Shyllon: We need to project our artists’ works outside for good of the country
Nigeria’s mega art collector and Founder/CEO of Omooba Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon Art Foundation (OYASAF), Mr. Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon, is the largest private art collector and connoisseur in Nigeria. He is widely travelled and has visited most of the major museums of art in the world, presented many lectures on various subjects and has represented Africa in art fairs in different parts of the world. In this interview with RUTH ADEKUNLE, he spoke about the missing link in arts and culture development in the country
You are so much interested in the arts, though you studied engineering. What led to the passion?
Well, my passion for art started as a student at the University of Ibadan. When I was a student, I used to go to Yabatech to study during the holidays; the library was very close to the student demonstration centres, where there was a lot of art works. That was how I fell in love with art as an undergraduate student in the university and I started collecting from that time.
My passion for art actually started when I was a little boy. I used to trace and draw; I drew up to class three but veered into science.
As an art connoisseur, what do you think is the missing link in arts and culture development in the country?
The missing link in art and culture in the country is that, there is the problem of getting the artists’ works to be properly projected for the good of the country. A lot of people in the world want to know what we (Nigerians) are doing, what we represent and how we have lived in the past and what we are doing now. By this, you see that through history, art and archaeology, we have something that we should all rally round to help propagate for the good of our country and our race. At the end of it all, it gives us that unique identity that makes us stand out and differentiates us from other races. But if we do not have a unique identity, we don’t have a right to claim respect. We should also consider the fact that having a unique identity through cultural development, through art development gives us respect and allows us to show the world the roles we have played in developing civilization in the past. Nigeria in particular, and Africans in general, need to realise that one major area where we have comparative economic advantage is in the arts and culture sector.
The only Nobel laureate that Nigeria has ever had is from the arts and that is Emeritus Professor Wole Soyinka. We have not had any Nobel laureate in Economics, Science, Engineering or Information Technology and our competitors are not sitting down or lying down in idleness; they are busy researching, documenting, but we are busy celebrating marriages and flimsy things. We need to change. Thank God, oil is drying up. Nigerians will be forced to live in the reality of the time.
Your recently made donations to Pan-Atlantic University. What inspired it?
What led to my donation to Pan-Atlantic University (PAU) is nothing, but leaving a selfless legacy. I want to leave a selfless legacy and I don’t want a situation where, when I’m old and gone, all that I have laboured for since my undergraduate days will go in vain. People, who do not know the usefulness of my art works will sell off my art because they don’t know the usefulness of the works and mishandle it. But with PAU the works will be in safe hands because I have arranged a very good agreement to ensure that the works are properly conserved and preserved for the benefit of humanity.
Why did you start the Fellowship Programme in arts history?
I started the Fellowship Programme because after I attended a foreign business leadership programme at the United States’ Department for States in 2009, where my wife and I were guests, the programme inspired me to start the fellowship on art history. That programme is the product of my experience. The programme helps invite people from other nations to come to Nigeria to meet artists, see our museums and read our literature and brochures. It will help foreigners visit our universities, cultural centres, markets and other places of interest. They will then go back with a body of knowledge about who we are and what we are; that was why I set it up the programme.
How many foreigner artists have benefitted from the programme so far?
A total of 17 fellows from the United State of America, Kenya, South Africa, Ghana, Germany, Switzerland and Austria have benefited from the programme.
Nigeria has a museum in each of the 36 states, but they are in a horrible state. What is supposed to be their relevance to the country?
The impact of the museums to the country is that they would help provide the missing link to the country’s past. They will also help attract tourists to the country; they can also be instrumental to research programmes in Nigeria. For many people undertaking research, the PAU Shyllon Museum can provide unrivalled wealth of information and resources, as well as, access to archives, scholars and high trained professionals.
It can equally be an extremely valuable source of creativity, particularly for organisations such as art galleries or photography exhibition.
You are partnering with a private institution in the country where you donated over N3 billion in money and in art. Why a private university and not a public university where you have less privileged Nigerians?
Well, I already have a programme, which I have been running in the South-South since 2012. It is a Professorial Chair in Visual Arts I endowed in my name, ‘Prince Yemisi Shyllon’ at the University of Port Harcourt. I am equally pioneering the establishment of the Global Online Journal of African Arts, with the effort of a board of seasoned professors drawn from frontline academic instituions around the world.
The Yemisi Shyllon Professorial Chair for Visual Arts and Design recently sponsored the exhibition of Chinese Qin Dynasty sculptures and photo diary of the Qin dynasty site in Lagos.
I have done the little I can for my country in my own little way. I have donated many life-size sculptural monuments to public places and institutions in Nigeria. Notable among them are the 18 life-size sculptural works of art to Freedom Park, Lagos, and a big monument at the University of Ibadan, my alma mater. It’s about 20 feet high and I have also donated a big monument to the University of Lagos, another alma mater of mine at the Faculty of Law. I have equally worked in partnership with the University of Ife. So, yes, I do partner with public institutions in the country as well.
There are over 30 museums across the country. Wouldn’t it be ideal to donate some of these monuments to the museums also?
Let others do it. What I have done is to stimulate interest in the area of art philanthropy and I am sure that others are going to do better than me and will come up with their own museums, too. Nigerians should not expect one person to do everything; others will come up with their own unique philanthropy, too.
Who is Omooba Yemisi Shyllon and what is Nigeria to him that he is doing everything to protect and project?
Omooba Yemisi Shyllon is the Founder/CEO of OYASAF. Nigeria is my root; Nigeria is my country and Nigeria is the country that made me what I am today. I had a scholarship in my undergraduate days. But for it, I would not be what I am today and God has been kind to me. So, I am devoting my life to projecting my country. I mean, I cannot be any other person; I am a Nigerian. Even if I carry a foreign passport, my root is here. So, this is what we should all be doing in our own small ways. If you are a cleaner, clean Nigeria well. If you are a cook, cook for Nigeria well and if you are a businessman, do it for the growth of our country because, at the end of it all, our children’s children will ask us what we did for our country.
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