New Telegraph

NGA: Mapping the history of Nigerian institutions of art

The National Gallery of Art (NGA), the leading agency of government charged with managing the Visual Art in Nigeria, is keeping the tempo steady in its strident pursuit of achieving excellence in this constitutional role.


Through a string of programmes in the last two years, the agency led by Mr. Ebeten William Ivara, aims to stimulate all sectors of the arts for holistic growth. One of such events was held between March 16 to 19, 2022 in Lafia, Nasarawa state. Titled “6th National Symposium on Nigerian Art:

Institutional Art History


in Nigeria, Documenting Art Departments in Universities, Polytechnics and Colleges of Education in Nigeria,” was planned in collaboration with The Federal University of Lafia. In his opening address at the event, the Director-General DG, National Gallery of Art, Mr Ivara noted that the last time a similar symposium on Nigerian Art was held was held was ten years ago. It is a long time frame and a lot has happened.

Older Art Departments like Yaba College of Art, Ahmadu Bello University and the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, for example, have evolved, while the newer art departments like the Federal University of Lafia and Alex Ekwueme Federal University and others have stories that are worth telling and documenting.

He expressed gratitude to Prof. Shehu Abdul Rahman, the Vice-Chancellor of the partnering institution, Federal University of Lafia, Nasarawa State and its Department of Fine and Applied Arts, for their support and contributions to the success of the event as co-hosts, despite the last-minute withdrawal of their participation due to the ongoing nation-wide strike action of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).

Far-reaching issues about art teaching and learning, and the philosophies behind art production, from the standpoint of art institutions, were discussed during plenaries.

Also x-rayed, is how these factors have helped shape the creative sector in Nigeria. The lead speaker of the symposium, Professor Frank Ugiomoh of the University of Port Harcourt, in his keynote address, stated that the symposium planners received  over 61 abstracts for the conference.

According to him: “This speaks to the collective hunger for the improvement of the art sector by relevant stakeholders.” Ugiomoh noted that “Nigeria is not lacking in ideas because the universities and other tertiary institutions churn out astonishing creative ideas, which were often locked up within the walls of institutions.”

He averred that with its resources, the National Gallery of Art has come to the rescue by providing focused programmes which institutions of art lack the resources to achieve.

For example, this symposium has achieved a major mapping of Nigerian institutions of art. Institutional Art History The significance of a symposium on institutional Art History in Nigeria is to encourage the documentation of the activities of tertiary institutions’ Art departments and their contributions to Nigerian Art.

This is important for the nation’s art history, which seemingly, is sometimes under contest between western and local art historians. The western culture of art history and their huge funding opportunities, usually enable them to contest for a share of the narratives of our art history.


What the NGA has done through this symposium is to allow Nigerian scholars to document an aspect of our art history from insider perspective, in contrast to the outsider perspectives of researchers from other cultures, who may write African art history in manners that are sometimes detrimental to our truth and vision.


Other important points captured in the presentations by the participants at the conference include developing mentorship programmes and encouraging young artists to tap into it, the death or migration of influential old art masters and the effects it has on art teaching, the emergence of young art masters, changes in art style  materials and processes, as well as the subjects that have engaged the interests of artists working in each art school over the years.

Such subjects include the general social conditions in the country as well as how the immediate host communities influence or are in turn influenced by the art institutions. No doubt, Art Institutions share some fundamental similarities that are unique to the teaching of art anywhere, but they are, at the same time, unique due to environmental and cultural factors of where they are situated in.

Artistic philosophies

How have these different art institutions grappled with their artistic philosophies, especially against the background of rampaging global social currents and exchanges necessitated by enhanced communication of the new digital social orders?

The symposium was hailed as successful due to its timeliness in updating the documentation of developments and challenges among old and newly established art departments of universities, polytechnics and colleges of education in Nigeria.

The Nasarawa state government represented at the event by Hon. Yakubu Mohammed Lawal, the Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism, thanked the NGA for considering the state as the venue for such an important event and for recently making the state the Northcentral Zonal headquarter of the gallery.

The state government noted that it is further motivated in its drive to make art, culture, and tourism a part of its economic diversification in the Nasarawa State Development Strategy.

The state will revitalize the state’s gallery of art under the state’s ministry of arts and culture to open frontiers of investment and collaborations with public and private interests. The art history of the institutions of art in Nigeria is vital as has been shown by NGA through this project.

The agency has been working assiduously to stimulate all aspects of the arts under its purview. It aims to enhance the huge impact that Nigeria is making, locally and globally, in Contemporary Art.

To this end, some other related programmes like the National Stakeholders’ Forum held in Lagos on Friday, November 26, 2021, and the International Art Fair, which opened on March 17, 2022, in Abuja, held in collaboration with the Society of Nigerian Artists, have been organised by the agency.

The DG, Mr. Ivara and his team and other stakeholders such as art collectors, administrators and the Society of Nigerian Artists constantly rue the lack of a befitting National Gallery Edifice by the National Gallery of Art, many years after the Galleries establishment.

The question is, “why should a National Gallery of Art not have a gallery? But Ebeten may need to put his best foot forward to succeed, where other DGs before him struggled without success in solving the problem of not having a gallery space.


Enekwachi is an artist and culture writer living in Abuja.

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