When scholars,stakeholders and renowned Monarch met penultimate week, in Calabar Cross River State for the two flagship programmes of the National Gallery of Art, the two words upper most in their discussion were; imagination and re-branding.
These two concepts shaped the themes of National Gallery of Art's annual distinguished lecture and the National Symposium on Nigerian Art held at the Margaret Ekpo Cultural Complex.
While the National Symposium on Nigerian Art took place under the distinguished chairmanship of His Royal Majesty, Igwe Alfred Nnaemeka Ache is, the 11th edition of the distinguished lecture on the other hand was delivered by University of Miami, Oxford, Ohio renowned art historian and professor of Art, Dele Jegede.
The two seminal events provided important platforms for scholars and practitioners of art to re-examine the function of art as a social, cultural and political image marker for a nation and as well, allowed participants to contribute to the raving debate about National Universities Commission (NUC) requirement of doctor of philosophy as minimum teaching degree for art teachers in institutions of learning.
Delivering his lecture, Professor Jegede identified imagination as an important catalyst for the development of nations. This concept, according to him, "encapsulates the abstract imperatives that are inherent in the creation of image and the development of nation-state".
He noted that that artistic imagination confers power and hegemony on a nation, and also underlies the greatness of nations. He cited the achievements of old Benin kingdom, which he said was made possible through the imaginative insights of royal palace artists and how their efforts helped to project Benin's narrative to the global world.
"First, the splendor of Benin City became known to the Western world not through narratives that emanated from the Edo people but through the corpus of works that Benin artists created and used to celebrate the Obi's aesthetic taste".
The renowned art historian also explained how imaginative artists weathered through the nation's harsh economic conditions. He pointed out that Nigerian artists in the daunting face of the Structural Adjustment Programme imposed by the Gen Babangida led Federal military government reawakened a new creative spirit that were to flower into beautiful rewards in later years.
According to him," The economic strangulation at that time appeared to have awakened the creative impulse of the Nigerian artists who soon took over every available public and private exhibition space".
The NGA lecturer also used the opportunity of the gathering to challenge the introduction of PhD degree as a minimum requirement for teaching of art in Nigerian universities arguing that National universities commission (NUC) has no business setting academic benchmark for teachers of art since it can not do the same for medical doctors or lawyers.
"If the medical council says that that a first degree holder in medicine should be addressed as a doctor and lawyers also agree that a law graduate should be called a lawyer and their decision is approved by the legal practitioners l and Nigerian medical councils, why then should NUC challenge artists position when they agree that an MFA degree is a terminal degree for the visual arts"? He asked.
Also worried by the continued ranking of Nigeria as a failed state as well as the disheartening revelation by Transparency International that Nigeria is one of the most corrupt countries in the world, elegant Onitsha monarch, Igwe Achebe called for the re-branding of the country's national image.
Speaking at the 5th edition of the symposium organized by NGA in collaboration with Department of Visual Art and Technology, Cross River State University, the royal father said:
"We need a new brand of Nigeria. Branding a nation is not new as many countries have their brands. China is noted for cuisines, France for wine, England for football, while Brazil is noted for beaches and football".
At the well attended gathering that had in attendance the Minister of Tourism, Edem Duke, Vice Chancellor of Cross River State University, Prof. Enebong E.Enebong, renowned art collectors, Sammy Olagbaju and Eng Yemisi Shylon, notable scholars like Professor Ola Oloidi and Jerry Buhari, the Monarch lamented that the best of Nigerian arts that should be in the custody of the National gallery are unfortunately in the hands of foreign buyers and therefore appealed to government and private individuals to help patronise Nigerian artists and their works.