Art in Nigeria, 1960

Art in Nigeria, 1960

Art in Nigeria, 1960

Art in Nigeria, 1960

Excerpt

Books on African art are becoming very popular. Both in Europe and America new works on the subject are being published every year. But all these works seem to deal with traditional African art alone. That is understandable, because traditional woodcarving and brass-casting is still the most important thing that has come out of Africa. At the same time it becomes necessary to look at the contemporary scene. Most writers on Africa follow the simple formula that old carvings are good and new ones bad; that Africa produced interesting art as long as the tribal organisation was intact, but that since the Christian missions have undermined the ancient institutions, art has rapidly declined. Modern African artists, the formula goes on, are European trained and bad, because they are merely copying Europe instead of 'going back to their own traditions'.

This book seeks to show that the situation is a great deal more complicated than that; that in Africa new art forms have been evolved independently of European teaching and influence; that traditional art is not as dead as most people think; that the intellectual African artist cannot simply be asked to 'go back' to his traditions; and that there are the beginnings of a new Christian art in Nigeria. The activities of European artists and architects in Nigeria have been included because their work now forms part of Nigerian life. Since Nigeria has passed out of its political and cultural isolation it is no longer possible to describe 'Nigerian art' in isolation. It would be like trying to describe the 'Ecole de Paris' while excluding all artists who are not French: we would be forced to leave out Picasso, Modigliani and Chagall! Admittedly, we cannot speak of a Nigerian school of art at the moment. There is a great variety of developments and styles and ideas all taking place side by side within Nigeria. But it is impossible that these varied forms of art should not influence each other in the course of time, and it is possible that certain forms will emerge from all this that may be recognised as typically Nigerian.

There is no attempt here to give a comprehensive survey of art in Nigeria today. There is no suggestion that Maxwell Fry (page 18) is the only important European architect in this country, or that Ben Enwonwu (page 9) is the only important artist. They were chosen as typical examples to represent a general situation.

The choice of examples is largely determined by the author's personal experience and cannot claim to be absolutely representative. This book is the result of nearly ten years' living in Nigeria rather than of systematic enquiry and research. Even so, it is hoped that it will give some idea, at least, of the rich and varied artistic activity that goes on in Nigeria in the year of Independence.

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