By Inya-Agha Egwu
Aesthetics, creativity and excellence were the words used to describe different works of art on display at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Library, University of Nigeria, last Thursday. The show was part of activities for the jubilee celebrations and exhibitions by different generations of staff and students of the Department of Fine and Applied Arts of the university.
Tagged “Nkoli Ka, Nsukka School after 50 Years”, the event featured exhibitions of celebrated works of art, most of which had won national and international awards. In attendance at the event were alumni of the department and some of the pioneer lectures who saw the department through its formative years and ensured its survival after the Nigerian civil war. Notable among them was Prof. John Kamli, a nonagenarian.
The art exhibition captured the totality of the conceptual expression upon which the Nsukka art philosophy is built. It featured works of old and young artists who earned their first and higher degrees in the university’s Department of Fine and Applied Arts.
Vice-Chancellor of the university, Prof Benjamin Ozumba, in his address, said the department occupied a pride of place in the history of the university, being one of the first departments established by Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe in 1961.
“The department has produced world class art historians and critics,” said Ozumba, adding that “some of them are currently professors in Ivy League universities.”
The department, initially called the Enwonwu College of Fine Art, was the first to award a degree in fine and applied arts in Nigeria. The department is known for its creative appropriation of the Igbo uli body and wall decoration into new modes of artistic expression. The uli art became prominent after the department, in its bid to explore and experiment with local environment in art teaching and learning, distanced Western academy approach of naturalism, which promoted pictorial observational realism.
“So, there is a song in our heart, a story on our lips. It is a song of victory and a story of achievement; the story of of success. And we have rolled out our drums in joyful celebration; we have roused our flutes to sonorous laughter,” said Prof, Krydz Ikwuemesi, Head, Department of Fine and Applied Arts.
Ikwuemesi noted that the event was an opportunity for the department to do a sober reflection and critical stocktaking. “Nkoli Ka! As we recall our achievement and accolades in time gone by, we also anticipate new vistas and gesture with renewed zest at new challenges that beckon at the frontier,” he said.
One of the curators at the exhibition, Dr Chijioke Onuora, explained that the event provided opportunity for members of the department to congratulate themselves and conduct self-appraisal. “It is an occasion to cherish the past, appreciate the present and gesture at the future with renewed enthusiasm,” he said.
The curator further noted that the event was a platform for a special conversation between generations in the department which would help in shaping the future of the department.
While making an assessment of the department, Prof Chike Aniakor, a renowned arts historian and pioneer lecturer of the department, said that creativity had remained a constant factor in the equation of the department from his time till date. He noted that the transmission of creativity from one generation to another was evident in the number of award winning artists the produced by the department over the years.
“If the art world is like a village square,” said Aniakor, “Nsukka has produced many masquerades”. He added that the department was a strong focal point in the flourishing of modern African arts.
Of particular interest to Prof Aniakor was the revival of knitting, as aspect of arts that many thought had gone into extinction. At the centre stage of knitting in the department was Dr. RitaDoris Ubah. Aniakor remarked that Ubah’s “The Paradox of our Nation”, and the “People of Umuofia” had moved beyond the normal textile arts. According to him, “RitaDoris has succeeded in using her work to generate ideas beyond the primary focus of textile, this is commendable.”
Ubah’s work combines many methods, including knitting, stitching, knotting, plaiting and weaving. The “Paradox of our Nation” consists of panel-like tapestry appearing as a wall hanging and mice-like forms forming holes across the entire surface.
Explaining the message in the work, Dr Ubah said that the “Paradox of our Nation”, captured the corruption menace among politicians in Nigeria, especially the “smart” ones who steal from government treasury and hide the money in foreign accounts or other places of interest to avoid being caught. “The paradox lies in the fact that some of the people who are supposed to fight corruption are themselves corrupt,” she said.
Dr Ubah said it took her one year and six months to knit the works. She recalled that “knitting requires time but it aids concentration.” In its effort to revive the dying art, the Department of Fine and Applied Arts has made a course in knitting compulsory for its students from first year of their study to final year.
The department is making effort to replicate the exhibition in Lagos and Abuja before the end of June, 2017.