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‘Artistes are their own worst enemies’

Kolade Oshinowo is one of Nigeria’s forces to reckon with in the visual art sector. Being one of the early art graduates in Nigeria, he spoke to Adie Vanessa Offiong on the evolution of art in Nigeria 50 years down the road.
There have been events marking Nigerian art at 59. What do you think of them?
In spite of the celebration galore, I wish that the populace will be taken along. All these events, as I see them, are for the elites. In town you don’t feel anyone is celebrating anything. It’s better in Abuja than in Lagos.
I think something is missing. We were told that Ghana spent two years preparing for the celebration of their anniversary. To me, that is the way it should be. Too many things are being rushed.
Works are collected late for exhibitions; the nation does not even have a catalogue. I am told there will be a book on the exhibition. Maybe because funds were released late and planning could not go in the proper form and people have to improvise.
I think the SNA is determined not to be left out which is why they are trying to put together these exhibitions. With all the shaky grounds, people, I think, want to make the most of what is available.
In your view, how has Nigerian art faired all these years?
I will say right away that no matter the hiccups, we are way, way ahead from when we started even in 1960. If you were going to study art then, you would probably be on your own because nobody would be supportive of your idea.
I was going to study art in 1968 when my father marched me out of the house. He moved me from school to school to expose me to the sciences so that I could do medicine. Ibadan Grammar School had a thriving art studio and courses and while there I was bubbling because it felt like home. The art teacher saw the enthusiasm and many times would leave me in charge of the class.
With excitement all over me, I’ll remind the class that I am in charge and get them to ‘fall in line’.
Even when I worked as bank clerk, I would secretly draw until my manager caught me one day. He sent me on an errand and looked through my draw while I was away. When I returned my colleagues told me Oga wanted to seem and when Oga asks to see you it usually spells trouble. Ironically he was very impressed and was wondering why I wasting in the bank.
He lifted his glasses and asked me what I was doing working in the bank and what I wanted to do with my life.
Thinking I was impressing him, I said ‘’I had put in for AIB which is ICAN equivalent today; I have taken the form for the Nigerian Defence Academy’’. He shut me down telling me to stop talking rubbish. He said, “I have gone through your drawer and I have seen those drawings and I think you are in the wrong place.” It was then I relaxed and got in my element and my mouth started running as I explained that I had more works and was enthusiastic to show them to him and also told him I had applied to ABU. I got my first major support from ... as he said whenever you are ready to go, you have my full backing.
I had his blessing but my father was furious.
How do you think the SNA has faired so far?
The SNA has tried. But I think artists are their own worst enemies. Artists are very, very individualistic and difficult to manage. If you have ten of them in one room, they are looking in ten different directions.  One has to work extremely hard to coordinate them.
This is the problem I see with SNA. They are jealous of their time. They have ideas in their heads that do not seem to correspond with what the other man is thinking about.
Artists generally are way ahead of their community; therefore you have to indulge them because what they are thinking about, you are not thinking about. Some of them are light years ahead and so they are a bit impatient. That has been a problem with organizing and coordinating them.
Rising from assistant secretary to secretary before becoming president I can say I know SNA. I have always pleaded with them stating that individual successes will not take us very far.
The Yorubas have a saying that if you do not put your fingers together you cannot beat your chest. One finger cannot clap or pick rice.

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