By Peter Okoyomoh
Nigeria is a country in love with affluence and its expression. Lagos Island is a cluster of tastefully finished homes with expensive ceramic finishing which give off that foreign glow that radiates the bourgeoisie life. Nigerians get excited over exquisitely patterned China and high end furniture imported from all parts of the globe.
Nigerians throng parties adorned with jewelry crafted by jewelers from all parts of the world except ours. We see the need to import coffins made of mahogany exported from Africa but polished in foreign lands, to bury relatives who lived local lives and died miserable deaths.
We are a country in love with the foreign, we are also a free people who are captive of an imperialist mindset.
Having studied African Art in secondary school, I learnt about ancient Nigerian Art and civilization. I learnt about “Nok Terracotta”as an art culture that dates back to about 1000BC. When the rest of the world lacked the faintest idea of the importance of clay, the people of Nok in Kaduna State were already masters of clay art and pottery.
I also learnt of Igbo-Ukwu Art which was first discovered in Igbo-ukwu Anambra state. Radio carbon dating reveals that the works are from as far back as the 10th Century. Igbo-Ukwu bronze works were at the time of discovery one of the most sophisticated bronze works in the world and they were the subject of much analysis and study by foreign excavators and scientists.
The Benin royal metal casters were also a subject of my learning; they, while bearing heavy smoke from locally manufactured billows, transformed different metals, gold, silver and bronze into beautiful art work and jewelry for the Benin royalty. The works were so priced and valuable that they were looted by the British during the punitive British Expedition of 1897.
The Europeans sailed thousands of miles to our shores, and when they arrived, we welcomed them with open arms, although in other cases they conquered our lands with brute force. They took samples of our art, they studied and developed them, while we remained docile and watched them develop our ideas for us. Today we are the consumers.
We had the opportunity to develop superior industries and even had a monopoly in some cases, we had the advantage as pioneers. But we traded our civilization and watched it die slowly. Today, The white man has transformed clay into beautiful building tiles and vases, and we find same so fascinating that we are willing to churn out good money to buy them. Our markets are flooded with foreign made jewelry of superior quality and prices, we patronize expensive artifacts made from raw materials mined from our soil.
The Europeans studied our art and developed our techniques. They introduced technology and made it more sophisticated. They were able to create beautiful and more sophisticated products from metals and clay. We failed to improve on the methods of our forefathers, the ancient methods of making the popular “Adire” is what we still employ today, there has been no improvement in any way. Our art institutions make matters worse. We celebrate statues sculpted with primitive materials when the world has moved on to digital art, 3D printing and are developing innovative ways to cut metals and stones.
Our forefathers were innovative. Granted, they may have made mistakes by being too trusting of the white man but they developed unique ways to survive. On the other hand, we are a generation of consumers and that has to change.
Young Nigerians need to be innovative as we still have the advantage of being the fertile depot of the world. We can still get that step ahead that we have lost. But first, we must seize our natural gifts and learn to improve what we already have until the world starts coming to us to get it. The ball is still in our court.