art in Yusuf Grillo: His Life and Works; Uche Okeke: Exponent of Drawing in Modern Nigerian Visual Art in Nku Di Na Mba: Uche Okeke and Modern Nigerian Art; The Zaria Art Society: Insight in the Zaria Art Society: A New Consciousness; Kolade Osinowo’s Biography and Interest in Painting in Osinowo, Modern Art of Benin Kingdom: Their Classifications and Cultural Relevance in The Coronation: Art of Benin Kingdom among others.
The Acting DG is a member of such international associations as the Art Council of African Studies Association (ACASA); International Committee of Museums and Collections of Modern Art (CIMAM) and International Council of Museums & Art Council or Movements and Sites (ICOM/ICOMS).
He also belongs to Art Historical Association of Nigeria (AHAN); Nigerian Curators’ Guild (NCG); Nigerian Art Studies Association (NASA); Museum Association of Nigeria (MAN) and Pan African Circle of Artists (PACA).