Sunday, March 18, 2012

The 308th good thing about Lagos: a visit to an incredible collection of Nigerian art

I was very excited to finally have the opportunity to visit Prince Shyllon's art collection!  Since I first heard about his extensive collection -- the largest private collection of Nigerian art -- I was hoping to have the opportunity to visit his home and see the collection first hand.  In 2007, Prince Shyllon founded his art foundation, OYASAF, which promotes Nigerian art and artists.  In addition to collecting art, he funds study grants for scholars to come to Nigeria to study various subjects relating to the arts.  I had met Shyllon and his lovely wife before and heard them speak about their collection, but it was a real treat to be able to visit and see his collection with a group of members of the Nigerian Field Society. 

We first had a seat in a small reception room where we saw a power point presentation about his foundation and collection and were able to ask some questions to our host.  Shyllon started collecting art when he was a student at the University of Ibadan.  One thing I found interesting -- he said that he had decided early on to divide his life into three periods -- Education, Labor and Living.  He had gotten a good education, then made a substantial fortune in careers in the financial and legal worlds, and was now into the "living" portion of his life plan.  He is a man with a passion for art and collection and a generous laugh.

We were greeted by a whole bunch of crowned cranes that populate his beautiful sculpture garden.  He has a great variety of birds of many kinds in the garden -- and even other animals, including a porcupine.

 He said he is a sculpture man -- preferring sculpture to painting.  His garden was crowded with a great variety of sculpture.  Notice these hard hat wearing workers on the balcony?

As we entered from the road, he pointed out the sculptural people that were taking notice of our arrival. 
 Then there is a sculpture of a woman bearing kola nuts to welcome us.

And, lest we get too comfortable, there were also an armed sculpture guard by the entrance gate giving warning.
This is the artist, Adeola Balogun, next to his very beautiful bull sculpture, which is bronze with a body made of woven rubber from tires.

 There were a number of sculptures of Eyo figures.
 Another guard on the roof of a wing of the house.
 He said this figure on the balcony represented his grandfather.
 Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take pictures inside the house.  Seeing the interior was an amazing experience.  Almost every inch of space was covered with art.  There were narrow passageways to walk between the art pieces in each room.  He said he counted his collection several years ago at over 6000 pieces, but I'm sure he has many more now.  He said he probably averages an acquisition of a piece a week.  I know some pieces in his collection are by artists whose work fetches big sums at auction. But it seems like, at least in some periods of his collecting history, he was going more for quantity than quality.   He made mention of trying to fill gaps in his collection with his current acquisitions. He will selectively sell pieces as he needs to fund his foundation, but it seems that he's still trying to grow the collection rather than refine it.

 Furniture seems to be an afterthought in his house.  Walls were mostly brightly painted, but there was never much wall visible between the art works.  He kept opening the doors to bathrooms saying that they also had art displays.  He had a wonderful and extensive study library.  There was sculpture of all mediums, paintings, folk and historic works, Nigerian art old and new. There were a couple of "theme" rooms -- works by a particular artist or style, but mostly works seemed to be displayed randomly.   His wife is very supportive and understanding, I know -- she would have to be.  I certainly couldn't live in that environment - - it was so crowded and visually stimulating, I could never relax.  The house would make an incredible museum, and he hopes to make it one someday.  It would be great to allow more people to see the amazing collection of art he has accumulated.  He would like to allow some of the art from his collection to travel to museums in an exhibition, and he said there is a museum scholar who is hoping to organize an exhibition. 

There's  more sculpture in his back yard pool garden.

 Before treating us to some "small chop" on his terrace, he showed us one of his 5 storage buildings he uses to store art he has no room for in his home.  I was a little worried when I saw all the art in this building which had windows open to the elements.  Certainly in the storage areas of most art collections, there are measures taken to keep the works at consistent levels of temperature and humidity.  I think there may be great conservation issues with his paintings and other art works if they are kept in Nigeria's heat and humidity, along with dust and insects.  As we toured through his very large home, he would turn on room air conditioners as we entered each room, so works inside also aren't in a temperature controlled environment.  And someone later remarked that he only saw one fire extinguisher in evidence as we visited his house.  I certainly hope that Shyllon never faces a fire -- Nigeria would lose some real treasures.

Thank you, Prince Shyllon, for making such an incredible commitment to the collection and promotion of Nigerian art and artists!  And thank you for welcoming us and letting us get a peek at your passion!  Nigerian art is vibrant and exciting and there is so much talent in this country.  Shyllon knows it and hopes that someday the world will also know.

You can read more about our visit and Prince Shyllon and his collection here at a blog post done by a friend who is a very good writer.  She writes an interesting blog about cultural issues in Nigeria.

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