By Kings Ndubuisi Onwe
Africa art will not be complete without mentioning the contribution of Nigerian artists and the traditional art history.
The Nigerian ancient art history holds a pride of place in the annal of African art, contributing to its richness, worldwide attraction, and archaeological interests. During the colonial era, and consequently the advent of Christianity, many of Nigerian ancient artifacts were looted and shipped abroad. Some others were destroyed in what they tagged as fetish objects of idol worship. The looted artifacts ranged from works in bronze, ivory, Terra cotta, woods and brass.
These looted works are resting in various museums abroad as archaeological and historical collections. What will surprise any caring mind is the huge prices attached to these ancient objects. Their exhorbitant valuation was because they are ancient treasures that date back to many thousands of years ago. So valuable are these artifacts that they can be shipped or acquired by any willing and capable collector or museums that are interested in them, from any part of the world.
It is indeed ironical that ancient treasures dubbed as fetishes are now seen as objects of value to be looted to foreign countries, this is not to mention those that were burnt or destroyed. Today, valuable African artworks are seen as treasures. These are especially masterpieces from the master artists that date back to several decades before the advancement of African art. Most of these works are artworks of sculptures and paintings., and they are priced in several thousands of dollars or in millions abroad, where they are up
for sale or auction. The prices when approximated in Naira equivalent, runs into millions of Naira.
However, on a sad note, there is a huge decline in the patronization of artists for their services today. The worst hit are the Fine artists (who are mainly painters and scuptures). It is not that these artists are not getting commissions from time to time, but the commissions are coming in inadequately and not consistent. As a result, artists can stay for weeks running into months without commissions. As saddening as these situation is, it appears as if commercial fine art business may fizzle out if care is not taken. Most people today, whenever they hear the words «Artists», «Fine artist», or maybe «Visual artist», they will ask themselves derogatorily «what can the artist give me if not a drawing or painting?» They are only limiting what an artist could do to just drawing and paintings!
Unfortunately, artists today are not revered. They are not classed in the league of doctors, engineers
or even lawyers. As a result of this stereotyping treatment, many people undervalue artists and their works. Many of our artists are undervalued because most people don›t understand the level of stress, skills and hardwork needed to create an amazing and excellent artwork. They also don›t seem to know that most of the materials needed to create masterpieces or valuable works are expensive. They kind of think it is
all easy and cheap, and that they can come and just underprice the works or the service of the artist. It is really pitiable. Would it not have been better if everybody can either draw, paint, or sculpt? Since such cannot be possible as everyone has their gifts, why then are artists being undervalued?
Though, we live in a mechanized and digital world today, practical works that can only be executed mostly by hand cannot be said to be easy. As an aesthetically appreciative world, a world that has eyes and admiration for anything beautiful, we do admire so much objects of great aesthetic beauty. There are many objects created by human hands and not machines. While we come, admire and gape in awe to such creations, it may not have occurred to us the kind of stress, hardwork and resources that went into creating such objects. So, it smirks of cruelty and lack of appreciation to undervalue the works of artists or artisans.
On a final note, the advent of digital photography has affected portrait artists. Many people will prefer to have their pictures taken with digital cameras in photo studios, and may preferably frame them for interior home display, than patronize portrait artists. Why? because, digital photography is instant. It only takes few minutes to have your pictures taken and produced, unlike portrait artwork that can take several hours, days and weeks before completion. As a result, most don›t mind paying huge bucks for a digital photograph. In contrast, portrait artist will have to convince clients on excellent delivery and on when the work will be available. But when it reaches price agreement, most clients will haggle a lot, consequently underpricing the artwork and the artist. Truth be told, portrait art creation either through drawing or painting is not a run in the park because, producing real life human portrait or figure is not easy. It takes time, skill, efforts and talent to reproduce. Even at that, it is better to add that portrait artworks should be higher in pricing and value than ordinary photographs. Creating digital photographs doesn’t require stress, hardwork, hardcore skill or any special talent, just the camera and editing software and you are good to go. That is a direct opposite to portrait art creation. So, the works and services of artists should stop being undervalued or underpriced because artists are natural-born creators, who create with their hands through their talent and skills.
• Onwe writes from Enugu. [email protected]