Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Contemporary Art and the Nigerian Law Makers

Yesterday, I received a copy of a document that is supposed to be a bill for a new Nigerian Gallery of Art law soon to be authorized by the House of Representatives in Abuja. When I first heard that a new bill was in the making, I thought, finally, someone has found the courage to do the right thing by providing a more sensible mandate, but also more crucially a framework for establishing a serious institution comparable to what exists elsewhere in the sane world. I thought, finally, perhaps there will be a law stating that the government will commit to building a national gallery of art in Abuja, rather than the disgraceful infrastructure lacking decent proper spaces or resources to exhibit and conserve any contemporary art worth its name. I thought, finally, the law makers would enable a process that will lead to construction of at least just one GALLERY OF ART for a nation that in spite of its wealth, has up till now not done what so many countries in Africa have accomplished--even the ones whose entire annual budgets are not up to the amount Nigeria spends on importing generators for federal agencies--which is to actually BUILD a decent national gallery however modest. I thought perhaps someone feels ashamed that in the 50th year of Nigeria, the so-called golden anniversary national art exhibition last month had to be mounted in the Abuja sports stadium, rather than in a proper gallery space.

Well, as it turns out, I must have been drinking something more intoxicating than "Sapele Water." For the document I saw yesterday is nothing but a plan by some conniving crooks to kill and to totally mess up what is already a lackluster contemporary art industry in Nigeria. Rather than consider laws that should strengthen the National Gallery in terms of making it a semi-autonomous progressive institution not stage-managed by civil service bureaucrats and politicians, this bill-in-the-making is a shameless attempt to hijack and micromanage key aspects of contemporary art transaction in Nigeria. It looks like some people have suddenly realized that there is money in art, and thus are scheming for a way to milk this cow, legally. I am under no illusion that some folks are trying to legalize what is clearly a parasitical impulse, especially with the relatively high sale numbers turned in by new private auction houses in Nigeria.

I do not know who is behind this bill (sponsored by Tunde Akogun) from within the art industry, but it must be said that THIS NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART BILL STINKS! and must be rejected by anyone who cares about the present and future of contemporary art in Nigeria. Let me be clear that if this bill passes, it will have a most devastating effect on artists, collectors, private galleries, and everyone involved in the field of contemporary art. Just imagine the nonsense about registration of all artists practicing in Nigeria, including those who do not live in Nigeria but wish to have their works exhibited or sold in Nigeria. Not even in efficiently managed dictatorial regimes did government mandate registration of all artists, including those who never wished to do business with government. Moreover, I am sure the National Gallery of Art could spend its time taking care of the works in its collection, rather than be turned into a money collecting and management agency. Just imagine the scale of transactions in contemporary art in Nigeria, and you would realize what it means for the NGA to supposedly micromanage every art sales and auctions, every building construction funded by government, and the registration status of art and artists. To me, this bill effectively kills the hope that some of us have that the National Gallery of Nigeria will one day become the type of institution imagined by the visionary members of the Federal Society of Art and Humanities in the 1960s.

Finally, if you don't believe me when I say that this bill has been drafted by people who are more interested in money that in art, consider this. Twice in the bill we are told that works of art without proof of paid royalty or clearance permit will be DUMPED in the National collection of the NGA. So, here you go. The bill effectively will legalize the transformation of the NGA such as it is currently into a dump.

Just in case you wonder what has got me this riled up, here below are a few of the clauses in the proposed bill:

  • Every contemporary visual work of art sold in this country or otherwise shall attract a 5% deduction from the total cost, paid in cash as royalty to the original artist estate whether he is alive or dead.
  • This royalty shall be made payable to the Embellishment Committee of the National Gallery who shall within one month remit same to the estate of the affected Artist after a 1 % administrative deduction from the gross sale.
  • Every contemporary visual work of art engaged in an exhibition, displayed for sale which does not comply with section 19 shall be confiscated and dumped in the National Collection for art until the royalty of 10% of the sale and another 5 % as fine is paid by the artist selling, auctioning or exhibiting.
  • Where the Director-General or the person authorized in writing by him is certified that the object is a contemporary works of art, he may issue permit hereinafter called "Clearance Permit'1 in respect of that object or where he is satisfied that the object is contemporary works of art and that the object is not the property of another artist, he shall issue a "Clearance Permit" and a number identifying such work of an where there was none existing pursuant to section 19 of this Act.
  • Where a permit is not produced and surrendered within one month, the Gallery shall dump it in the national collection of art at the National gallery of Art.
  • Every contemporary visual work of art originating in Nigeria or not originating in Nigeria but is being sold or auctioned or exhibited for sale in Nigeria, shall be registered, stamped. and issued a number by the Gallery.
  • The number so issued shall be unique to the art work and shall be issued-to identify the art work throughout Nigeria and to locate the estate of the original artist.
  • Every Artist or Art collector practicing in the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall register and obtain a registration number from the National Gallery of Art—


Anonymous said...

I am just seeing this for the first time. It is so disgusting and annoying.

Anonymous said...

I am just seeing this for the first time. It is so disgusting and annoying.

Peju Layiwola

Katrin Schulze said...

if it wasn't for the word 'dump' I'd almost thought somebody found a cheap way of increasing/improving the NGA's collection ... out of curiosity, would the full document yet be available somewhere, preferably online? (I've been searching but didn't find it)

Chika Okeke-Agulu said...

The proposed bill is not available online, because it was not meant to be public or discussed openly. If only I had the time to post them myself!

I agree with you that one might think that maybe some people in the corridors of power had decided to find a way to help the National Gallery raise an endowment or build its collection through confiscated works. But that is way too much to assume when you are talking about Nigerian politicians. Which is not to say that there may not exist weird politician in Abuja that got into "elected" office with the intention to serve, rather than to join the looting of a nation. There may well be. But when you want to register all artists practicing in Nigeria for the sake of collecting a percentage of art sales; when you mandate payment of a certain percentage of construction budget for government buildings, regardless of their use, to the National Gallery, rather than to a federal agency charged with, and has the expertise for, funds collection; when you mandate a percentage of all art sales in Nigeria to go directly to the National Gallery of Art, which will then pay a certain percentage of the collected fund as royalty to the artist who made the sold work, I don't need an augur to tell me that there is something fundamentally wrong with this dubious re-conceptualization of the business of a gallery of art.

Maggie Otieno said...

The use of the word 'Dump'in a respectful bill is in such poor taste, Really! ...it actually means to throw out, to ditch, to get rid of, discard or throw away... If these fellows had respect for art and artists they should have been careful on such use of words that seek to create hostility and rebellion. I agree... greed lurks within this bill...be very warned!