Femi Coker is the director of Orisun Art Gallery in Abuja. In this interview, the culture advocate and visual artist talks about some misconceptions about art, including who can own artwork. It also explains why art galleries cannot be threatened by blockchain technology which has redefined art consumption and production on a global scale.
ORisun Art Gallery is one of the most prominent galleries in Abuja, what makes it unique?
The gallery evolves from the personal collections of an avid collector and art consumer over a period of three decades. He meticulously collects all forms of art from all over Africa, but more particularly from Nigeria. Only very few truly committed individuals would want to collect resources that promote, showcase our full cultural history and heritage spanning decades and sometimes centuries. The gallery offers exclusive works of art from great masters of Nigerian art and I can boldly say that we have eight sections. Each section is so unique that we cater to virtually every art form, from the usual paintings on canvas, mixed media, oil, acrylic on canvas, to digital art installations and different sculptural pieces. in brass, bronze, wood, iron, stone. These reflect a deep cultural awareness of who we are as a people. A people of class, of sophistication.
We are not just an art gallery business, we are also a cultural center because we are in the business of educating, informing, enlightening and creating awareness of our identity, of the significant value of our culture and also of the need to preserve its heritage so that future generations yet to be born have a deep understanding and awareness of who we are as a people.
What does it take to be an art collector?
It takes interest and curiosity to want to know the importance of acquiring artifacts, works of art that reflect who we are as a people. It’s not just the beauty or the craftsmanship of it, not even the aesthetics, but also the intrinsic and extrinsic value of those goods. Art is also an asset because if you buy a work of art today, the value appreciates especially if the artist dies because he will no longer produce. In Europe and North America, a work of art can be used as collateral to secure a loan or obtain financing from the bank. Art is not just for the beauty, joy, or pleasure you get from owning such creative pieces, but also for value. It is considered an asset for people who run art galleries, they know the value of buying a piece of art and keeping it for a while.
There are instances where a collector would be attached to a piece that regardless of the money offered would not want to let go
Cuts in…. this does not only apply to collectors; this also applies to artists. Some artists do not wish to sell their works because a work of art is the reflection of the soul of the artist. So most people don’t like giving or taking away something they have an emotional connection to. A lot of things go into the process of making a work of art aside from the pain, sweat, and blood that goes into the process. The experience of artists entering into a work cannot be quantified in terms of monetary value, but due to economic and social needs, some of these assets must be exchanged. Everything that goes into the process is such that you cannot normally or ordinarily put a value on a work of art.
As gallery manager, was there a time when you had trouble letting go of a work despite the amount offered?
There are certain works that no matter how much you bid for them, you don’t want to sell because some of them can become an heirloom. This brings us to the question of museums. We had museums in houses, shrines, palaces all over Africa and some of these objects in museums had to do with our consciousness as a people. How our parents and ancestors knew how to interpret circumstances, how they knew how to overcome challenges and create institutions. All of these objects have been appropriated in museums all over Europe. It’s very unfortunate. There’s a new awareness now, you see that young people are choosing to express themselves through digital art and that’s the way to go now. Everything is going digital, there is a new awareness where African art is increasingly being promoted through this unique expression and interpretation.
If museums were held in high regard, wouldn’t you worry about inadequate museums in Abuja for example?
There is a big challenge with policy development and implementation in the arts and culture space. You won’t let anyone else determine and influence your stories, it’s a very sad thing when you don’t promote your story as the people. When you go abroad, the first place you might want to visit is their museums, as they encapsulate their whole life as a people. Then the next place is the library. If someone is visiting Nigeria for example, the first point of call should be our museum. If the government does not see the need to resuscitate and revive this most important resource of preserving and promoting our heritage as a people, then we have a problem. There must be adequate funding for museums in Nigeria. How to educate young people about the past, their present and project the future? A museum is not just a house or a building, it is a place where our history as a people is preserved and preserved. If people aren’t paying particular attention to their history and they don’t want to pass it on to future generations, then there’s a huge gap that needs to be filled.
It is a big challenge for the government to set aside adequate funding not only for museums, but also for cultural studies and research, so that people are more interested in acquiring and transmitting knowledge. .
You referenced digital art earlier, do you think galleries are threatened by the blockchain technology that has transformed art?
Change is constant and if someone is not willing to be flexible and adapt to change, they will become useless. The trend actually influences and affects all layers of life. If artificial intelligence is essential to science, to technology, why shouldn’t it be to art? There’s plenty of room so I don’t feel threatened. With the conventional gallery space, people will still come and choose their art, but I still feel that current trends influence the product of creative expression. I strongly think that digital art appeals to young people but for those who are the usual collectors, the old breed, they don’t care. These objects carry memory and time which will take a long period of evolution to take place. I’m not saying there isn’t so much that goes into digital art, I’m saying there’s so much experience that goes into a masterpiece. If someone has been in the industry for six decades and is still consistent, you can imagine what kind of parts they produce.
What do you think Nigerians can do to get the most out of art galleries?
The challenge with art galleries is the lack of knowledge about the purpose and importance of art. Most people mistakenly believe that art is for those who are sophisticated, high net worth, and wealthy. Art is an integral part of our lives and it is an indispensable part of who we are as a people. Each work of art is affordable according to the taste and income of the person who wants to acquire it. Art is therapeutic, when you come to a space like this there is so much color, creativity, and a variety of art forms and you are inspired. You also get to be calmed down. You also get a spiritual or emotional connection. Most people don’t realize that buying a piece of art isn’t just to add aesthetics or beauty to their space, it has a lot of intrinsic value.
Many people think art is expensive and not for the poor. This is a gross misconception as the truth is that even the roadside street performer is frequented. People need to understand that beauty and creativity are part of who we are as a people and have a lot of influence on our lives, our relationships. Art influences and inspires many people.