Thursday, October 1, 2015 7:09 pm
Q: How would you advise someone who is interested in the collection of good quality artworks but does not have a deep pocket to start?
A: I once gave a lecture to the lecturers and students of the Faculty of Arts at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and this same question was asked by the students. And my answer to them was that I started collecting art when I was in part two in University of Ibadan. I was not rich in any way, I was a poor student. I was on scholarship of Lagos State Government and sometimes I made do with teaching university lecturer’s children mathematics to raise some money. I used those monies to buy arts and shares in companies. Nigerian Breweries then was selling for 51 kobo per share and I think Mobil shares at that time were the most expensive at 60 kobo. John Holt was selling for 52 kobo’ and so on. I started by buying a hundred shares in these companies. These shares sold for between 50 to 70 Naira then, and many students could afford it. And I was buying art at the university staff club. People would come and bring in what then I saw as art. They brought in craft also. Later, I started buying some arts in the process , and I went to Mokola market often to buy some arts and crafts also in the process. I also bought in Ikoyi Hotels and the then Niger Palace Hotels at Yaba which was close to my grandfather’s house when I was on holidays and I happened to be in these places.
That was how I used to buy things with my meager income. So I told the students in Ahmadu Bello University that even if you are not in that kind of situation in which I was, you are artists and you can exchange works among yourselves. Look at your classmates that have a future and ask them to take your work while they give you their own work. In that way, you can start to be a collector. I told those that were not into visual art that they can buy a camera, or even use their phones to take photographs. Many of them use expensive phones that can be useful for this. They could sell such photographs to their classmates or university mates at N50, N100 or more, and before you know what is happening, they are already entrepreneurs, and are into photographic arts. I told them for instance that you can shoot photographic arts when you are travelling between Zaria and Kaduna or Zaria and Abuja or between Zaria and Kano. There are beautiful photographic shots you can shoot and sell them in your campus or even out of campus.
However, we should not mainly be looking at monetization of art. I don’t monetize art. I value art more in terms of its intrinsic content. The role it plays in my life is that it enriches my life. The role it plays in my life is that it provides a form of decorative pleasure. Art fulfils my innate passion and increases my intellectualism, my ability to relate the past with the present and the future. It stimulates my intellectual thoughts and generates intellectual discourse.
That is the role art plays in my life. I don’t look at it in terms of monetary value. And I think Nigerians should not look at art just in terms of its monetary value or in terms of the mistaken identity of art as a form of religion. When people come and say ‘ah, these things are idols of worship,’ I pity their ignorance. Such ignorance is either self-imposed or imposed on them by institutions which have nothing to sell other than to demonize and denigrate our culture.
Q: Considering your vast knowledge in terms of arts and artists that stand out in Nigeria, do you have favourites?
A: All my artworks are my favourite works of art. Great artists are so many and I have no favourites. They are all people that I respect. I admire them. We are talking about people like David Dale, Obembe, the late Agbonbiofi, the late Adigbolugi, and Arowoogun who used to carve with both hands with equal dexterity. I must mention Bruce Onobrakpeya, the living legend. Yussuf Grillo is another living legend. We also have Kolade Oshinowo. And I remember the late Isiaka Osunbi. I can go on and on, with no intention to offend any artist for want of recollective memory of their names. These are people that I cherish. They play a very major role in my life because their works of art constitute the very essence of my living. They provide the blood that flows in my life. They oxygenate me.
Q: It has been argued that works produced by Nigerian artists are mostly underpriced. How would you assess the issue of the value placed on indigenous works of art, the appropriateness of the pricing and the fact that many Nigerians are just not interested in buying artworks?
A: There is a problem of pricing in Nigerian arts which eventually market forces will determine. Market forces in terms of proper organization. Any product in the world that does not have a properly established market will suffer from such complaints. Let’s take the stock or equity for instance, that everybody buys. If there is no regulated institution around stock value and if there is no regulated market and regulations around equity, what do you think would happen to equity? Buyers would take advantage of sellers and sellers would equally take advantage of buyers. Corporate pricing would be difficult and there will be a lot of haggling. The sellers would complain that the prices at which their product is being bought is too cheap while the buyers would also complain that the prices of the products are exorbitantly high. This also applies in the Nigerian art market.
Meanwhile, buying of works has to do with a willing buyer and a willing seller, just as it is with any product. Every investment product in the world has a lot of risk attached. There is the systemic risk, the operational risk, the economic risk, interest rate risk, market risk, and the exchange risk. There are many other risks with every investment vehicle. Take gold for instance. It is an investment product and also a decorative product of great value like art. They are in the same segment of investment in the market in terms of the value content of the two.
However, the gold market is highly regulated. There are institutional frameworks to guide against strong decline in the value of gold and institutional framework to ensure that gold is appropriately priced, no thanks to the fact that central banks in the world store their value in gold. But if you have noticed of recent, gold prices have been dropping, no thanks to the fact that there has been a drop in the demand for gold by Indians who are the greatest consumers of the product. China too, is having some economic problems and its demand for gold has also dropped. For Saudi Arabia, representing the Arabs that love gold a lot, its demand for gold has also reduced. Every country has its own economic problem right now and that determines to a large extent the ability to buy.
When somebody comes into a market- in this case, the art market- and wants to buy a product that is not regulated, and a product for which there is no well-structured market, he takes what he thinks should be the value of the product. He looks at your product in that line and believes that is the price he can place on it or buy it. For instance, when surveyors and valuers value any estate or any investment product, they always end up saying or putting a qualification there that “Our valuation herein indicated is subject to willing buyer and willing seller.” They do that because they know that even if they have valued the estate to be worth billions, the market forces, number of people willing to buy and the amount of money in the hands of people to buy determines eventually the price at which the product will go. I think that happens also with art. Art is not a product that will attract anybody who does not have a passion for it and passion helps a lot to determine the price at which anybody will buy art. If you don’t have the passion for it and the kind of exposure that would make you think art is worth it all, you won’t see any reason to pay so much to have it. It’s a question of the level of your admiration for art, your passion for it and your exposure.
If your exposure has brought you into appreciating the value of art, you can begin to say ‘yes, I am willing to buy.’ It is all about your interest. And much more related to everybody, is the amount of money in your pocket. These are the factors that matter concerning the decision to buy