Remembering Peter Areh

By Krydz Ikwuemesi
Painter, art critic and ethno-aesthetician;
Associate Professor, University of Nigeria,

An artistic impression of Areh

To mark the third annual lecture in memory of Peter Dubem Areh on Nov. 23 by 11 am at the Freedom Park, Lagos, Prince Yemisi Shyllon, humanist and modern Medici, will discusses the problems militating against the growth and development of art in Nigeria.
He aptly defines development as the movement of phenomena and ideas from one level of experience to another and links that definition to the art situation in Nigeria. 

Although Nigerian art has advanced since the colonial times, available indices suggest that there is still room for further improvement. This conclusion derives from a critical examination of the following factors.

First are the government and public institutions and the role they can play in art development. With government’s poor attitude to art and creativity, it is obvious that public institutions concerned with the promotion of art may not fare well.

This is the bane of Nigerian museums, art councils and galleries as they are mired in bureaucracy, ineptitude and low performance. The situation is then linked to the system of education in Nigeria with its curricular and philosophy problems.

When education is a bad mold as in Nigeria, it is bound to yield nothing but bad casts. This is a fundamental issue for the fact that education circumscribes and shapes all facets of society. So far, Nigerian education has not conduced to art development, nor has it benefited from the immense potentials of art as a catalyst and purveyor of development.

Next to this is the problem of historiography, lack of professionalism, and inadequate resources for cultivating and nurturing a strong and responsive tradition of writing and documentation. Apart from being a function of the art curriculum, this is also a reflection of the challenges in the art scene and a sop to post-colonialism.

After all, it behoves the art historian to hold our hands and take us through the jungle of time so that we can appreciate eras gone by and evaluate our achievements and failures in light of the realities of history. This factor conjoins with that of the problem of art criticism, another important consecrating agency in art ecology.

In places where art criticism thrives, it is a veritable arbiter of taste, acceptance or otherwise of an artist or art phenomenon. But the critic cannot operate in a vacuum. His/her performance will be dictated by the reality of other agencies. 

If they are not in top gear, the critical tradition will suffer, as in Nigeria. In the final analysis, all these factors depend on the larger society if they are to impact on art as a positive and fructifying concert of resources.

But the Nigerian society itself has its myriad problems. Those that affect art development include low level art appreciation, the perception of art as luxury, and the neglect of the role of art in individual, social and economic development.

Also to be counted is nescience occasioned by the jaundiced eye of the imported religions which casts aspects of our art in a bad light. All these have held art development captive in many ways in Nigeria.

Finally, the point that Shyllon makes by way of conclusion is that art is not an end in itself. As a product of society, it relies on society to be able to develop and play its expected roles in social development.

The sociology of art thus demands a functional art ecology, one in which all factors and agencies of art development are both active and complementary. As Shyllon posits, this, however, has not always been the case in Nigeria.