The Artist and His Patron

The Professionals: How Patron Under-develop the Artists
By Jahman Anikulapo
(First published in 1992)
Banjo Kale talking softly and carrying himself maturely, last weekend saved his men from wittingly annulling the birth rite of their organization, The Professionals, into art and culture programming.
The medical doctor, exhibiting a winsome, accommodating mien stylishly reversed a less careful veto from a member of the body who, angered by a position earlier canvassed by one of the club’s guest speakers, had call for a ‘Vote of Thanks’, even while the event was at mid-course!
In the club’s upstairs apartment at 9 Biadou Street, Ikoyi, Lagos had converged artists, journalists and art enthusiasts invited by The Professionals to discuss a new idea Entrepreneurship in Contemporary Nigeria -- Focusing the Creative Arts.
The walls of the apartment bore an exhibition of a collection of paintings from select artists. But the living room played host to the mini-seminar at which certain key speakers were expected to advance positions while another select group of discussants examine the position so advanced.
Umebe Onyejekwe, the head of Lagos museum known for her often aggressive candour, especially when discussing arts, had bruised certain inflammable egos when she suggested that members of The Professionals were probably unqualified to dictate to an artist the price he could fix on his art works.
Onyejekwe feels that leaders of corporate organizations are themselves the problems of the artists and marketing of art work.
According to her, most chief executives of companies do not really appreciate the values and virtues of art. “They do not appreciate arts for what it is, they see art as an elitist thing. And as long as they have that at the back of their minds, they cannot be a lover or promoter of art.”
Her words were like thorns jabbed into the emotions of certain members of the club. More so, when she challenged those who accused the artists of putting high prices on their works, of not being sincere, since they are actually in control of the means and cost of production which have gone unbearable.
“We should stop pretending ‘we want to help these young people’, we should go all out by bringing down the price of production”
A veteran of many art discussion forums, Onyejekwe sealed up the attack on the club’s seemingly hazy agenda on art promotion by counseling the members, “you just have to get a clear cut idea of what you want. If I am going to be a part of this effort, we are not going to mess around. We are going to call a spade a spade; you people must be lovers of arts; not people who like arts for love’s sake.”
On the inadequacies of the artists themselves, Onyejekwe observed that most young artists are not innovative and lack ideas as they still hung on themes as ‘dancers’, ‘milk maid’ or ‘durbar’ as recurring themes of their works.
“I will like to see an exhibition of paintings that depicts the happening in the society. Our forefathers did it years ago. I don’t see why you cannot do it”. The more diversified the theme is, the more a company will be ready to foot the bill,” she reasoned.
But she identified high cost of framing as a major factor hindering the entrepreneurship of Nigerian artists, as she argued that what should concern the organisers of the talk-shop is how to bring down the cost of framing; saying that if framing should cost on the average between N300-N400, artists will not have much problems with fixing relatively low price for their works.
According to her, it would be a greater relief to the up and coming artists, should the cost of framing be brought within the reach of many artists. She noted that an unframed work is not displayed to the best advantage, because only framed works could adequately be appreciated.
“Unfortunately, framing has been made extremely difficult by those who do not want the young ones to succeed,” she lamented.
She, however, frowned at the manner in which artists put the prices of their works too high above the reach of potential buyers. This, she said, is informed by the artists’ belief that the more expensive an artwork, the better people would think of the work.
By the time Onyejekwe finished her contributions she had unsettled some members of The Professionals. Notable art collector, Price Lekan Fadina rubbed in Onyejekwe’s art advocacy when he seemed to turn his back on his colleagues in the private sector (mostly executives in banking and real segment of the economy -- (he is into investment and stock marketing) when he said: “You cannot talk of art or its promotion unless you have it in you… Art is not only an investment, it is a way of life. The Professionals have a responsibility because supporting arts in not by talking, not grammar, there must be commitment. If you know you are serious, let us be partners in this venture of art promotion.” Clearly the eldest in the house, Fadina (former secretary of the Nigeria Stock Exchange) enjoined the artists to revive their collective platform, the Society of Nigerian Artists to ensure that they have stronger bargaining power and to win more respects for the artists.
But the gentlemen of The Professionals did not bargain for this barrage of tough talks on their supposed altruistic gesture. There were uncomfortable shifts in the house as Onyejekwe and Fadina reinforced each other’s positions.
Tunde Fashina, chairman of the club’s board of trustee, literally sprinted to the podium, on the heel of Fadina. His demeanour was combative and his voice strong, firm and harsh.
First, he was disappointed that “people whom we invited have only come to our place to insult us” Second, he detested the fact that “our good intention are being misinterpreted, when all we thought of doing is to encourage the young artists.”
And for that, he said “someone who has a more positive outlook on this issue than me, will come and give the vote of thanks and then we can all disperse”. He was inviting Dr. Banjo Kale to the podium.
Implicatively, the board chairman had sacked the session even in its mid-course. The discussants had not even been called to take up the positions. But the annulment was cleverly twisted around in Kale’s simple but purposeful intervention. He succeeded in steering the session back on course.
What was left for Fashina to have said to torpedo the entire forum was; “We don’t really need the artists, they need us and we can dispense with them if we like, After all, we own our money”.
Fortunately, such a tense statement stayed at the level of a subtext… for if it had been publicly verbalized, the house would probably have turned upside down.
The statement and many others in its colour had often triggered disaffection at art forums in the past, that was in the early part of the late eighties’ boom in the art market when bankers and operators of finance market emerged as key players in artwork collections and merchandising.
Then, the key collectors were mostly bankers - Emmanuel Olisambu, Sammy Olagbaju, Evelyn Brume, Torch Taire and a host of other top executives of financial institutions, especially in those days of sporadic rise in number of financial houses, bureau de change, investment and trust outfits.
The bankers were known to always sound brash and arrogant, claiming subtly that the artists were pests and parasites. Yet it was clear then that most of the bankers and financial houses, were not true collectors, but merchants who at exhibitions would tag a work and later when the artists asked for his money haggle the prices to ridiculous level.
However, the attitude of certain members of The Professionals showed that they actually needed to refine their aims and objectives, and also their strategy to achieving such proposals.
Last weekend’s discussion eventually deteriorated to an unnecessary exchange of hot words between the so-called art patrons and knowledgeable art workers. And that stifled any meaningful resolution of the issue at stake. The artist members of the club did not prove that they are ahead of other members on the issue of art practice; and entrepreneurship. There are indeed a subtle suggestion that the club members’ briefing mechanism may at best, be faulty, following the contribution made by a key artist member, Bayo Odulana.
The cartoonist, who claimed to have started professional painting practice 20 years ago, said: “I don’t consider matter of price so central. I can put any price on my work and whoever does not like it, should leave it. I don’t have to sell my work”. This was ostensibly a response to earlier statements by Onyejekwe and Fadina that price fixing by an artist depends on the kind of experience he had while producing the work.
Odulana later nailed the artist’s competence to make meaningful contribution at such an intellectual forum, when he said “Nobody can tell me how much I should sell my work. In fact, I don’t know where many of them are. I have been painting for 20 years, I don’t know where the museum’s (National Commission for Museum and Monument) office is located; so as far as I concerned, they are not relevant to me.
With comments such as Odulana’s the artist and the visual art community are thrown back to the pre-boom days in the middle eighties, when seminar organisers would claim that the artists were ill-equipped intellectually and so incapable of talking about art; sensibly or intelligently. There were even seminars on the art organized and executed without artists in the planning committee or in attendance. The Professionals, with the like of Odulanas would most probably end up in that situation.
Besides, the discussions soon became a bore, even before the first discussant had mounted the podium. The crowd had since shifted into the club bar area of the apartment and took up other businesses.
However, Dr. Kale Stood by the discussants as he moderated the submissions of Toyin Akinosho on the appropriate packaging strategy to maximize entrepreneurial gains in art, and Wale Adeduro’s advice that to change the orientation of Nigerian artists, towards a more business minded focus, the art curricular had to be re-examined. Kale shows that in spite of the problems encountered at its first forum, and the haughtiness and implicit arrogance of some of its members The Professionals could indeed have staying power.


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