Shyllon Museum of Art

One and a half hours drive out of Lagos toward Epe town, eastward on the Lekki Motorway is a relatively small sign that marks our destination, Pan-Atlantic University. I have accepted the kind invitation of Hugh and Robin Campbell (Nigerian Field Society and AOT) to meet the designing architect and director, Jess Castellote, of the almost opened Yemisi Shyllon Museum of Art.

Our exuberant, over 60, host proudly states that he is beginning his second life.  After a full career as an architect, he recently completed a PhD in art history and has taken the position of director of the Shyllon Museum. His enthusiasm is infectious and our small group hangs onto his every word.

 

Dancer by Ben Enwonwu

Beadwork: contemporary and traditional royal crown of Yorubaland

What does it take to open the first of its kind university art museum in Nigeria? Vision,  donations, and dedication for starters! The vision began in 2014 when Prince Yemisi Shyllon proposed a university museum to house Nigerian art. Prince Shyllon has one of the most important private collection with an estimated 7000 works of Nigerian art and donated 1000 artworks (visit to Prince Shyllon’s private collection in 2012) to the museum with a donation toward construction and long term management of the museum. Prince Shyllon’s collection includes modern painting and sculptures by Ben Enwonwu, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Olanrewaju Tejuoso, Yusuf Grillo, Peju Alatise, Osogbo artists, and traditional art such as  bronzes from Benin and royal crowns of Yorubaland.

Mr. Castellote begins the tour by explaining the dimensions of the museum, it is a big square box, 30x30x11 meters with only two windows. The stained rusty-red concrete is reminiscent of West African laterite soil, which presents an impressive contrast against the vast open and green campus. The architecture is something like a fortress but Mr. Castellote explains the design allows for insulation against tropical weather, provides security, and gives the visitor a chance to leave the outside totally behind them and enter into an art experience without distraction. The indoor area is designed with open and fluid space so that the visitor can experience a work of art from different angles and levels. Mr. Castellote explains,“Spectators are a part of the spectacle.”

One of the two windows that look to the outdoors, beyond is the unfinished building that will be used as an art centre for youth.

The museum focus is to learn about Nigerian art and heritage through continuity from tradition to contemporary. The emphasis is on education programmes, which is intended to bring 25 students from various local public schools for 200 days of the year. With a purchase of a bus, youth will be collected from public schools to experience art in all its forms i.e. a special youth pavilion is being built for classes. (see above photo)

Olanrewaju Tejuoso prepares art installation at the entrance of YSMA

As we leave the museum, we meet Olanrewaju Tejuoso, a Nigerian artist whose work configures wood and discarded empty sachets water, biscuit wraps, and empty bags of processed foods, polythene and foils. This installation will be greet visitors. (Watch Olanrewaju’s video about discarded sachets of water in Nigeria and his art.)

Now Nigerians and visitors have a beautiful addition to its thriving art scene besides art galleries to appreciate an astonishing collection of Nigerian art. The official opening of Yemisi Shyllon Museum of Art is October 19, 2019.

Visits

From October 19th 2019, when the YSMA will be open to the general public, visits to the museum to experience the best of Nigerian arts will always be free to all thanks to the partners and friends of the YSMA from Tuesday to Saturday.

Hours

Tuesday 10am – 4pm
Wednesday 10am – 4pm
Thursday 10am – 4pm
Friday 10am – 4pm
Saturday 10am – 4pm

 

 

 

 

 

Bling-Bling in Bida

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Bahagadochi

(praise and respect for His Royal Highness) 

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His Royal Highness, Alhaji (Dr) Yahaya Abubakar CFR, ETSU (King) NUPE and the Chairman of the Niger State Council of Traditional Rulers

Above: HRH ETSU NUPE examines a piece of raw ‘bikini’ glass.

Once again, Yacubu, the best driver in Nigeria, and I took the journey from Abuja to Bida. It takes 5 hours to cover this distance.  The roads are hot, dusty, and broken and can only be described as ‘rutted, rough, and dangerous’. It is Ramadan; people are fasting from dawn to dusk which incorporates a sense of restless urgency to arrive at one’s destination before sunset.

I have an audience with the ETSU (Emir) His Royal Highness Alhaji Yahaya Abubaker. My request was granted for Saturday, May 18th and my goal was to present the Emir with catalogues from the exhibition Bida Glass at MuséoParc Alésia, France where the story of Bida glass is displayed prominently.

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photo credit: Joëlle Rolland

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photo credit: Joëlle Rolland

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photo credit: Joëlle Rolland

Traditional crafts are threatened by cheap, mass imports. Handwork is, more and more, considered to be degrading among the youth.   Yet, in Nupeland, people honor their culture and traditional crafts in a way that is rarely seen today.  And, the ETSU leads his people with his deep commitment to preservation of heritage and in doing so, strengthens the community as they face the pressures of technology.

In a very small way, I have been allowed to participate in documentation of Bida glassmakers. I am deeply honored to have had the opportunity to meet the Emir and his proud and capable craftsmen. It was wonderful to sit on a bench in a simple workshop under a mat-covered mud hut and watch the skillful hands of a glassmaker. Again and again, I admired the calm, the ease, and the dedication with which they work.

https://nomad4now.com/articles/bida-bracelets-ancient-art-of-glassmaking/

https://nomad4now.com/articles/bida-glass-bangles-and-beads/

My gratitude to the ETSU for his patience with me while learning about the NUPE culture and the craftsmen who continue their trade, day in and day out, will remain cherished moments in my daily life.

Bahagadochi

(praise and respect for His Royal Highness) 

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Bida Glass at MuséoParc Alésia, France

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“In this great chain of causes and effects, no single fact can be considered in isolation.” – Alexander von Humboldt 

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Are you in France this summer from April 6th to September 22nd? If so, a trip to the Alésia, ancient town situated on Mont Auxois, above the present-day village of Alise-Sainte-Reine in the area of Côte d’Ore, France, is well worth adding to your agenda. It is a chance to take in the Gallo-Roman ruins but also visit an unusual and first of its kind exhibition of Celtic glassmaking that does not only demonstrates medieval times but traces the path of glass making from ancient times through a series of seemingly unrelated connections to a fundamental and essential aspect of the modern world…glass bracelets.

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https://www.alesia.com/lieux-de-visite-en/#centre

The exhibition studies the connection of migration of glassmaking from Egypt to Gallo-Roman era and its connection to modern day Nigeria. Joëlle Rolland PhD, researcher professor, at Maison de l’Archéologie et de l’Ethnologie, René Ginouvès has spent the last year organizing this exhibition about the production of Celtic glass bracelets.  As Joëlle Rolland expertise is Celtic glass, her research spanned Egypt, Nepal and the glass makers of Bida, Nigeria. She discovered the work of Elisabeth Thea Haevernick who publish in 1960 her thesis on Celtic glass bangles and, the ethnologist,  René Gardi who also researched Bida glass in the 1970s and wrote articles with comparisons with the work of Celtic bracelets. As well as, Leo Frobenius  in 1911 who visited Bida also illustrated the techniques of fabrication with the famous illustrations Celtic glass.  All of this, by chance, led Joëlle to my documentation of the glassmaking in Bida, Nigeria. Read: Bida: Bangles and Beads.

During the last four years, we have stayed in close contact sharing information. Joëlle invited me to participate in the upcoming exhibition on Celtic glass at MuséoParc Alésia. Joëlle will be demonstrating the manufacture of bracelets with the glassmaker on the weekends of April 13-14 and also in September, the weekend of 21-22.Screen Shot 2019-03-19 at 1.41.12 AM

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For those of you who might not be able to visit, below is my contribution to the catalogue and the table of contents;Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-001Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-002Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-004Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-005Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-006Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-007Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-008Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-009Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-010Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-011Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-012Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-013

The Statue of Liberty, a story of rejection and renewal

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Field Guide to the Street Names of Central Cairo makes its way to New York City for a visit to the Statue of Liberty, a statue once destined to be called “Progress Egypt Carrying the Light to Asia” and stand as a lighthouse at the Suez Canal. The link between Central Cairo, the Statue of Liberty and our book is the Egyptian ruler, Khedive Isma’il Pasha (1863-79). (As one of my readers commented, ‘an intersection between Oriental and Western history.’)  Isma’il Pasha was also the man who declined Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s colossal statue design to stand at the Suez Canal and sending its on its way to New York Harbor.

It all started at the 1867 Universal Exhibition in Paris.The best description of the times is from an excerpt by Zeynep Celik , Displaying the Orient:

Although under Ottoman suzerainty since 1517, Egypt acquired a semiautonomous status in 1805, when Muhammad ‘Ali was appointed governor; this status lasted until 1882, the date of the British occupation. Muhammad ‘Ali initiated a series of military, economic, and administrative reforms, relying on the expertise of French and Italian advisers. These reforms were followed by legal and educational transformations and the development of infrastructure (the construction of railroads, the Suez Canal, cities, etc.) under Isma’il Pasha (1863–79), paralleling the changes promoted by the Ottoman rulers in Istanbul. In 1867, the Ottoman sultan conferred on Isma’il Pasha the title of khedive, giving him a special position in the empire and allowing him to sign independent technical and economic agreements with foreign powers.

The 1867 Universal Exhibition in Paris was marked by important visits from Khedive Isma’il Pasha of Egypt….What were the goals in visiting the exposition? Isma’il Pasha pursued a Western model of “progress” and wanted to be recognized for his institutional reforms. Similarly, Isma’il Pasha’s goal was to demonstrate his alliance with Europe by announcing the modernizing transformations in his own country…Isma’il Pasha intent on reshaping their cities according to European models—a goal reflected most dramatically in the physical transformation of Cairo…The city building in Cairo was comprehensive…. A new quarter of Cairo, named Ismailiyya after the Isma’il Pasha extended the city to the west with a design that superposed a pattern of radial streets on a grid. Long avenues ended in squares or ronds-points; monuments and public buildings defined the ends of vistas. The model was once again Baron Haussmann’s work in Paris. Indeed, French architects, landscape architects, and gardeners were commissioned to beautify Cairo…For Isma’il Pasha, who had lived in France, the expedition was an occasion to catch up with the social and physical transformation of Paris.-(Çelik, Zeynep. Displaying the Orient: Architecture of Islam at Nineteenth-Century World’s Fairs. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992)

Most civilizations utilize monumental figures and heroic sculptures to revere political figures and leaders. The tradition of immortalizing an individual, whether by human representation or by symbol, is a human trait. Governments impress their political heroes and leaders on their public; erecting statues at major intersections and in parks and gardens appears to reinforce both past heroic accomplishments and current ruling dogma. Heroic sculptures and monumental statues are visible reminders of a time in history when these individuals brought about substantial change in society and, in turn, influenced thought. (“Egyptian City 1801–Today.” Cairo’s Street Stories: Exploring the City’s Statues, Squares, Bridges, Gardens, and Sidewalk Cafés, by Lesley Labadidi, American University in Cairo Press, 2008, pp. 39–52. ) However in Muslim countries, human forms on display is subject to question.  Thus at the 1867 Universal Exhibition, Isma’il Pasha took the unprecedented step to interview European sculptors for the purpose of placing heroic, monumental sculptures on the new streets of Central Cairo depicting rulers in his family history.  One such person who submitted a  Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi.

Bartholdi had toured Yemen and Egypt in 1855-56, and upon his return to France received a commission to sculpt a statue of Jean Francois Champollion, the Egyptologist who had deciphered the hieroglyphs on the Rosetta Stone. The statue was displayed in the Egyptian pavilion at the 1867 Exposition Universal in Paris. Isma’il Pasha was impressed with the statue of Champollion and gave an audience to Bartholdi. Bartholdi hoped to build a colossal statue for an immense lighthouse marking the entrance at the opening of the Suez Canal (1869). It was to be a towering figure, dressed in robes and holding aloft a torch. Isma’il Pasha declined due to the cost and that the form was reminiscent of a peasant woman. By 1870 ‘Progress’ had evolved to ‘Liberty’.  Eventually Bartholdi would rework the statue and unveiled at the New York Harbor in 1886.

Statue of Liberty creator Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s original design for the mouth of the Suez Canal in Egypt.

This reproduction of 1869 watercolor by Bartholdi suggests the similarity between the Suez lighthouse and the Statue of Liberty. The Suez plan was the first real step in the Statue of Liberty design.

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The Statue of Liberty looks very much like Bartholdi’s earlier design for the Suez lighthouse, but the transition required skill and subtlety. From 1878-1875 Bartholdi slowly developed the new Statue. First he decided upon her symbols: the torch, crown, broken shackles and tablet.

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Small terra cotta study models of ‘Progress Egypt Bring the Light to Asia’ designed by Bartholdi between 1867-69.

 

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Obelisque Magazine 2019

The new yearly edition of the Obelisque Magazine has been released in Cairo. This year the magazine was almost sold out within a month. There are a few copies available at select bookstores in Zamalek. Below are my contributions to the magazine.  cover a

Bida Bracelets : The Ancient Art of Glassmaking

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Arouset el-Moulid

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Street Art: Ibn Khaldun in Mohendiseen 

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NUPE DAYS – Merit Award

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I am sitting in my garden late in the afternoon on a December day in Lagos. A cool, dry harmattan breeze blows across the terrazzo patio.  I hear the garden gate squeal as metal rubs against metal. I am aware of someone entering. A security guard hands me a white envelope with the words neatly embossed:

OFFICIAL

ETSU NUPE’S PALACE

Wadata, Bida, Niger State, Nigeria

Surprised and intensely curious,  I am careful not to tear the envelope so as not to damage the contents.  I pull out a beige, one page letter. It reads:

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I had not a clue that I had been considered for a community service award in Nupeland, After a short time, I realized that I had 48 hours to get to Bida where Nupe Days and the ceremony was to be held. Airline tickets to and from Abuja had to be organized, drivers, food, appropriate clothes, money, accommodations …. so many people to call upon to help me put together this trip. Everyone pitched in to get me to Bida on time!

Arriving in Abuja, there was another 5 hours to drive over broken, rough, potholed roads.  After checking into Bab Hub Motel and changing my dusty clothes, I visit the glassmakers of Bida on my way to the palace and give my respect to the ETSU.

The programme laid out each days activities:

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Horse stables throughout Northern Nigeria—Sokoto, Kibbi, Niger—and from Burkino Faso came to Bida to race their best horses. The prizes ranged from money to generators. The races only began once the ETSU was seated. P1040525

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Dusk is short-lived in this part of the world and during harmattan season, the dusty air envelops everything. As soon as the sun sets, all activities come to an abrupt end and everyone rushes to get to the road as soon as possible.

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From the race ground, I return to the motel and change clothes for the award event. There are cultural shows, music, and speeches before the awards are presented:

Then I hear my name being called to stand in front of the high table to receive the Merit Award.

I wish to express my profound appreciation to His Royal Highness the ETSU Nupe  for the award. I also extend my appreciation to all the Nupe Traditional Rulers of Niger, Kwara, Kogi and the FCT Abuja. My profound gratitude also goes to the entire Nupe Kingdom, all Nupes within and outside Nigeria for the honor. A special thanks goes to Alhaji Abubakar Mahmoud (Dangaladima Nupe, Hakimi Etsu Audu) who has been a friend of the family for his role in coordinating this recognition.

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**Most photos were taken by my driver, Yacubu, with my camera. The first photo of the ETSU is a photograph from the royal photographers. The last 4 pictures of receiving the award was taken by royal photographers. ***All Photographs and text are under international copyright laws. No re-use without the permission of Lesley Lababidi 2019.