ART VAGABOND

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“When did you visit an art exhibition?”

“I cannot remember”

“Did you buy anything there?”

“Not really”

“Any thought of picking artwork on layaway?”

“How can there be such a purchase where there is no regular income?”

“What about those on the roadside?”

“You mean those drawings by artists in ramshackle in inner city where you live?”

“Yeah. Some of these artists are good, but others seem to have a kind of mind.”

“Really?”

“Many of them paint current political leaders, musicians and movie people.”

“Have you ever entered inside that roadside studio and talk with any of them?”

“Hardly”

“Do you know anything about art vagabond or vagabond art?”

“You are sure speaking over my head!”

“I am not an efico –  book people”

“My brother is an artist but not a vagabond.”

“Why associate art with a vagabond?”

“Let me tell you something. History seems to be giving it again to the so-called vagabonds”

“Take a listen” as millennials say these days.”

In many parts of the world, ordinary people who move from place to place are seen as unsettled- a ‘ rolling stone’. It elicits disdain. When you are in some parts of Europe, the presence of these undocumented African immigrants is unmistakable. What image does it present?  A “look down”. It is pungent. Many of them in their new circumstances are seen as “lowly” and not “belonging”. Often, this is rooted on beliefs and misgivings. Historically, think about the Gypsies.

Some say the feeling is wired by centuries of idea of superiority of one group over the other. It is not uncommon to read about groups in Europe, Asia and Africa tagged as vagabonds. Think about the herdsmen, not the gun throttling type. Till date, this pejorative feeling is amazingly broad in the minds of some and spilling to obnoxious behaviours. Vagabonds are still looked at with pity and shame. Being one is hardly relished.

A closer look at African arts leaves one with nothing to link with a vagabond. Ancient African art in history do not evoke a deal of rolling up and down of vagabonds. Many of the traditional societies had no room for a life of art vagrancy either by choice or in their works. Those in sacred art were treated with reverence in a society marked by some order and social cohesion.

Again, take a look at the art that are indigenous from wood carvings, smelting, hewing, paintings, indelible tattooing by specialists, women house decorators and painters. Their activities require many days of work from inception to completion. Some suggest that the motivation for art was not initially commercial, this probably ensure long residency. Besides, art progenitors mainly move in circles of families and artist guilds. The idea of an art vagabond was strange if not really distant. This is not to say that artists were in splendid isolation. Various art festivals shared with kith and kin, in villages and other fora bring unity to divergent art forms. This is a perspective.

Now, contrast it with European art at this epoch in history. Moving from the traditional to modern with the school system, many things begin to change. Formalized training and certification take the front burner. Classification of art into superior and inferior forms dominate. Approved methods and who is behind the mask took over art evaluation.

Art schools grew in leaps and bonds. Boundaries rose not only defining conception, creativity but moved to how what is created is perceived. Hidden indices provide levers of categorization. The world followed the new musicians to sing aloud, along in tumultuous praise.

Following through are gamut of interested parties, scholars of art for art sake as well as critics. Promotion for pecuniary gains like the ocean surged and engulf other civilizations with different orientation and attitude to art.

 Art criticism for good bad and ugly rent the pages of papers. Promoters for gain penetrate art crevices. They made names and gain. They define the market, exposure, controls and who they thought is a vagabond.  This domineering powers of promoters/sellers rather than makers twisted lanes to determination of African art. Crude and refined art are their new language – a leeway to racism. This ugly twosome crafts a mindset that race and brain means quality. Warped, but it ruled the day. Truly definitive basis of art evaluation by their progenitors got lost in the morass of insincere hearts and hands in the art brew.

By so doing a legitimate son gradually acquires the face of a ‘vagabond’. Despite hidden appreciation of the ‘vagabond’, outward declarations taint it as unworthy.

But as we know perception changes. Sometimes the change is gradual and at other times immediate. Also, enter 2017, Michel-Jean Basquiat artwork that looks like a skull was sold for more than $100m at a New York auction.

In local parlance we simply describe that kind of artwork as Ofuogori. It looks like a mask used during new yam festivals. “Ordinary Ofuogori you would say”. To locals it is no big deal. But take a long look at many ancient art works in your communities.  You would realize we are losing so much as those with a world view that perfectly created such art have left the scene. Many are gone with their knowledge and the history is lost.

 Originality is greatly original when it is rooted in the original, not midstream original.

The recent tirade between a Nigerian artist in the U.S. and an Europeans arts agent is instructive. Works once considered a ‘vagabond’ are now being mimicked. Worse is the weird ideas playing and backing ahistorical gymnastics that the artwork in question transcends the quality that can come from its African origin. It is not the racist insinuations that is of value, rather the fact that many of our art are of age.

Whether you are a roadside artist or a resident artist that most of ancient African art represent, take note that the days of the ‘vagabonds’ are here.

But what has happened to your history from whence these arts derive?

Has History gone on holiday?

Ask your curriculum developers and policy makers.

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Read also in this blog “History and Naked House”

1 COMMENT

  1. This is another masterpiece! Very interesting!! I always enjoy your knowledge of history, always bringing it to bear on your many write-ups. There’s always enough information to compare the past with the present.

    But I tend to agree that history is on holiday. Modern art and technology has put history on suspension. There is no deliberate effort to teach modern people how all these began. But I know that whoever could not recall where the rain started beating him will always forget the one who provided him with shelter. Which is very very unfair.

    Thanks. It is another very good piece.

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