Monday, 15 September 2008

Soundbites From ARESUVA, The First African Regional Summit and Exhibition on Visual Art

I was unable to attend this pioneering event but I got a balanced feedback from friends and colleagues within the country and from the rest of the continent who attended. In spite of the many shortcomings - to be expected of any big event being organised for the first time - the positives outweighed the deficits. The African artists and art professionals appreciated the efforts made singlehandedly and without recourse to constraining international funding (an important point) by the Nigerian government and Nigerian corporate sponsors to bring over 30 African artists and cultural practitioners from over 15 African countries and the Diaspora together. For long we have said that we need to find multiple platforms within the continent where we can come together at regular intervals to discuss issues, exchange ideas, develop our practice - artistic and curatorial, articulate a discourse and create a framework that reflects our contemporaneity. Events are mushrooming all over the continent and with its stupendous oil wealth and its unparalled rich cultural heritage there is no reason why Nigeria should not be at the forefront of the development of cultural infrastructure - physical and intellectual on the continent.

My good friend and cross-continental soundboard, the Zambian artist William Miko who came with 3 other young Zambian artists said the younger ones were amazed at how many Profs (notwithstanding the fact that we just luvve titles) specialising in the field of visual art and culture came up to present papers. Nobody doubts the artistic and intellectual capacity of Nigerians in the country or in the diaspora but we need to find a way to work more together, harnessing our resources collectively to create a critical mass in the cultural field. The National Gallery of Art, Nigeria with its recent project Aresuva is taking that bold step which will be built upon in coming years.

I just returned from a seminar in Germany for African cultural organisations and during one of the presentations my colleague from Ouagadougou began with phrase by his former minister of culture who said something like If Africa is behind in grabbing economic power, then it has everything it needs to be a powerful leader in culture.

I am not convinced that economic development will result in Uhuru for Africa but I do BELIEVE that cultural power will get us closer to the promised land. Aresuva signals that possibility.

I am sure more debates and discussions will surface in the coming days and I still have 1 or 2 things i would like to add. In the meantime I post this communique I received in my mailbox which can be used as a starting point to flesh out issues.



ARESUVA 2008 drew participants from all walks of life: Nigeria, Rwanda, Ghana, Uganda, Senegal, Zambia, Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Benin republic, Cote D’Ivoire, Togo Ethiopia and Nigerian artists in the Diaspora. The event also drew participants from the media and the general public. The theme of the event was “Promoting the Visual Arts for Sustainable Economic Growth and Development in Africa.” On display at ARESUVA 2008 exhibition were two hundred and one pieces of artworks in a variety of media. The event was organized to bring together artists, scholars, and culture experts from Africa and the Black Diaspora. A total of seven well-researched and thought-provoking papers were presented. The titles and presenters are as follows:

(a) “Awaiting prospecting: Visual Arts and Economy in Africa.” (Professor Ola Oloidi, University of Nigeria, Nsukka.)
(b) “A Critique of the Idea of Arts as Luxury: Art and the Architecture of Politics.” (Professor Ikem Stanley Okoye, University of Delaware, USA.
(c) “African Regional Summit and Exhibition on Visual Arts: The Cultural and Economic Viability of Monumental Sculpture in Public Places.” (Agbo Folarin, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.)
(d) “Structures and Strictures in the Nigerian Art Space.” Professor dele jegede, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, USA.
(e) “The Visual Art Sub-Sector: A key Industry in Poverty Alleviation in Africa.” (Professor S. R. Ogunduyile, Federal University of Technology, Akure, Ondo State.)
(f) “Monetizing Nigerian Art and Production in the Global Economy.”Professor Sylvester Ogbechie, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA.
(g) “‘What Africans are Producing is not African Art.’” (Claudine Pommier, Arts in Action Society Toronto, Canada.)

The event also witnessed various dramatic performances, a round table, and a live performance of the ARESUVA theme song by students of the Government Secondary School, Garki, Abuja, Nigeria. On the last day of the event participants were conducted round some notable tourist centres within the Federal Capital Territory. Participants also experienced Nigerian hospitality as well as local cuisine.

Installation view, Aresuva
photo by Lucy Azubuike


At the end of the events, participants resolved that:

1. In order to engender appropriate awareness for African art and culture, African governments should have cultural attaches in their respective embassies and establish cultural centers to promote African art and culture.
2. African countries should develop and implement cultural policies.
3. Greater collaboration in the valuation of African art should be encouraged among artists in Africa and the African Diaspora.
4. All African governments should make funding of the arts a priority at all educational levels.
5. All African governments should ensure that statutes against illicit acquisition of intellectual property should be enforced.
6. African schools should create relevant art curricula for 21st century global economy.
7. The culture of art auctioning should be encouraged for the development of an appropriate climate within which appropriate valuation of art can flourish.
8. African governments should make the establishment and implementation of National Endowment for the Arts an essential aspect of cultural policies.
9. African governments should commit a good percentage of their budget to the embellishment of public buildings and spaces.
10. ARESUVA should be hosted in a period that will also enable participants to attend Abuja Carnival.
11. The summit is seriously concerned with NUC’s directive that the acquisition of Ph.D is a pre-condition for promotion for lecturers in studio art. The M.F.A. is the recognized terminal degree in studio art, and this should be the measure of promotion to any level in tertiary institutions. Appropriate organisations such as the Society of Nigerian Artists should work with the NUC on resolving this issue expeditiously.

The summit applauded the visionary work of the Director General of the National Gallery of Art, Chief Joe Musa, for making ARESUVA 2008 a forum for “Promoting the Visual Arts for Sustainable Economic Growth and Development in Africa.”

Installation view, Aresuva
photo by Lucy Azubuike

R. F. Wilcox, Asst. Director Federal Ministry of Tourism, Culture & National Orientation;
Barr. Ramjul Voncir, National Gallery of Art Abuja;
Professor dele jegede, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, USA;
Professor Ola Oloidi, University of Nigeria, Nsukka.

Installation view, Aresuva
photo by Lucy Azubuike

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