Sources of Literature on Nigerian Visual Art since 1960: History, Potentialities and Constraints

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Abstract

A major constraint to the study of the visual arts as a school subject in Nigeria today is the dearth of art literature such as learned journals and textbooks. Several factors have also contributed to this problem. It is the objective of this paper to examine these and assess their impact on the study of visual arts in Nigeria in contemporary times. In doing this, it will mention the efforts that some individuals, groups of persons and organisations have made and are still making to address the problem. It concludes by stating that much could still be done to meet the demands for books on visual arts in order to enhance the study of the subject now and in the future.

Introduction

The terms "art education in Nigeria" and "visual art Uterature" wUl be defined at this juncture in order to clarify the concepts and scope of this paper. The term "art education in Nigeria" is used to denote both formal and informal art education in Nigeria. The beneficiaries of art education in the formal sense include all the visual art pupUs in the country's educational institutions where the subject is taught. Members of the pubUc such as art dealers, patrons, connoisseurs and critics whose knowledge of art is continually enhanced by reading art literature are informal art educational beneficiaries.

"Visual art literature" or "art literature", as the terms may be used interchangeably, is a general term that implies any writing on art, and the diverse formats in which such writings are pubUshed. Forms of visual art literatures, from a bibliographic perspective, include learned journals, newspapers and magazines featuring writings or articles on visual arts, art bulletins, art exhibition catalogues or brochures, monographs, books of readings, encyclopedias containing writings on art and art dictionaries. Other types of art Uteratures are unpubUshed papers such as those presented usuaUy in conferences and workshops on visual art. Most of these can be found in the private files of individuals as well as in government archives and Ubraries. The importance of aU these for art education cannot be overemphasised.

The earliest literature on aspects of Nigerian art can be found in the books and other types of Uterature which were produced by early Western travellers, merchants, MusUm and Christian missionaries, and colonial administrators who came to the area that is referred to today as Nigeria about a mUlennium ago. WUlett (1971:101-102), for example, alludes to a view of ancient Benin City which was published in Amsterdam by Olfert Dapper in Nauwkeuriae Beschrijvinge der Afrikaansche Gewesten in 1668. This, like David Nyendeal's description of Benin palace and its gaUeries in 1701, discussed Benin sculpture and architecture.

Another example of published work with references made to Nigerian arts is that of Captain Hugh Clapperton (1829) in which he commented on the elaborate ornaments which characterised the wooden sculptures that he saw in Oyo in 1826. Leo Frobenius (1913), a German ethnologist discussed Ife bronze sculptures in his account of the African cultures he saw during his trip to the continent at the beginning of the twentieth century A.D.

One of the earüest examples of a work with references on aspects of Nigerian art was that of W.H Clarke, a Baptist missionary. It was an account of his exploration of Yorubaland in the late nineteenth century, which remained unpublished until 1972. Samuel Johnson's (1921) book on the history of the Yoruba has a section devoted to the Yoruba people's visual art. The work of Johnson, a black AngUcan missionary Uke Ajayi Crowther, was the result of his attempt to document the oral history of the Yoruba which he feared might become lost as a result of the protracted Yoruba civil wars of the nineteenth century.

It is noteworthy that the views of aspects of Nigerian art documented in the pubUshed dairies of early travelers to country were not intended to be used as instructional materials in Nigerian educational institutions as these did not exist at that time, and were only estabUshed some centuries or decades later. …