By Aderemi Adegbite
Aderemi Adegbite with a renowned Artist during an exposition in Berlin
On the current scene, one will realize that all hope is not lost with the Lagos State government involvement in visual, moving and literary arts, be it at individual or corporate levels. The twelve million population state hypothetically has sixty galleries, which only two third of them function as it were. But it is welcoming that the government is currently commissioning Memorials and Parks in spaces like Muri Okunola Park along Ozumba Mbadiwe on the Victoria Island, Prof. Ayodele Awoyokun Park at Onike roundabout in Yaba and lots more.
As a member of the delegates that were sent to Berlin - Germany, by the Goethe Institut on the 2009 Visiting Programme, Lagos as my state of residence and birth was constantly on my mind throughout my stay. My mind was always beclouded by the contrast of the two cities.
Things work, despite the reality that BERLIN—in less than a hundred years, has survived two major world wars, famine, division of state (West and East), and reunification - fall of Berlin Wall, the loss and regaining of status as the capital of German. It’s been a turbulent century, but remarkably, the city is still in one piece. The political undertone cannot be deemphasized though, while it is not for the tourists to be able to decipher it as the cultural landscape of the city is laced with century’s aesthetics of their struggles and victories.
Memorials are built in strategic spaces as documentation of history of the state, never underplayed the volatility of the stories behind them. The Jewish Memorial and Museum, is one such documentation that imprints the magnanimity of injustice done on the Jewish Community during the cold war. And in no way was the museum intended to instigate any form of violence, but a tourist’s with the history.
Andrea Ruf, an art historian and an archeologist, who was our escort and instructor during the programme secured meetings with culture workers both at the private and government levels. And we were made to know the reason why the city has remain a tourists’ attraction in the recent times. The historical mystique with municipal support for the arts and the six hundred art galleries with the Museum Island recently acclaimed by UNESCO as one of the World Heritage Sites were only testimonies. Apart from the government support for the arts, there are foundations and associations that fund arts and literary projects in Berlin.
With less than four million inhabitants, Berlin was rated as the cheapest city in the whole of Germany and the government is yet to be satisfied about the condition of leaving in her state. This remains one of the several reasons why artistes from different parts of the world migrate to the city yearly.
To compare, the cost of living in Lagos is on the high side and incentives in whatever forms are not given to artistes by the Culture Ministry and other culture arms of the government both at the local and federal levels. There is no public fund instituted by either corporate individuals or private corporate institutions in this historical city with quantum of teeming artistes who yearly seek for foreign funds for the exploitation of their creative intuition. There is no doubt that Lagos is the Nigerian’s Art City, just as Istanbul is to Germany.
But remissness of the government on the state and its inhabitants has made the city lost many of her finest artistes to arts supporting cities in the world. Canada, New York, Munich, Los Angeles, Berlin, Amsterdam, London and Paris are few of the cities where musicians, artists, writers, arts promoters/managers and curators who should take Nigerian arts to the international frontier flee to year in year out.
If twenty years is enough for Berlin with man power and intellectual capacity deployed to the aesthetic of arts and its history in spite of the odds, less than that should be enough for Lagos to get on her feet. As a state with rich history, particularly during the slave trade, tourists should be beaming in Lagos like the ray of sun light. But some of the slave ports have been sold to churches, shrewd foreign businessmen and the rest left without protection.
Powering Christmas-lights with generating sets during Christmas celebration will only take Lagos many steps backwards not a step forward, when Delft University students in Netherland, are celebrating more than 600 days of space exploration, after the successful launch of their Milk Carton-sized satellite. Technicians and artistes are now collaborating around the world to bring out new forms of art installations and develop new means of technology for the performing arts. The synergy between arts and technologies abroad is on the high side.
Although, the green grass and plant a tree projects are in line with the global warming agenda and recreation spaces which also incorporate memorials and parks are good innovations. But the status and public art pieces are not telling stories because signatures of renowned artists are not on them. The mega-city project should revive the vibrant history for Lagos and create a new one out of the existing ones, not just a project for it sake. For instant, if the artist that created the Eyo statue at Adeniji Adele roundabout collaborated with an arty technician, the piece will be a site of attraction not just an art piece for it sake as it were.
There are internationally acclaimed artists and curators that are based in Lagos whose names and integrity could be employed to give a face to the beautification of memorials and parks process. Bruce Onabrakpeya, Kolade Oshinawo, Mufu Onifade, the originator of Araism and their contemporary are much around. Works of the dead artists are well protected and preserved by friends, relatives and collectors. Lagos state government should tap into these names to give those statuses face and life of their own so as to attract tourists’ attention to the state. The must be a valid story to each public art piece and reference.
The road networks must be perfected to ease movement around the state. Electricity and security are some other major players in the tourism business. We the resources on ground, Lagos is capable of putting her name on the map of tourist’s favourite city in Africa.