By Godwin Okondo
THE Yemisi Shyllon Museum of Art, Pan-Atlantic University, Ibeju-Lekki, Lagos, opened its doors to guests since August 29, 2021 to share its rich collection of artworks and knowledge about Nigeria’s art space from the pre-colonial era to the present. The Yemisis Shyllon Museum of Art, donated to the Pan-Atlantic University (PAU) by an engineer and foremost art collector, Prince Omooba Yemisi Shyllon, is home to many artworks produced by Nigerians, dating as far back as 1920. Some of the collections include the bronze sculptures made by the famous Edo people, wood sculptures by the Yoruba and paintings by the Igbo and the Hausa.
The museum is divided into sections. Works by female Nigerian artists are currently showing on the ground floor; its collection is tribute to their beautiful works and importance in the art space. The top floor houses arts and sculptures from the pre-colonial era till date.
The guests, mostly made up of culture journalists, who were on a scheduled tour of the museum, were received by the Visitor’s Service Manager, Solomon Nkwagu, and later briefed about the museum’s history and then taken on a tour of the first exhibition, where the works of female artists and the offices of the museum’s designer, first director and Spanish-Nigerian architect, Dr. Jess Castelotte occupy.
While speaking on the construction and donation of works, Castelotte said, “There would be no Shyllon Museum without the efforts of Prince Shyllon. He donated over a thousand artworks and also donated some money to build the museum. He was committed and very supportive.
“Our mission is not that we are trying to display and document; being an educational institution, our mission is educational. We are here to help people learn, discover, explore, be amazed, asked questions, be challenged; this is what we want to do. For us, the most important thing is not the artworks; it’s the people who come here. We are an audience-centred museum, here to offer our service to the community.”
Guests were taken on a tour of ‘Mirroring Man’ exhibition, which covers arts and sculptures dating as far back as the pre-colonial era, by Iheanyi Onwuegbucha.
Speaking on the exhibition, the artist said, “We try to engage people in an educational way. This is an exhibition on Nigeria’s art history, so we want to educate people on the history of Nigerian art, how our art was in the pre-colonial era, how the coming of the British influenced the whole artistic impression of the nation and how contemporary artists use their art to address political, cultural and religious issues in society.”
After the tour, the Vice Chancellor of Pan-Atlantic University, Prof. Juan M. Elegido, was also on hand to welcome the guests. He spoke about the school’s development and how the museum is an integral part of it and how it is being managed.
According to him, “We made a decision that we would set aside part of our revenue for the development of the museum. Prince Shyllon funded the building of the museum and he gives us a good amount every quarter for the sustenance of the museum. Naturally, museums are meant to be self-sustainable, and I’m happy the museum is living up to that expectation. We’ve also received donations in form of artworks and finance.
“The museum also helps us educate students of the university. It is very essential in their education. We just don’t want to train technicians and accountants, but we’re interested in giving our students a broad vision. It serves as the perfect instrument to teach the students about Nigeria’s history.”
The Yemisi Shyllon Museum of Art opened its ‘Invincible Hands’ exhibition since August 28, 2021; it will last till January 25, 2022. The exhibition focuses on the contributions of 40 female artists whose works include a combination of paintings, photography, tapestry and textiles, sculpture, and mixed media art. Over 100 artworks will be on display, covering different periods and artistic media. They are curated from the permanent collection of the museum and from temporary loans by artists and collectors. These artworks highlight artistic achievements that transcend stereotyped and reductive achievements of Nigerian women in art.
The goal of this exhibition, according to the exhibition manual, is to celebrate the influence of marginalized female Nigerian artists in the post-colonial and contemporary eras, amplify their work and bridge inequality gaps in the art sector by placing the ‘Invincible Hands’ of female artists back into the forefront of art education and art history. It aims at being an active agent in giving these marginalisd female artists higher visibility.
According to Olufisayo Bakare, the exhibition’s curator, the intersection of art and culture has become the breeding ground for conversations that shape our culture in Nigeria. In an age where information lies at our fingertips, accessibility to the contributions of women in society is more apparent. However, this has not always been the case. We ask ourselves, “in an era where the Zaria Rebels were making their mark, where were their female colleagues? Where are they now?” The ratio of male to female established artists in Nigeria continues be strongly imbalanced, in favour of men.
A statement from the Communications Officer, Madonna Iloba, said The Yemisi Shyllon Museum of Art (YSMA) “wants to address this disproportion through an extensive art exhibition at the museum. The highly anticipated showcasing titled The Invincible Hands curated by Olufisayo Bakare, focuses on the contributions of 40 female artists whose works include a combination of paintings, photography, tapestry and textiles, sculpture, and mixed media art. Over 100 artworks will be on display, covering different periods and artistic media. They are curated from the permanent collection of the YSMA and from temporary loans by artists and collectors. In presenting these works, we highlight artistic achievements that transcend stereotyped and reductive achievements of Nigerian women in art. The goal of this exhibition is to celebrate the influence of marginalized female Nigerian artists in the post-colonial and contemporary eras, amplify their work and bridge inequality gaps in the art sector in by placing The Invincible Hands of female artists back into our art education and art history. It aims at being an active agent in giving these artists higher visibility. “Following the ‘Museum Opening of the Year Award’ in 2020, despite the lockdown constraints caused by the global pandemic, it is with an immense sense of gratitude that we look forward to welcoming you to our campus and museum facility in the near future. As we work earnestly to complete plans for the upcoming exhibition, YSMA celebrates our community members for their unwavering support, expressing our gratitude to the sponsors, exhibiting artists, patrons, advisory board, and supervisory council. The exhibition is made possible thanks to the generous support given by Kayode Adegbola, Tola Adesanmi, Demi Adewumi and Lakunle Runsewe.”